Hype did not influence this review. It did not grab this reviewer by the throat and force out an absurdly low or obscenely high score. Hype is not the master of our judgment. If anything, the mysterious entity of extremely positive expectation that floats around the Internet contaminating children might have influenced a reader of this review (or one of our early previews). There's even a chance you have bought into the hype and are now glancing over this justification of a 7.5 rating and wondering why Killzone
is not the greatest thing ever -- thinking that 7.5 is somehow synonymous with awful. Hype will do its evil to the best of us.
First, 7.5 is a statement of worth. It's a rating we assign to quality titles with a fair helping of problems. 7.5 describes a game that could be rented or bought, but should definitely be played by fans, enthusiasts, and casual gamers seeking more out of the genre. That's exactly what Killzone is -- a good game with problems that should be played.
In the future, mankind has spread beyond the confines of the Sol system and has colonized the many worlds of many stars. Sometime during this expansionary phase humanity splits into two major factions: the clean living ISA and the exiled Helghast who settled on an inhospitable world that has since altered their form. Bitter and hardened by an existence wrought with peril, the Helghast now march to reclaim territory and to obliterate the Earth loyal ISA.
In Killzone, players assume the role of an ISA soldier named Templar, who quickly gets three squad mates: Luger the assassin, Rico the heavy gunner, and Hakha the Helghan traitor. Mates or not, Killzone is not a conventional squad-based shooter -- it is not Rainbow Six. A very simple artificial intelligence scheme commands these indestructible allies about, where they're charged with doing considerate things like drawing fire and occasionally shooting.
For the player, the inclusion of AI comrades in-mission means absolutely nothing other than that they will sometimes obstruct paths and need to be circumvented. The squad mates really don't serve much purpose during play, but before the onset of each level it is possible to choose a role. Picking Templar is like choosing to be an average grunt. Luger offers better sniper and stealth characteristics, Rico is big, slow, and shoots lots of bullets with a large gun, and Hakha can operate the randomly placed Helghast switches (as well as use their weapons with a bit more effectiveness than the others).
The occasionally switched up bit of dialogue and the even rarer branching path not withstanding, there's no real reason to switch characters between missions, even if it is theoretically possible that a particular level was designed to cater to a specific character. This means that as soon as Rico becomes available, you might as well pick him and start shooting constantly, because that's a guaranteed way to win. Choosing Rico and gunning down any and everything also isn't too bad. At least, it's a heck of a lot better than playing as Luger.
The first major gameplay oriented problem with Killzone is that the AI is about as intelligent as an orange rolling down a hill. It stands around, stares at walls, twitches madly, remains completely oblivious to things like the death of its friends, and likes to line up in single file and march to its death. When you're Rico and you're plowing through the equivalent of bipedal pumpkins that can absorb many bullets, it's pretty fun. But when you're the stealth girl -- the one that plays off routines and patterns and logic -- it's garbage. Enemies react absurdly, rush when they should roll, and generally do stupid things that make playing sneakily totally pointless and downright aggravating.
So without any advanced AI, Killzone has to rely on scripting to deliver excitement. This makes the game more like Medal of Honor: Allied Assault on the PC (which also had the brains of a pigeon) than something like Halo. Oddly, it's in delivering excitement (the feel), that Killzone marvelously excels while simultaneously fails.
It's a war, right? The Helghast have invaded the ISA world of Vekta (though it has more commonly been written as Vecta in just about every other official release). Anyway, thousands upon thousands of troops are storming the capital city. Massive war machines are bombarding the countryside. Tanks are strolling unimpeded down lanes. And there you are. You are one of the battle hardened. You are an elite ISA soldier. You are a member of a technologically advanced army that takes s*** from no one. You are a killing machine and your world is being raped by a mutated enemy bent on your annihilation. Rally the troops and sally forth! Wait a second... Where the heck is the battle at? Despite focusing on the same kinds of heavily scripted action sequences as Allied Assault or Call of Duty, Killzone never delivers the scale. Front to back (one particular courtyard defense scene not withstanding), Killzone looks, sounds, and feels more like a minor skirmish than a war. It's a murmur after a battle. The whole world seems deserted even though this engagement just began. It's the 28 Days Later sensation. It seems the planetary invasion has been going on for years. It seems as if Templar and company are the last remnants of a feeble resistance now tasked with protecting empty cities rather than a bustling beacon of ISA superiority. It's what we like to call the Turok or Unreal effect. Basically, you and a couple of buddies wander around doing nothing until you run into a small handful of enemies that get dispatched. Then you continue wandering around.
Even if it doesn't manage to deliver the impression of a full scale war, much of Killzone's straightforward shooting can be enjoyable. This doesn't have anything to do with any scripted wow moments, nor is it because of any computerized intelligence. Rather, the enjoyment to be found here comes from the audio, the visuals, and the style. Funny how we're crediting graphics and sound as the saving graces of gameplay, but it's true.
Visually, Killzone is an artistic achievement. The levels have been painstakingly designed to resemble real world locales, so that a futuristic shipyard based off a real dock strikes a chord of familiarity in gamers. The trenches are trenches, the gardens are gardens, and the government buildings look like once functional, plausible facilities. It's a wonderfully grounded, amazingly cohesive title and it never lets up. Even the obligatory trip to a space vessel / station feels like something that could actually happen. The weapons, especially, further the believable universe motif since they all revolve around ballistics and explosives in favor of particle beams and plasma. This makes the guns heavy, meaty, rattling, and violent. Even the fast reloads play them off as chunks of steel and not fragile pieces of United Federation of Planets crap.
All of these visual components help to make plowing through the bunches of Helghast shock troops fun. While the guns are shaking, the brass ejecting, and the muzzles flashing, puffs of smoke and shattered glass fill the air in tight, cluttered spaces. At times like that it just works.
Another contributing factor to why we're actually smiling while playing a linear and rather unintelligent first-person shooter is the audio. The orchestral music is simply fantastic. It carries stylized WWII overtones, but melds with the rising notes of communist propaganda pieces. It's extremely well done, just like the sound effects. Crumpling debris, soft footsteps, steel on steel ricochets, impacted concrete, and bullets to chests are all dead on.
When you take these outstanding visual and audio elements and combine them into the base game, its faults sometimes melt away...sometimes.
Even though we've established Killzone focuses on cheaply scripted combat and uses its visual panache and aural brilliance to make that kind of combat enjoyable, there are still more problems. The framerate is disastrous and has a serious detrimental impact on gameplay, often leading to missed shots, unobserved enemies, and general disorientation. Also, while Killzone features some remarkable still frame visuals for the PlayStation 2, movement creates some rather serious burps. Characters that don't animate facially when speaking in-game is a slight, but the more serious visual hiccups are polygonal seams (the white shimmering or breaking that happens where two polygons meet in an environment) and a really hilarious LOD system.
It's obvious that there is only so much the PlayStation 2 can do. But while games like Ace Combat, Ratchet & Clank, Jak, Snake Eater, and Ghosthunter are constantly pushing that boundary, Killzone has managed to falter. In order to crank out all the high quality visuals, Killzone uses a level of detail system that pops low quality models and textures into a scene in place of higher quality ones that only come into play in close-up situations. The problem is that this particular system doesn't seem to know when it's appropriate to snap these low quality models into a scene. This makes the game appear to be a weird, consistently transforming beast. It'll happen. It's not uncommon to walk in front of a character and see a blurry mishmash of polygons that would barely pass as PSOne acceptable. It's not uncommon to turn a corner and see a hill that looks like a grey temporal void, or a floor that's a long sheet of pure brown. It's pretty ridiculous and happens way too much to be healthy. But what's more distracting is the way the animation routines seem to be tied into this same broken LOD system. When characters in the distance or as close as one foot away do anything they might only draw two or three frames of animation. It's like watching a Southpark character spontaneously move from one position to the next. Since the animation appears to be subject to the same popping whims as the models and textures, this can make for a laughable experience, especially since none of the routines (death scenes in particular) are very good.
All of these positives and negatives start at the beginning and continue right on to the final level. You know, it's the one where the painfully easy to recognize traitor finally gets his. After that, it's all multiplayer.
Know that multiplayer is subject to the same technological deficiencies as singleplayer. Furthermore, in a competitive environment it can be very disheartening to lose a match simply because your framerate dropped to unacceptable levels or the control was too clunky to get a proper shot off. Other than that, expect a fairly straightforward splitscreen and online experience.
In terms of modes, Killzone offers up stuff like assault, deathmatch, attack and defend, and team deathmatch. The most exciting modes have so far been domination and supply drop. Domination is a throwback to classic Unreal Tournament. In it, control nodes are setup throughout a map and teams have to move around taking possession of these nodes so that a total ticket count can reach the win cap faster. It's back and forth gameplay and it gets heated. Supply drop is much different. Best described as a sort of multi-bacon steal the bacon, supply drop begins with a smattering of packs placed around the center of a map. Players then have to rush the middle, snatch these packs (one per person at a time) and return them to the main base. This is another one that goes back and forth and gets pretty tense.
Even if a couple of the modes range from good to exciting, don't expect the most developed online experience in town. Ratchet set a new bar when it comes to stat tracking and features, but Killzone is more of a "get in, play, and then get the hell out" kind of game.
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