Killer 7

From the moment we saw the first batch of Killer 7 shots we were instinctively drawn towards it with magnet attraction. The arresting visual style held promise of a game resisting the flow of mainstream convention.

Almost two-and-a-half years later - and in the company of Killer 7 producer - we finally enjoyed our first hands-on experience of the game that defies explanation.

And within five seconds we were perplexed.

Following usual gaming conventions we assumed our avatar would be controlled using the analogue stick, but we were wrong. Indeed, the first puzzle we encountered was actually working out how to make our character move.

As Kobayashi explained, the game's madcap director, Gouichi Suda, wanted to "break out from the traditional console control, so he deliberately used the A button rather than the analogue stick".

Keeping the A button depressed propels your character along a pre-determined path. Arriving at a junction prompts the screen to fragment, offering a choice of paths that can be followed. Flicking the analogue stick in the relevant direction then sends your character along the selected route.

Although this method is, understandably, initially very alien, once our brain had reconfigured we found it incredibly easy. After all, maintaining constant downward pressure on a button really isn't difficult.

Reassuring us that the control quickly becomes instinctive, Kobayashi recounted that during the development of Resident Evil 4 (which he also produced) he would find himself wondering why Leon wouldn't move, before eventually realising that he had reverted to pressing the A button.

Using the on-rails system has allowed cameras to be positioned with cinematic confidence, which further emphasises the game's alluring, stylistic individuality.

Fixed cameras give the player the impression that they are passing through a panel lifted directly from the pages of a manga comic book, while the camera that follows along the floor behind your character is a radically different perspective for a videogame.

Players can switch to a first-person viewpoint whenever they choose, although this is only really necessary when the maniacal laughter of Heaven Smile - the game's exploding enemies - is heard.

Because they are all but invisible, Heaven Smile must be revealed in first-person mode by scanning them (achieved using the L trigger) and, once visible, they can then be taken down.

Because Killer 7 is so abstract and, well, un-game-like, the first-person shooting sections, while handled competently enough, sit a little uncomfortably within the overall experience. Square peg, round hole, if you will.

Had these sections been removed, however, then the majority of interactivity within the game's world would have been greatly diminished, along with Killer 7's claim of actually being a playable piece of software.

Resident Evil flavoured puzzles are also used to engage the player and these seem to blend into the action much more seamlessly than the somewhat awkward shooting sections.

Being able to switch between seven split personalities at any point also presents the player with certain character specific obstacles, although once you know what each avatar's special abilities are, the path to progression is a fairly logical one.

Each of the seven main characters are magnificently conceived and designed - all are easily distinguishable, each one possessing a unique physicality, style and attitude. Playing Killer 7 highlights just how nondescript many game protagonists are.

And by having seven characters, the player effectively has seven lives, although the ability to resurrect the dead using one of the personalities, Garcian Smith, means that this can be extended indefinitely, at least until Garcian himself dies.

Anyone anticipating that actually playing the game will provide a rational explanation behind the one man/seven personalities storyline shouldn't be too hopeful.

Suda's original vision and concept for Killer 7 had to be significantly curtailed during the development process, which, as Kobayashi reveals, has ultimately meant that there are some unavoidable plot holes.

"Because Suda-san is a genius as far as his ability to create is concerned, he would have liked to expand the game so much that it would have been huge, and I had to tie him down in terms of time and money.

"His initial story was so long that we had to chop it down in parts, so the connection between the characters may not be as smooth as he would've liked."

Rather amusingly, Kobayashi adds with a grin that there are "parts of the game that even Suda-san himself can't understand".

Despite its confusing synopsis and overall ambiguity, our first taste of Killer 7 has certainly left us with an appetite for more - we can't wait to penetrate deeper into its stylish dreamscapes and enjoy more of its potent ambience.

There's no doubt that Killer 7 is quite unlike anything we've ever encountered before and, while it's blatantly obvious that it's not meant to appeal to everyone, if you're an advocate of the unorthodox then you'll be delighted by its bizarreness.

Killer 7 will be released for Gamecube and PS2 in July