As has been regularly noted, first person shooters do not often mix well with console gaming. Often any successes are ports of PC titles with a few additional features to convince the console gamer they aren’t being short-changed. So when Microsoft took all the accolades for a genuinely brilliant FPS, Halo, it was inevitable Sony would respond. Although it took them nearly four years to do so.
Proclaimed the ‘Halo-killer’, Killzone was to be Sony’s answer to Bungie’s highly successful FPS series. Early pictures looked fantastic, the demo played well if a little sluggishly and the final product was … disappointing. Even with the recent showing of the sensational trailer for Killzone 2 on PS3 and any extra value that may add to it’s sequel, there is no denying that Killzone was a letdown.
Given control of a turgid group of military stereotypes (sniper, all-rounder, token slow guy with big gun) in a decaying, futuristic environment, you must shoot your way through hordes of the enemy – the red-goggled Helghast. If it sounds uninspiring that’s because it is.
The storyline is relatively simple; invasion forces from the planet Helghan have bypassed Vekta’s much-vaunted SD Defence Network (a space station network not dissimilar to that in Halo 2) and have begun an indiscriminate rampage across the planet. You choose to play as one of three soldiers, behind enemy lines, who must fight their way to the SD Platforms and reactivate them, killing as many Helghast as you can en route.
The environments are stylish in a dystopian, world-savaged-by-war effect, with crumbling building and decrepit roads creating a gloomy, almost post-apocalyptic atmosphere. There is a degree of interaction with the levels; glass can be shoot out of windows; your character can climb to various platforms via ladders and ropes and, depending on your choice of soldier, access certain areas through holes in the scenery. Much of what little exploring there is can be done using the female sniper/assassin character Luger, who is given alternate paths and objectives to the other two characters. The level design is weak and monotonous, there is a distinct lack of variety to the game and the path through each level isn’t always obvious, leading to frustrating minutes spent testing the limits of the environment.
In an attempt to create a modicum of empathy between the characters and the gamer, much in the same vain as the Master Chief, there are several extended movie sequences at the beginning of each level to move the story along. These fail miserably. The script and voice acting are dull and tedious, meaning any attempt at maintaining the illusion of an involving storyline is lost as you quickly skip the cut scenes to get on with the action.
Controlling the characters is relatively simple using the dual analogue sticks with action performed by combinations of the facia and L/R buttons. Unfortunately the system does not allow for the subtle variations of movement so successful in Halo and even older games such as N64’s Goldeneye. Firing the various weapons on offer, of which there are few, is a task in patience. The aiming mechanism and target location are poor, the recoil and attempt at realistic weapon usage force the gamer into firing short, consistent bursts. It gives the game a tactical edge as regards ammo conservation and judging reloading times, but sometimes you just want to let rip with hot lead. All these factors make the game seem clinical and analytical, preventing it from drawing the player into the game and creating an emotional response. Without wishing to sound blasé – it really is hard to find a reason to go on when you get stuck.
Graphically Killzone is one of the better looking PS2 games; from the muzzle flash on your weapon to the red-goggles of the Helghast, the game is depicted in a fitting palette of industrial greys, boggy browns and distorted greens. The level of detail on the decaying environments is exceptional and matches the depth of the character designs. However the Helghast are a faceless horde of clones; there is almost no variety in the enemies you face and no fun in killing your thousandth Helghast soldier. This makes the game a challenge but for the wrong reasons. With few weapons of destruction on offer and regurgitated enemies, even with the changing environments, Killzone becomes a trawl.
There are several standard multiplayer options from Deathmatch to Assault and these are the saving grace of the game. Whilst not as fun as Timesplitters, Killzone offers a lot of satisfying action for you and your friends. Team based battles in particular ramp up the level of competition and atmosphere sadly lacking in the one-player game. Battlefield scenarios are intriguing and the ability to go on-line with the game should have made Killzone a multi-player classic – except Sony’s on-line network is poor and sparsely populated to say the least. In some respects a missed opportunity for the on-line community but nonetheless a very enjoyable multiplayer section that, if you have friends, will consume most of your time when playing this game.
Overall this isn’t a game I’d recommend, there are far superior FPS’s on the shelves – even on PS2, but if your after a bleak, tough shooter that doesn’t do anything particularly well, then this it.
Reviewed by Owen Jones © 2005