If "professional assassin" were a choice on the standard guidance-counselor career-path questionnaire, most high-school kids (okay, high-school boys) wouldn't hesitate to check the appropriate box. Who wouldn't want to be a glamorous fictional super-spy? The skills, the cash, the feeling thatat least in the video-game worldyou're not only ridding the world of a clear, unmitigated evil, but that you're doing it alone. And what's better than being a highly skilled, fully armed, completely righteous killer? Being seven of them, of course.
In Killer 7, one of this year's most hotly anticipated (and sure-to-be-debated) games, you play a whole gang of hotshots named Smith, but you'll quickly realize that this gang is actually one guy, the wheelchair-bound Harman Smith, who can summon various personalities to complete various tasks. It's a brilliant move: Rather than the standard inventory of weapons to choose from, there's an army. Mask de Smith is the most fun to play, both for his outfit (he's a masked former pro wrestler) and for his guns, a pair of grenade launchers that kill most enemies with one shot. And oh, those enemies: They're called Heaven Smile. They're invisible to the naked eye. They giggle. And they don't attack with stealth. Instead, they simply walk up to any Smith and explode in a shower of blood. Speaking of blood, it's the currency of Killer 7: You need to collect your enemies' life juice in vialsseparated into thick and thinin order to power up. And when you switch between Smiths, you explode and reform. Creepy.
And it's all rendered beautifully, with anime influences showing in the shading, the character movements, and even the story, which has something to do with a worldwide terror organization that's threatening to disturb world peace (which was achieved in 1998). Killer 7 looks amazing and plays smoothly, but with one quirk that could annoy gamers used to total control of their characters: Your Smiths don't have real freedom of movement, and they can only run down prescribed paths. But once you get used to the format, it's great, and it leaves more time for puzzle-solving and monster-blasting.
Beyond the gameplay: This game is about a bunch of assassins, each with the last name Smith. So they're The Smiths. That may just seem like a funny coincidence to Morrissey fans who also happen to like video games filled with laughing monsters, anime, buckets of blood, multiple personalities, assassins, and the undead. At least until they start catching the not-so-subtle references to the British bandlike the words "How Soon Is Now?" scrawled in blood on a wall. Then it just gets weird.
Worth playing for: The beautiful attention to detail, particularly in the game's backgrounds, makes the blasting even more fun. There's nothing quite as satisfying as scoring a perfect hit on a Heaven Smile's weak spot, and collecting double or triple amounts of blood.
Frustration sets in when: The first run through the game (in "normal" mode) is almost too easy; when one of your characters dies, another can simply find the dead guy's head (in a paper bag) and revive him. But once you're through Killer 7, the much-harder Killer 8 unlocks.
Final judgment: Though the gameplay takes some getting used to, Killer 7 is still almost scarily entertaining. Even the cut-scenesoften the snooziest aspect of these adventure gamesare awesome.