Review: Now that we know abashed rhetoric doesn't work against Halo's defenses... how about using a poison tipped Nerf gun the next round?
Between the big three consoles, Sony's PlayStation 2 reigns as king whether it's in comparing sales figures or more important, in games. Games make the system. That's the bottom line right there. Sony's console has dominated with strong results bringing in RPG heavy hitters right down to some of the best that action, platform, horror and other genres has to offer. Grand Theft Auto or Gran Turismo, anyone? But of all the genres available, one has shifted in the favor of another console. When the Xbox launched, everyone had their eye on the predicted-to-be revolutionary First Person Shooter, Halo. Today, Halo is the very reason that the Xbox exists. Arguably, Halo has kept the system alive. Deep down Xbox owners know that to be the truth. So when Sony spread the word that a "Halo killer" was upon us, gamers across the board reacted. In one group of people, you have those who would claim this so called "Killzone" to be nothing more than a spoof -- a false hope if you will. Then in a second category you have those loyal to the hope that Killzone just might clobber what is called by many as the "Best. Console FPS. Ever." The outcome, the trial, the final testament to what many have been waiting to dethrone its competitor or fall far from grace has finally come down to this...
All wars occur for a reason. Different times, different places, and different kinds of people have affected these proceedings throughout the course of history. But what will the future bring? In one future, a major confrontation between the Earth-loyal ISA forces is defending their home from the invading humanized outcasts called Helghast. Once a part of Earth, these Helghast people had been wrought with disease when war forced them to leave their home and find commune elsewhere. Unnatural, the Helghast donned a new appearance that was fitting for their dark days to come. Charred fatigues with bright shining eyes, this Helghast faction has long waited for the day when they would be lead back to Earth to reclaim what was once their home. That time has arrived, and there'll be no stopping them from forcing death and destruction all around them...unless you as a special forces ISA member put your shooting abilities to the test.
When you're a newcomer developer like Guerilla Games whose job is to create a First Person Shooter that would live up to the hype its sales would be based on, you've got an awful lot to live up. Trying to outdo a title like Halo, you've not only got to do some of what that game does, but also more. Microsoft's game experience took you through the role of Master Chief, a lone super soldier in a story-driven, vehicle-boarding, multi-gun equipping human versus alien conflict. In some ways, Killzone achieves some of these same elements. It's got a story, and it's got weapons you can swap between both good and evil forces. But what Killzone doesn't have are vehicles multiple persons can hop on board and join in your fight. Killzone does have its unique elements, however. These include four unique characters that ultimately band together as a team and work in conjunction throughout the levels, as well as a feature that wasn't officially included in the original Halo: online play.
Playing online is a big deal for any First Person Shooter these days. You can frag your friends, you can frag the computer, or you can just frag a number of strangers whether you're playing at home or on the 'net locked in competitive battle through various types of modes. Killzone in its online and offline multiplayer venues too, features six different versus modes for up to 16 players in all (two offline and sixteen online). Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Domination, Supply Drop, Assault, and Defend and Destroy are the game types that are included. As most players of the genre are aware by now, Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch are those types of games where it's either you against everyone else, or one team against the other in an attempt to eradicate each individual player who isn't your own. Domination and Supply Drop are kind of a unique twist on the "Capture the Flag" game type, where in Domination, players have to control a set of switches. In Supply Drop, it's picking up and returning cases to team-controlled bases that gets this game going. Lastly, Assault and Defend and Destroy are even more interesting, as in Assault players will defend their base while an opposite team has to challenge it. Through Defend and Destroy, both teams have bases, and both teams must attempt to eliminate the other one's. Split into six multiplayer methods, over online or off of it, there's certainly no shortage of reasons to replay Killzone here.
But naturally, your reasoning for wanting to play through Killzone depends on how the game functions from the outset. Playing Killzone unfortunately isn't a great game all together like its hype-standing model. Strip away the thought that this isn't the same game as Halo, however, and you do have a pretty good game underneath its shell. Kind of like fusing squad-based and First Person Shooter genres into one, Killzone's single player story leads across an enemy-filled single player campaign, gradually pairing players up with four distinctive soldiers. Players begin the game as the leader of the pack in some ways. An all-around skilled soldier type, Templar can pilot any fixed gun in a level or wield most types of weapons for a person of strength, experience, and skill. Along the way, Templar will meet up with Luger, a deadly assassin, Rico, a heavy weapons type, and Hakha, a half-human and half-Helghast spy whose abilities as the only one able to bypass Helghast security mines and utilize enemy weapons makes him a good guy to have on your side.
What of the characters, though? What makes these people important? Well, every new level you'll come across, you get to choose which of these four you want to be (eventually anyway). Whoever you control, the computer fills in for the remainder of the troop. And it's with this choosing that you'll find you're able to try out different tactics. Choose Luger for instance, and you'll find that with her specialized rapid-firing handgun weapon, you're able to snipe at enemies from a clearer distance better than the standard sniper rifle. Luger also carries the ability to visualize the terrain in infrared and night vision. Pick Rico, though, and you'll be liable for taking down more than anyone's fill with bigger, meatier guns that only he can use (imagine holding your very own heavy machine gun in portable mode). Like Halo, each character also has their own refillable health meter that regenerates on its own over time the less you get shot at. Players can also locate ammunition and health (since sometimes the health bar doesn't fill all the way) over fallen comrades or Helghast enemies when needed. It's also a possibility to swap weapons (in which you can carry up to three at a time), although this doesn't happen very often since unused weaponry items (from some unique and various machinegun types, to a grenade launcher, to knives and handguns) aren't supplied very often.
Of the elements that diminish Killzone though, are a few things that just don't seem quite right. For starters, Killzone sets up a bizarre pacing for its fight sequences. Usually you're off blasting your way through one area to the next, killing off every band of Helghast enemies that assembles before you (and destroying their tanks or flying crafts from time to time). The objectives in this sense are also unclear at times, since you can press select to bring up a list of the exact objectives...which in turn will state "Escape the lab." Or, "Traverse the park." Not that it really matters much how descriptive these details are, but it would be nice to have some kind of hint as to where to go exactly or what is what at times. At least the levels aren't too hard to follow, and the computer does show you the way at times. Oddly enough, though, it's when the Helghast start to fire at nothing in scripted moments before you ever arrive on the scene that the pacing breaks up. Usually you'll hear them speaking when you get a few feet away from their position. They'll start shooting at nothing, you wait until they actually reveal they're reloading, and that's when you go in and fire up the place. It is also in these back and forth bullet scenarios that the enemy will sometimes stop firing completely. You may think they're gone, but really they're just standing around doing nothing. That's when you're expected to either fire at empty space and boot them up again, or foolishly walk into the room and lose some health or life all together. Computer allies are another element that hurt playing the game. Regular ISA agents that you'll meet up with on occasion, and your squad members too will be reluctant to stick their head out before you do. For the most part, you'll find yourself being wounded by gangs of Helghast while others stay behind until you're able to move in closer at times. It'd make a lot more sense if like in a real squad, you could tell the other members what to do, or if you could switch between them...or if they were programmed to cover your back and you can cover theirs just the same. But in Killzone, the feeling's more like you've got to be everyone's savior.
Halo is a game that is known as one of the first Xbox titles to fully take advantage of the Xbox controller (and has managed not to mess up in the process). Killzone does about the same for the PlayStation 2 now, in applying nearly every button to every function in the game. Just like Halo, Killzone doesn't screw with its play mechanics either...though some things are a bit awkward to get used to like some things were in Halo. No doubt about it, driving the Warthog vehicle was the strangest portion in adjusting to the gameplay of Halo. It's a completely unorthodox scheme to have to control a vehicle with two analog sticks simultaneously. In Killzone, the weirdness resides in sniping Helghast enemies with a sniper rifle. Zooming in with a press of R3, the camera can mechanically be shifted then with the right analog stick and the gun fired with the R1 switch. It's an awkward process, but somehow it feels right. The same thing can be said about all other functions in Killzone. Cycling through weapons with circle, reloading with triangle, activating special abilities with square (with Luger), and activating objects with X are the face buttoned controls. Primary fire (R1), secondary fire (R2), ducking (L2), and tossing a grenade or holding onto it (keep L1 pressed long enough, and you'll get a more explosive effect) all work well too. Figuring out Killzone shouldn't take longer than 15 minutes, and it's quite surprising how second nature maintaining its control configurations actually becomes.
Easier than learning the game is looking at it. Killzone has always been designated to be one of the PlayStation 2's shining examples in quality visuals, and in the finish this analysis has evidently come true for the title. In its most appetizing component, Killzone's bodywork, its levels, lend a keen visceral appeal to the grizzled settings where bullets fly and people die. Amongst the ins and outs of ruptured buildings, docks, trenches, beach outposts and more, there's a much needed grittiness flowing throughout Killzone's reality. Textured through the hardened and broken pieces seen along the land, concrete and steel items share a certain polish that paints them in a drab but authentic outline. Rubble and dead bodies are laid to waste and to provide cover in the streets and inside enemy-maintained structures. Shoot through glass windows, and they'll shatter. Shoot at a water cooler, and it'll fly from its liquid station and drip along the ground. Near a computer emitting a green glowing hue, and it'll shine on your weapon and arms alike. ISA and Helghast in the game each have an appearance that applies to them. While there aren't much more than about two types of character models for both sides (the ISA forces are mostly made up of bald men in future-like war uniforms, and the Helghast mostly in black and red-eyed outfits of their own), the characters look nice, especially the Helghast. Their faces, which have on these black, almost Darth Vader-like helmets with gas-mask-like faces and red-lit eyes, give to the Helghast a superb demeanor that certainly makes them one of the most ominous looking foes ever to grace the video game scene. When you're shooting the Helghast and blowing stuff up, their animations are kind of stiff and the levels look a bit smudged, though. But if you walk up to their bodies when you're through, you'll see that plenty of detail went into making these guys and their weapons look particularly genuine (with a rich source of textures that give life to all the little nooks and crannies of most game objects and environments).
Good and bad at the same time, Killzone's range of sounds openly reflects an aspect that creeps to the point of annoyance at times. It's not Killzone's musical showcase, as there actually isn't any music during the game (and if there is, you probably wouldn't even remember where it was heard). It's not the audio side either. There are plenty of unique effects attached to each weapon and action -- be it the beeping of the grenade, to the shaken blasts of shotguns, to the smattering of machineguns, or the perfect pitch used for every step across every different surface (steel, concrete, sand, etc.) No, rather it's the voiced portion of the game that bothers with its overuse of same lines that flip the mood of the intense battle at hand. Helghast soldiers in particular state and shout out lines like, "Keep quiet," "Kill him," and "There they are!" The thing is that it's not generally annoying to hear the Helghast speak these parts in their gravelly tones a few times. But when you hear them say pretty much the same exact stuff through the course of every level, it gets a bit too repetitive. You'll even hear them talk right at the second you get to the scripted sections in every level you're supposed to reach. Right at that key moment, you hear them, or your allies say something, in which their lines don't help out with exaggerated wimpy screams. The story moments, though, are the best part about the voice cast -- there is a fitting selection of strong talents chosen for the movie scenes seen from time to time to progress between levels. Luger's perceptively charming English vocals over to the tough and roughness of Rico's work make the characters believable for whom their personalties are seen as.
Despite what you may be thinking, that in playing, writing about, and even in grading Killzone, Halo affects none of this game here. Pointing out that Halo was the primary source for what would ultimately be the reason that there is a Killzone game, is what I wanted to show. Because there was a Halo, Sony was able to commercialize Killzone for being a better game than it was. Did I play Halo? Yes. Did I enjoy Halo? You betcha. Is Killzone better than Halo? No way. But, Killzone doesn't have to be better than Halo for it to be a decent and playable game. From the moment I started playing Killzone, I began to like it. I might've wanted to see this game become a gargantuan epic of a First Person Shooter deep down inside, but I like what's come out if it even if it hasn't reached a "Halo" status.