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Killzone

Developer: Guerrilla
Publisher: SCEA
Genre: First-Person Shooter
Players: 1-2 / 1-16
Similar To: TimeSplitters 2
Rating: Mature
Published: 11 :29 : 04
Reviewed By: Ryan Newman

Overall: 6 = Fair

 

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Upon the failure of the super sophisticated SD Network, Vekta, a colonial member of the ISA, was left defenseless, leaving their colony to be invaded by the fascist separatists known as the Helghast. Only a handful of troops remain to man the defenses until reinforcements arrive from Earth. Not only do the Helghast have a love for theatrics, with giant banners and suits that make their eyes glow menacingly, but they are also slightly mutated with enhanced strength and a burning hatred for the victors of the first Helghan War - which would include you.

Sure, the parallels between Helghast and Nazi Germany are slight, what with the giant banners, rambling leader in front of thousands of troops speaking of being united after suffering years of oppression from others, but no one said World War III with quasi-mutant humans was all that bad of a place to start. There is something stirring and foreboding about a megalomaniac speaking with saliva-inducing fervor about rising up against the powers-that-be to a group of heavily-armed troops dressed in battle armor. The collapse of the SD Network means that all of those troops in the intro are making their way to the planet's surface. This, of course, is where you come in. To get the network back online, the player, an ISA Rapid Reaction Force soldier named Templar, must find the higher-ups and get them and their equipment to a position to that will get the defenses powered up again.

Of course, doing this won't be easy. Helghast forces are everywhere, and they normally roam in packs, with troops carrying either a machinegun and shotgun hybrid rifle or a heavy machine gun. They also have very good aim. A little too good, actually, with some shots hitting their mark from a street block or two away with a hit-rate the player can only dream of. The story includes a bit about Helghast soldiers being tougher than normal humans due to their rugged environment, which would explain why it can take ten or so rounds to kill a single soldier. However, it doesn't explain why the ISA

 

just didn't beef up their guns to make it one or two rounds. Needless to say, the player is at a distinct disadvantage.

Throughout the game, other characters will be introduced. In key junctions in the story, Templar will run across other troops: a special op assassin (Luger), a heavy machinegun-totting regular (Rico), and a Human Helghast operative (Hakha). When the players meets any one of these individuals, the game will kick back to a character select screen, allowing players to continue on with the character they have been using or use one of the new ones, with those not chosen left to follow the player around and form a literally invincible mini-squad around them. The differences between the characters are relatively minor. Each is supposed to have a specialty of sorts: Templar has a machinegun with a longer accuracy range with a grenade launcher as a secondary weapon; Luger uses a strong, accurate machine gun that holds less ammo than the others, as well as nightvision and a knife; Rico has a mounted heavy machinegun that holds 800 rounds and is heat sensitive with a rocket as a secondary attack; and Hakha uses the standard Helghast machinegun and shotgun hybrid rifle, as well as a knife. While it's fun to switch between characters, the only real difference is if someone wants to start with a heavy machinegun or night vision, because no one is more proficient with their starting weapon than anyone else, and the standard ISA and Helghast rifle can be picked up off the battlefield (the player can hold three weapons of any variety at once). Also, because the computer AI is so sensitive to what is going on, night vision and knives are absolutely useless because a guard can hear something two rooms away, regardless of how quiet or out of sight the player is. I was only able to knife one enemy one time, and while it was cool, I could've just as easily used a melee attack, which everyone can do and requires being just as close (extremely close) to pull off. The interaction between the four during cutscenes is somewhat interesting, with the pressure of combat and problems with Hakha causing strife between them - note: there is plenty of profanity and gore, so parents, mind the M rating. The lack of differences between them all negates much of what this could've brought to the game, with the positives being relatively minor.

Going with a unique approach, Guerrilla adopted a Breakdown style of camera usage. Instead of being able to jump or just going to a ladder and pressing up or down to move accordingly, the player is limited to what they can do by set spots of action. If a ladder can be used or a wall jumped over, a small action icon will appear on the screen, with the resulting animation being the camera moving in the actual manner one's head would when doing the action. So, going up a ladder will make the view wobble left and right, going over a wall will have the camera show the hand reaching down and the angle in which they jump into, etc. Sprinting, limited by a stamina bar, results in a nice blurring effect on the screen as well. Similarly, throwing grenades is also a bit more involved with a few extra steps and animations. Reloading is also done with the same amount of detail, and it comes across well, but what I didn't like was the game automatically putting a round into the chamber whenever a weapon was selected, which takes a few seconds and leaves time for the enemy to get in a few good potshots due to navigation being made difficult, what with a giant gun in the view and all.

The terrain needing to be traversed ranges from desolate city streets, to thick jungle, to seaside ports. By looking at the screenshots, it's easy to think that the game looks great, because, when everything is still, it does. The art direction, aside from every futuristic fascist regime looking snazzy, really pulled off the look of a futuristic war-torn city and a generally gritty look. There is a great sensation of scope in many of the settings, like battling from one half-finished high-rise to enemies on another, shootouts in a city park and mall, running through trenches dug in the middle of city streets, and holding bombed-out buildings from small assaults. Aside from those mentioned, the weapons include a Helghast heavy machine gun, a shotgun, grenade launcher (and a smaller, single shot one), a sniper rifle (that I found pretty much useless in lieu of the rifles that couldn't zoom up as far but were much easier to control), pistols, and a rocket launcher. All of these will pepper buildings with holes and scorch marks, which also stay to show the damage a minor skirmish can inflict - which would, I imagine, tax the PS2 pretty heavily. Something that I definitely enjoyed was that some weapons can hold hundreds of rounds of ammunition, and those not effected by overheating can let all of the rounds rip with decent accuracy throughout the entire clip. Sometimes just mowing down four of five invading mutated soldiers with over eighty rounds just feels good. One definitely gets the sense that they are in the middle of an invasion; it's just a shame that the hardware doesn't seem up to delivering what the developers had intended.

The problems start immediately. For starters, there the framerate drops regularly, there are polygon seams everywhere, severe draw-in and fog are common, and, on something somewhat technically related, many buildings and settings are reused, giving off a Halo Library effect. The framerate won't drop to five frames or anything, but it is significant enough to affect aim, which is difficult enough by virtue of the PlayStation 2 controller itself, which has to be one of the worst - and most painful - controllers to use for first-person shooters. By going with the gritty look, much of the game is dark, and this becomes a two-fold problem: one, it makes the black-clad Helghast harder to see (sometimes almost impossible until they shoot), and another is that it makes polygon seams very apparent, often making rooms look like they are falling apart. The fog that graced Turok on the N64 is back, and is strikingly similar: in both cases the fog helped to create a sense of atmosphere - in Turok it fit with the jungle and in Killzone it often comes across as a cloud of debris from the destruction - but it's also evident that it masks a system not being able to keep up, and that is especially the case here with entire buildings forming out of nowhere. There are also times when the player can see no detail, then everything at once: I looked at the ground, saw nothing, then turned to the left and watched an entire section of grass form with detail and all, and this also happened on a character model as well, with a face being a black and peach splotch until I got close enough for the detail to kick in and the mouth, nose and eyes suddenly popping in place. The sense of immersion created by the art and design is mauled by all of these problems.

I'm not sure if it was due to limitations or if the developers just ran out of things to say, but the in-combat chatter consists of just a handful of phrases. The cutscene voice-overs are done very well with good synching, but during combat the raspy Helghast and the Human ISA soldiers become distracting as they repeat their lines ad nauseam, often at inappropriate times - nothing like hearing a command to take cover when no one is around or to move quietly when the enemy will be alerted no matter what. The music is used in menus and more dramatic parts, but was wisely toned down in the levels themselves, with nice sound effects being used effectively.

The enemy AI is just as uneven as the rest of the game: it will display cunning covering tactics, complete with appropriate voice commands, or sit there and get shot. There were several times when an enemy would put up a good fight, then just forget I was there and turn and check out another direction. In contrast, I encountered some computer-controlled enemies in the Battlefield portion of the game - Killzone's off- and on-line multiplayer component, with, (yes, Bungie) bots - that were absolutely lethal on normal; oddly enough, other times, on the same level, the enemy seemed lost as to what was going on. Apparently the game hates consistency.

The Battlefield portion might sway some, but the technical problems make smooth aiming and movement just as hard online as it is off. Consisting of around five very solid maps, up to two players (for offline) can play with teams of seven bots in Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Supply Drop (getting supplies and returning them to base), Domination (capturing 5 beacons), Assault, Search and Destroy (destroy generators while protecting your team's). The time limit and spawn count can be adjusted, as well as how much the points are worth. Online play also features stat tracking and a buddy list. It's nice that Battlefield is as robust as it is, but I don't see myself playing it after this, as I have better alternatives.

Overall: 6/10
At times coming off like a true contender amongst some of the best of the genre, but often coming off like a mediocre, forgettable offering, Killzone is what happens when a developer's ambition overreaches the capabilities of their system of choice. Of course, my statement of it being a true contender is pure conjecture as the game could easily be worse without the gameplay-distracting technical hurdles, but I cannot deny that the feeling of something special emerging is definitely there - it just never comes through. The problems resulting from technical issues are rather severe for any game, much less one released in a timeframe that has seen the release of Doom 3, Halo 2, and Half-Life 2. However, if you are a PlayStation 2-only gamer, you can certainly do far worse than Guerrilla's offering. I did have some fun with the game, but it is no match for its competition. However, if that competition is limited to the PS2 for you, then it could make for a solid weekend rental.

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