Killer 7: The Grotesque

I don’t mean to imply that everything about Killer 7 is unusual. When I first booted it up, my reaction was “Oh, how very Capcom”. The style of the main menu, the brief textual warning about violence and “mature subject matter”, the way that it responded to my initial button press with the sound of one of the monsters (silly-sounding laughter, in this case), all reminded me of Resident Evil and similar titles. And within the game itself, the map display reminds me a lot of the level schematics normally seen in survival horror games and nowhere else.

Is Killer 7 a survival horror, then? Hardly. For one thing, you never run out of ammo. Also, survival is really pretty easy; with the exception of Garcian Smith, all of the player characters can be resurrected infinitely. But it is horror to the extent that it shows you horrible things. This is a grotesque world, where grotesque things happen. One of the boss fights is against a pair of elderly Japanese businessmen whose heads have already been blown half off, who attack by coughing pieces of brain at you. (It’s so easy to see metaphors in that.) Another of the bosses is a philanthropist who funds orphanages. First you find out that they’re killing the orphans to sell their organs, then you find out they only use the males this way, reserving the female orphans for the boss’s personal use. And even then, your guesses about how he uses them are likely to not go far enough. After you kill him, you get a glimpse of the closets where he keeps their bodies hung up like marionettes.

I’m probably making the game sound relentlessly grim. It’s not. It has a sense of humor. It’s mostly a very dark humor, but it makes some forays into wacked-out absurdist humor, which works mostly by inserting incongruous wackiness and exaggeration into the middle of the grotesquery. The most extreme example of this that I’ve seen is when you’re attacked in a parking lot by a woman in an animegao mask and schoolgirl uniform, who’s introduced with a (deliberately) clumsy approximation of a Magical Girl transformation. (This is the one place where the spoken words are still in Japanese, even in the English version.) It’s the kind of humor that produces more stunned disbelief than laughter.

I keep changing my mind about what other works this game reminds me of — which is a reasonable reaction, because it keeps abruptly changing its feel, the better to catch you off guard. At the moment, it reminds me a lot of some of Grant Morrison’s comics, particularly The Filth. There, as here, we have a series of episodes, mostly organized around a series of loathsome bad guys (each symbolizing something wrong with the world), who the heroes kill, all the while casting severe doubt about the organization behind them. One critic said about The Filth that “There’s a sense that there’s a whole other graphic novel composed of scenes cut out of this one.” That could be said about Killer 7 as well. Heck, it starts at Mission 34.

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