Saturday, November 20, 2004

Review: Killzone (PS2)
Posted by Shocker :: 8:15 PM

Gary's question the other day couldn't be more relevant, as earlier that day I'd actually gone out to rent Killzone for the PS2, which, published by Sony, had a decent buzz about it and was touted as a "Halo Killer". Now, you guys know my attitude on the whole "Killer" thing. I think great games come out for all platforms, and I love gaming enough to be in pursuit of all the consoles.

However, after I thought about it, I can understand a bit more how the suffix gets attached. Basically, a lot of people simply don't play games enough to justify running out and buying games regularly, or playing on every console. Daryl and I had been harassing Josh for about 2 years before he finally broke down and got an XBox. I think the killer thing comes from that, because Daryl and I'd been telling Hogie what he'd been missing out on for so long, he finally had to succumb. So with Halo 2 coming out, and half the gaming world completely freaked out about it, it's understandable that PS2 loyalists would want to find a game that could counter some of that momentum, or at least give them comparable gameplay experiences.

Well, unfortunately, Killzone doesn't achieve either of those things. While it's a solid game, it's got plenty of flaws that keep it from reaching that upper echelon.

Killzone's Helghast, Nazi-inspired supersoldiers, versus the-forces-of-good storyline is actually very well pulled off; in fact, the game is full of immersive aspects that put it heads and shoulders above many, if not most first person shooters. Your character bobs up and down as he runs, looks down when he hops over objects, shifts around when climbing up ladders... In comparison to Halo, its realism makes the floaty Master Chief feel a bit unnatural. Though it's a little unsettling at first, it becomes a bit natural, especially considering how well it's pulled off. Its closest comparison would be Breakdown, a game in which hand-to-hand combat was eventually primarily pulled off in first person.

Graphically, Killzone likely sets a standard as well. The game looks absolutely amazing. Vast, noisy battlefields and dug-in trenches litter the opening level. The sky is ominously brown, and a dusty fog blocks your vision. Cities are broken down and half-destroyed; buildings lie in ruin. Through all this, the game's textures are incredibly sharp, the character models very detailed. However, all that glitters isn't gold. Killzone taxes the PS2 a bit beyond its limits. Slowdown is not uncommon, but more common is a stunted framerate that slows the immersive aspects of the game. As well, a lot of objects morph through walls or into and out from floors.

Killzone is almost completely linear. Having a linear storyline is not uncommon for a First Person Shooter (or many other games), but having a single path through most areas is. It's even evidence of poor design. Many things play out in a series of triggered attacks from you entering a certain area, killing all the enemies and then moving into the next place you're supposed to go. It's not that this is awful in-and-of itself (again), but the vast battlefields I described earlier are fenced in by invisible walls and linear paths through which there's no variation in the way you run through. The game could practically be on rails (think Pokemon Snap (N64) as the most obvious example). At times it feels more like a puzzle-shooter like Capcom's P.N.03 (GameCube). These aren't bad comparisons, but it doesn't make for a great game, especially one that borrows so many FPS conventions, or wants to belong in the upper echelon of FPS games.

In another recent FPS development, Killzone has a weapon-carry limit. Unlike Halo and Brute Force, though, you can carry 3 weapons here. Unfortunately (I sure am using that word a lot tonight, aren't I?), it doesn't work very well either. Having 2 weapons allows you to quickly switch back from one type of weapon to your other weapon. The entire point of having a 2 weapon limit, aside from increased realism, is that you can carry two weapons for different sorts of situations: a shotgun for when enemies close in, or an assault rifle for medium range engagements. Switching between 3 becomes cumbersome and impossible to immediately get where you need to. Making it even more impossible are ridiculous weapon-switching animations you are forced to endure absolutely every time you switch weapons (usually him cocking the weapon, although he could be reloading and then cocking). Versus Halo, or Brute Force, you're unable to switch quickly from a weapon that's empty to a weapon that's ready to go in the heat of battle. This was a poor design decision, and factors into both single and multiplayer.

Weapons here run the usual gamut. Rifles, guns, rocket launchers, etc. Helghast weapons generally being less accurate and having more ammo, ISA weapons being the opposite. Considering how awful the reloading sequences are, I preferred going with Helghast weapons. However, when I say "less accurate", I friggin mean it. I've stood at 10 paces and have missed with 30 rounds of submachine gun fire on a stationary enemy as I stood directly in front of him. I've blasted people with shotgun fire multiple times just to get them to die at point blank because they were slightly outside the reticule. The game has on- and off-line multiplayer, but predictable frustrations happen considering the reload animations and framerate problems.

Though the campaign mode is interesting, and the cutscenes and voiceacting are well done, I don't know if they're strong enough to carry the game. Idiotic AI, countless iterations of the same enemies (Am I playing Killzone or Time Crisis?), and frustrating level design which intimates more interesting experiences but punishes you for straying off the beaten path. Many times, some random character will shout "Captain, meet us over here, we'll escort you" without you knowing who they are or where they are. Of course, nothing can happen until you do this, and even if you try to look at other soldiers who might, you know, be guarding you and directing you toward your goal point, they are often off looking into space or aiming at (and into) walls. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

I usually don't go into games with expectations, because I'm easily disappointed. But I did expect this game to be better than average, especially because I knew with Sony publishing this, it could turn into a marquee title. But Killzone seems like it was rushed out for the holiday season. Another 3 or 4 months in development would have turned what is ultimately a substandard experience into an extremely memorable one. Going into the review, I was thinking of saying the game is average and leaving it at that. But the more I think about its flaws and potential, I have to go lower than that. While I love the storyline and want to see a sequel, this game probably doesn't warrant more than a very brief rental.

You would figure that the on-a-rail type of game would have died entirely long before 2004...I'm kind of amazed that someone would put out a linear game and expect it to put a dent in Halomania...
Well, again, it's not a bad game. As I said to you in our chat room, it hovers in that space right around average. But when I got thinking about what a disappointment it is, I kind of had to go lower (an honest reviewer could easily give it a 3 and I'd have no disagreement with him/her, for instance). I don't mean to imply the game actually forces you to move along, like a Pokemon Snap or a shooter like Raiden/R-Type, it's just that if you ever hope to actually move forward, there's generally only one way to go. Thanks for your comments, Sean.

- Dan
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