When you think of the best titles available on the PS2 names like Grand Theft Auto
and Metal Gear Solid
probably come to mind. But search long and hard; can you think of one top-tier first person shooter available for the console? I know it's tough to fathom, but through the PS2's extensive library there lacks a true first person shooter. This is where Guerilla and SCEA step in with their lovechild, Killzone
It's supposed to be the
HALO killer but we'll kill the suspense right now, if that's what you're looking for you'll be hugely disappointed. Don’t let that deter you though, if you come into the game looking for a decent shooter you might actually come away satisfied. It has its fair share of problems but the developers were able to hold it all together fairly well with a solid storyline, above average visuals and some fairly intense gameplay elements.
Let's start with the storyline first; if you've seen the commercial for the game you've probably noticed how much the enemies look like Nazis. Well that's not too far from the truth; in essence you can look at the Helghast as futuristic Nazis. Their ultimate goal is to wipe out the rest of humanity until only their kind exists. You'll start out as one character but as the action unfolds you will eventually gain access to three more whose fates are intertwined. Each of them has their own distinct advantages and their strong suits come into play later on in the game when you can choose who you'd like to use in the mission. Picking the right man for the job isn't crucial but it'll go a long way towards making your life easer.
Killzone is the type of game that reminds us why Ritalin was invented. When it's good, it is extremely intense and rivals the best that we've ever seen in the console realm. When it's bad, it's horrifically frustrating and forces us to wonder why those issues couldn’t be hammered out through the QA process. Let's start with an aspect that encompasses both ends of the spectrum; the mission structure. The game essentially unfolds over a set of pre-scripted killzones set in the not too distant future. When the game sets you on a designated path and asks you to kill everything that moves, it works excellently. It's just that the game doesn't do this too often; it generally requires you to perform an oblique task without offering up the proper amount of guidance. Everything operates on triggers (usually a certain checkpoint or an enemy that needs to be killed) but you never get an indication of exactly what you need to do so that you can unlock the next sequence of events. Most of the time you'll wipe out a group of enemies and expect to be able to move on until you realize that the game has artificially trapped you in the area. After about five minutes you’ll discover that a lone enemy has survived behind a set of crates, and only after you've wasted him will the game trigger the next event that will allow you to move on. It's kind of frustrating and actually gives me flashbacks of the old Midway Arcade games where you had to kill all the enemies to unlock the door.
Then there's the frame of reference that the game tricks you into believing. Your eyes see you carrying a machine gun so you're immediately given the frame of reference that you would associate with a projectile weapon in the 21st century. Initially this is one of the aspects of the game that really appealed to me. When I play shooters I prefer the real-world weapons as opposed to the energy weapons because I have a realistic expectation on the impact and feel of the weapon. Inherently I have an idea of how many bullets it would take to bring down a human, but I have no idea how many energy beams it would take to bring that same man down. In Killzone you have the same weapons you see in today's world but they're not modeled the same way. For starters, every bullet has a tracer which means that you can actually see the bullet traveling in the air. This also means that the bullet has to be traveling slower than a normal bullet if you can actually see its trajectory as its en route to its target. This really threw off much of the action because I actually had to lead some of my targets, like I was shooting a slow flying projectile weapon. In addition, the impact of each weapon has actually been lessened a bit. It takes a fair amount of bullets in order to bring an enemy down; much more than you would normally see in a first person shooter.
In addition to being weak, most of the weapons feature at least one crippling disadvantage that makes them ineffective. Normally the sniper rifle is the biggest crowd pleaser in a first person shooter and it could have been the case in Killzone had the designers fine tuned it a bit. A sniper rifle is only as good as its targeting mechanism so it's no surprise that Killzone's rifle is nearly worthless. The mechanism is too loose and it automatically recenters itself when you're not applying pressure to the analog stick. This means that you'll need to find your target in the scope; hold that position, zoom in with the d-pad and then hit the R1 button in order to take him out. The shotgun is especially weak and ineffective, leaving me extremely disappointed.
Killzone’s biggest downfall stems from the fact that it doesn’t really know what it wants to be. In one respect the game tries its hand at being a realistic shooter; playing the game like Rambo on acid won’t work. It employs you to utilize cover and play realistically as opposed to running into a room and mowing down the opposition. Then again the game does a lot of things that make it seem like an action-shooter too. You can take an exorbitant amount of damage and when you’re out of combat, you’ll gradually regain health. Then there’s the targeting reticle; in most realistic shooters the reticle grows larger as you’re performing actions that will affect your ability to hold the gun steady. This makes it harder to be accurate and increases the chance for you to miss. In Killzone you won’t have to deal with such a mechanism; the reticle always remains small and you will always hit the center of it whether you’re crouching, standing still or strafing. Alright, so the game wants to be action-oriented, right? Well not quite, because you can’t fire when you’re activating the run feature. It makes little sense to add in these artificial limitations when you’ve already indicated to the gamer that you’re going one route with the game.
At least the artists knew exactly where they were going with the look of the game. When you're wandering through the remains of a bombed out headquarters your mind really believes that this place could exist in your own world. You don't just see hints of fire and destruction here and there; the entire complex is devastated and the proof is in the level design. You can interact with an above-average amount of objects and each object behaves fairly realistically. When you shoot a window it doesn't just shatter; it spider webs and takes a few hits before the tension causes it to shatter to the ground. My only gripe with the look of the game is that it fails to utilize any sort of physics system and instead opts for a pre-scripted sequence for most of the objects. When you shoot a water cooler you'll always see the bottle separate from the cooler and then spin to the ground in the same fashion, no matter where you shoot it. After the bottle hits the ground it suddenly turns into the immovable force that is unfazed by your bullets or grenades. I'm not asking for Havok physics here, but at least make the object move and react a little.
The sound design is bad, Plan 9 From Outer Space Bad, meaning that it's so bad to the point that it's unintentionally hilarious. Without a doubt, this is the most memorable soundtrack of the year, but for all the wrong reasons. Play for fifteen minutes and toss a grenade, after you hear the bad guys shout "Scatta! Grenade!" you'll bust a gut. Hell, I've played the game for more than 15 hours and that still gets me every time. There are some high points provided by the game’s Dolby Pro Logic II support, but the sound design won’t exactly wow your neighbors.
Everyone is still clamoring over the online gameplay and Killzone tries its best to cater to this crowd. After playing through a few rounds it’s apparent that the game faces an uphill battle that it might not recover from. Fundamentally the game plays well and the action is decent but that’s not the problem. All of the online aspect’s problems can be derived from its poor network code. When utilizing a broadband connection the game stutters and jumps frantically, leading to a highly erratic experience. If the guys can hammer the kinks out of the network code it might be worth revisiting, but at the moment, the online aspect just isn’t worth dealing with.
When you’ve been billed as the HALO killer for the past couple of years, it’s very hard to live up to the hype. I can’t fault the guys at Guerilla for their efforts, Killzone is a relatively solid entry that won’t wow audiences, but at the same time, won’t disappoint them too heavily. As long as you go into this one with an open mind and realistic expectations, you’ll find that Killzone is a decent rental.