Ah, Killzone, how I weep for thee. Killzone is one of hype's most tragic victims, a game so built up as a "Halo killer" and so expected to be the next big thing in first person shooting, that it was never going to be looked upon kindly by history. As developer Guerilla showed off its baby to the world, many people believed that this would be a rich and deep gameplay experience against a new and terrifying enemy, the Helghast.
Sadly, it just couldn't deliver on the hype, and as such, Killzone is regarded by some as a creative failure. Not that it didn't do well, but when the game is thought of these days, one cannot help but regard how far it came to achieving its promise. Even so, the franchise still carries itself an air of perhaps undeserved greatness, so much so, that the same unrealistic hype is starting to build around its sequel, and it's likely that history will repeat itself as the game's developers seem to focus solely on graphics and talk little of gameplay.
All this aside, however, Killzone is actually a pretty good game. No, it's not spectacular, and no, it's not the most satisfying game experience out there, but this is Bargain Bin Laden, where we look for a game that's great for a small amount of money. Killzone, for the price you can nab it for in this day and age, is certainly worth that much.
Hit the jump for more as we discuss cut through the hype and discuss the raw meat that is Killzone.
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Title: Killzone (PlayStation 2)
Developed by: Guerilla Games
Released: November 2nd, 2004
The main problem with Killzone can be found within its villains of choice, and arguably the stars of the show, The Helghast. The Helghast are quite possibly the coolest looking villains to come out of a Playstation game since Sephiroth burned his first village to the ground. Visually menacing, with glowing orange eyes emanating from soulless gas masks, and driven only by their hatred of human life, they could have been the PS2's most iconic bad guys. I was in love with them from the very first preview shots of the game and it was they who drove me to buy it upon release. Sadly, as the major problem with Killzone always seems to be, the look is perfect, but anything more substantial is lacking.
The game looks great, and is led by some amazing artistic direction. Killzone's design is flawless, but its execution is somewhat lacklustre, which is why the game never truly lived up to its potential. If only as much care and attention had gone into how the game handles as how the game looks, then Killzone would have been a masterpiece.
Things start promising. An opening FMV shows the leader of the Helghast, Visceri, giving the kind of oration that Adolf Hitler would be proud of. We learn of the plight of his people, a clan of human descendants who abandoned their mother race to find a new home, Helghan, a planet with such a harsh environment that over time the evolution of the Helghast, conditioning them in such a way that they became superhuman. We see their development as a race of patriotic, human hating brutalists and their feelings of oppression that you can actually empathize with. With this anger burning in them, the Helghast attack a planet under the control of human ISA forces, Vecta, in an act of vengeance against their human oppressors.
From this awesome start, you get thrown into the role of Captain Templar, a cookie-cutter vanilla type of marine with not a lot in the charisma department. As you play through the game, you meet up with three other characters, who you can choose to control at the start of any subsequent levels. The story then contents itself to focus its exposition entirely on these frankly uninteresting characters and their insignificant little squabbles. We never really get to learn more about the Helghast, as they shed their excellent introduction and just become walking targets. While a few highlights appear, nothing is truly standout and the game's once-promising plot quickly disappoints.
Fortunately, plot has never been one of the FPS genre's most sought-after traits, and Killzone doesn't disappoint in the gameplay department if you're prepared to go into it not expecting revolution. As one of the first games to usher in a brand of dark, gritty, suburban sci-fi shooters, Killzone felt rather fresh at the time. While overplayed in this current generation, Killzone in its day scored points for having heavy, old school gunfighting in war-ravaged city streets. To be fair, it's a WWII shooter in a futuristic disguise in some places, but it works.
Unlike most shooters where running and gunning sets you on the right track, Killzone is more methodical and gameplay is somewhat bitty and formulaic. You systematically move from section to section of a level, attacking droves of Helghast in intense pitched battles (hence the use of the word "killzone"). The goal of these firefights is to grab cover and pick off your foes one by one, using precise targeting to down your citrus-eyed assailants. Generally, that's what you'll be doing for the majority of this title, and for the most part it works, though not without problems.
First of all, I always had a terrible time aiming in Killzone. There is no auto-assist, which wouldn't be such a problem if not for the fact that you need precise aim, and the finnicky targeting just doesn't work with an analog stick. I prefer playing FPS games on a console, but not when they don't compromise for analog controls. A second major problem is the fact that the game's enemies are incredibly inconsistent. Some of them seem to die after one or two shots, and others can take a hail of bullets to the face and still play basketball afterwards.
The AI is also an issue, and although the Helghast can sometimes fight with an air of competence, they again lack consistency and are just as happy standing there, soaking up your fire until they drop like flies. The worst offender of all, however, is in the game's collision detection, which can be amazingly infuriating. In no game before or since had I found myself so liable to get trapped in scenery for moving too close to it. Clipping inside an object and having to restart a whole section of game is never fun, but in a title that expects you to use cover, being afraid to go near walls is just despicable.
While there are some huge glaring faults, there is enough to make up for it. There is plenty of atmosphere and a whole ton of setpieces to keep things ticking along nicely, and when the gameplay works, you feel pretty damn good. If you're prepared to do a lot of forgiving, a very worthy game can be unearthed. Of note is the very realistic camera movement that really helps to immerse you in the game. Your vision will wildly flail as you frantically slam another clip of ammo into your gun, it'll swing from side to side as you climb up a ladder and it'll shake like crazy when a grenade explodes in the vicinity.
The game draws from real-life conflicts and there are some notable nods to famous battles within the game. The D-Day landings and the Vietnam War have some clear influence on certain sections -- there's an amazing sense of foreboding as you look out onto the beach and see an army of glowy-eyed devils storming the shore. The game takes you through many locations, from urban areas to jungles and snowy mountains, and the game's place switches throughout, which helps mask the fact that gameplay can be quite repetitive.
Also keeping things fresh is the freedom to choose between four different characters. As well as Templar, you can choose a heavily armed grunt named Rico, a stealthy Assassin called Luger and a half-Helghan spy who calls himself Hakha. They offer varying ways to approach a given level, with different benefits depending on which one you choose. You can only choose one character at the beginning of each level, however, and will have to remain as that one person, so you must choose who you want to be stuck with. Or just choose Rico, because he has the best gun. The choice of characters is good, but it's not especially deep, and only minor changes will occur throughout the level.
The game includes a multiplayer mode which can be taken online, although with only local servers available, no worldwide gaming was ever possible. I only tried the offline multiplayer myself, and very briefly, as it left me feeling deeply unimpressed. Killzone's slow style of play just isn't suited to the multiplayer arena.
The game squeezes everything it can out of the PlayStation, and you can see the results paying off in many areas. Compromises are visible, but so is the payoff, as Killzone really looks amazing in places. Sadly however, graphical bugs are also quite common, and you're guaranteed to see some messed up ragdoll physics and the appearance of stitching lining the walls throughout your experience. Luckily the sound is mostly excellent -- there's some great music and fantastic sound effects, along with solid voiceovers that include the always-welcome Sean Pertwee. If only they'd gotten more than one voice actor to play the entire Helghan army. Or at least got him to record more than three lines of dialog.
All in all, Killzone is a really good game if you pick it up cheap. While I've been quite harsh in this article, I really would recommend seeing if it's in your local store and giving it a try. It's not going to rock your world and it might even annoy you in some places, but you'll have come away from the game with your money's worth, that much I can attest to. Back in its day, this game was not worth full price, nor the insane amount of hype it generated. These days however, there are worse things to spend a few bucks on. Here's hoping the sequel is a must-buy, but I'm not going to hope too hard.