Killzone User Review
Have you ever happened across someone from your past and, rather than being overwhelmed with memories of the good times of your youth, you are struck solely by how much things have changed? It has happened to me several times, and each has left me feeling disappointed with the path that my life has taken in recent years, but I’m not here to talk about the particulars of my life. I’ve put forward that peculiarity because I received much the same feeling as I booted up and began to play the first entry in Sony’s Killzone series. I never owned a Playstation 2 and I have had precious few chances to experience some of what was offered on the venerable device and it is become immediately obvious to me just how privileged I am to really kick of my gaming career with the Playstation 3, which is largely devoid of certain gameplay quirks, and far more in tune with what I genuinely enjoy from my entertainment experiences. Enough history though, you hit the link to read a review, not my inane ramblings.
Killzone takes place some time in the far-flung future, where humans have moved well beyond our terrestrial bounds. The colonisation of the universe has begun, and a number of planets are falling into line beneath the banner of humanity and the Interplanetary Strategic Alliance. The future is looking singularly promising, but on one planet, dissent is being spread. Helghan is a brutal, poisonous world, the settlers of which have had to evolve and adapt to the environment. Years earlier, they had owned Vekta, but the ISA had forced them from the planet as a result of economic instability, making them bitter and hateful towards humans. Their leader, Scolar Visari, taps into this resentment, and the Helghast attack Vekta with the intention of recapturing it. The initial blitzkrieg passes through the Strategic Defence platforms, landing an army on the ground and the second war begins.
It is in the midst of this that players take the role of Captain Jan Templar, a man known for his plucky attitude and devotion to the cause and one of the favourite of the renowned General Vaughton. Following the invasion, he is called from his outpost and ordered to find and bring back Colonel Hakha, a spy with vital information. The rich backstory of the game is largely left untouched in the campaign, instead offering a very straightforward war scenario, full of hectic battles and characters with questionable motives. It is in this latter aspect that the game really surprises. The characters may stick to certain well-worn archetypes, but they also prove to be strongly thought out and well written from time to time. Even so, it’s difficult to care about them, but that should come as no surprise for anyone familiar with first person shooters. The events of the game themselves simply play out as you move from one battle to the other, experiencing the regular beats as the game swings from pitched warfare to breathing space quite often.
The game strikes a good balance in the way that it proceeds, with level design proving frequently to be among the high points as a result of the diversity and the way that each new backdrop brings with it a design ethic that feels organic. From the slums and forests of Vekta, through to the hard sci-fi aesthetic of the SD platform, it gives of a very real sense of presence that simply isn’t granted so well even today with our HD generation. In terms of sheer graphical prowess, Killzone is no slouch with these environments being well detailed, with the slums in particular being capable of evoking the feel of an urban combat zone. I found the entire level to be quite haunting.
Unfortunately, the excellence of the graphics is overshadowed by a criminally short draw distance, with any many objects at any distance being obscured by fog, while even the level of detail drops off quickly with distance. It’s disappointing, but may be mitigated by hardware constraints. Of course, most of the levels are small, so this isn’t as much of an issue as it could have been, but it really does raise its head in larger, more open levels, even when their design does call for it. On the technical side, the game manages to uphold a steady framerate most of the time, with only occasional drops and not a torn frame did I observe. The graphical engine is really quite remarkable, granted by the fact that I walked away satisfied despite playing on a 50-inch TV without upscaling the picture.
Unfortunately, the sound doesn’t always manage to uphold this same calibre of excellence, despite soaring in some areas. Perhaps the best element of the sound is the ambient environmental noise. No matter what setting you’re in, it is evoked well by the what you can hear in the moments when the action is on hold. Crashing waves on the beach or the cries of unseen birds in the forest, even the slight echo as you make your way through an abandoned building, all of these are well presented and successfully create a convincing world in conjunct with the aforementioned graphical merits. The guns all pack a considerable punch, but I felt that they weren’t necessarily different enough to really make them stand out, while you’ll often throw a grenade, only to have the sound file fail to load, leaving only the imagery of the explosion. A considerable flaw, no doubt, but not one that can turn one away from the game.
The soundtrack seems to have been kept to a minimum in favour of the natural sounds, but it works well when it takes precedence. The voice work is arguably the largest point of contention for this facet of the game. It is decent enough, but often delivered with woodenness and a lack of emotion, even in moments where it is called for. It embodies the reason for my lack of empathy with them, which I’ve already mentioned. The banter between them is sometimes fun, while the nature of the exchanges between the two pairs does make for clear exposition on each. The ancillary characters met in the cutscenes put up a good effort, but ultimately adhere to these same underwhelming ideals. The most disappointing work comes from the Helghast enemies, who are often found recycling the same half a dozen lines in an uncomfortably gruff voice with the peculiar inclusion of a British accent.
Never mind that, though. The gameplay is largely what you’d expect from a linear first person shooter, as the formula isn’t one that can undergo wild deviations. You move through mostly straightforward levels, dispatching enemies as you come across them using a variety of weapons that can be picked up from downed enemies, or are sometimes found in caches scattered about the environment. One of the more interesting facets of the game is that, without being a squad based shooter, there are four characters that you can play as, that are unlocked as you play through the campaign. Each has a signature weapon designed for their role in the army, but this can be cast aside if you find a better combination. Adding a further element to this is that each character also has different statistics that you notice while playing. This ranges from varying levels of defensive strength to speed and stamina, really making you choose to play as. Furthermore, you will also happen across different paths in the game depending on which character you choose to play as, offering replay value by trying to see each different path.
I mentioned earlier that you can pick up any weapons you come across in the environment, but this comes with the limitation that you can carry only three at any given time, along with five grenades. It means that you have to think about what might be coming up ahead and arm yourself for any situation, making it wise to always diversify with what you carry, and to take note of your surroundings that you might better gauge what you might need. Of course, it is entirely possible to get through the majority of the game using only an assault rifle, but that simply is not fun. Further tactical diversity is granted by the fact that each weapon has an alternate firing mode. It reminds me a lot of Resistance, only lacking in creativity compared to Insomniac’s gem of a series.
But here is probably my biggest gripe to the game: it feels dated (Duh, you’re probably saying right about now). The AI occasionally shines, but also feels like a group of disparate enemies, rather than acting like a cohesive unit (something that is still mind-numbingly frequent in games today) and trying advanced tactics, such as flanking, or even waiting for you to appear, rather than charging through an open door one at a time, only to be mowed down. On the positive side, the game is completely devoid of my pet peeve of never ending spawn points. But it’s more than this. It is the weight of the controller itself. When Sony moved from the Dualshock 2 to the Sixaxis, one of the changes made was from a six-point register of the analogue sticks to an eight-point one, and the fact that Killzone is designed on the former simply makes the game feel sluggish compared to more modern productions. Further to this, it does not make good use of a dead zone on the sticks and the default control scheme got on my nerves. Thankfully, this last can be remedied by full customisation, but I was disappointed to find that the zoom function was on/off, rather than controlled.
These can all be overlooked if you’re determined to like the game, but I simply couldn’t reconcile myself to them and as such, I’m walking away from Killzone with a distinct feeling of indifference. I acknowledge that it is old and cheap, but I can’t say that I truly enjoyed it. It’s a good game, and one well worth taking a look at if you have the time, but it won’t blow you away. Oh, and botzone is little more than another excuse for me to not both with online multiplayer.
Peace and Love. Until next time, PSXE.
This user review does not reflect the views of the PSX Extreme Staff.