Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Review - Killzone (PS2)

I've never been the type of gamer to buy a videogame the day it's released. Thinking back on this matter, I can only recall a few games that I either preordered and/or actually went out to the store to purchase the moment they came out, fingers shaking as I brought the game home with me, much, I assume, like a parent feels bringing home a newborn child. These babies of mine were Super Metroid (SNES), Suikoden (PS1), Final Fantasy VII (PS1), and the just recently released Final Fantasy XII (PS2).

I really wanted to buy Killzone the day it came out. Nay, that very morning, the second whatever local store was closest opened because I have a thing for post-apocalyptic worlds with all-out wars and chaos and all the hoopla. This first-person shooter had been hyped and hyped again as the "Halo killer for the Playstation2." Finally, a game to quench that thirst because Red Faction (both of 'em) certainly didn't do it.

Well, I'm ecstatic I waited to purchase Killzone until it was a $20 Greatest Hit. Joyously ecstatic, much like a parent feels when their lovechild does not grow up to be a pyscho or a person who collects celebrity-shaped food items. Again, I assume. Because it's far from even being close to a Halo clone, far from being anything like it for the PS2, and just far from being remotely a good game.

The Basics
The story behind Killzone is fairly unique, offering up some interesting concepts that are not really deepened by any exploration later on. It's some unknown year in the future and everything is groovy; humankind has been able to colonize in outer space, there's no such things as alien lifeforms, and everyone is smiling, smiling, smiling. That is until a militant group of humans break away from the utopian society (those rebels!) and head to the planet Helghan to settle down for a few. Unfortunately for them, the atmosphere on Helghan is none too friendly and has transformed these folks into an advanced (if very green-skinned) race known now as the Helghast. There's some resentment, some fighting, some crying, and some building of forces. Now the Helghast are prepared for a full assault against those that shunned them, beginning formally on the planet Vekta, where an unlikely group of four will be waiting to save the world.

I liked this idea, actually. A new race born only from their ignorance of their surroundings. The only part that felt undeveloped was why the Helghast first needed to break off and then why they're such angry bastards. The simple explanation would be due to their living conditions on Helghan; that'd be the simple way out, but I'm looking for depth, for understanding, for some sort of sign that those behind the story took the time to work out these details. It's nice to have a reason to want to stop this assault. Otherwise, what's it all for?

The Good
If anything, Killzone has a spectacular ability to create the perfect atmosphere. Though a lot of the locations look similar, they all feel very different. Take the very first level, a training session to learn the basics. We're deep in the trenches with wire fences all around, smoke towering into the sky off in the distance, gunshots and explosions left and right, all with a swarm of Helghast coming up across the landscape, their eyes glowing a rough amber. You feel like you're there, on the frontline, nervous, stuck in all this destruction. All this chaos. Other levels, like the swamp and later ones within the space station, can create a lot of tension simply from walking around in them. Everything is quiet, which makes every little move you make loud. You'll want to run, but you'll be walking, creeping along as one might in a similar real-life situation. So it has that going for it...

The voice acting, while at times rather flat or highly overdramatic, is surprisingly pretty good. The dialogue between Templar and company is lively (Rico cursed too much for my taste), their frustration and anger clear in their voices. These might be my favorite reloading animations ever, showing off the heat you're packing and making you feel tougher than you really are. The maps, while rather confined, actually feel big, landscapes trailing off in the distance. Every now and then players are able to make a couple choices in which direction to go, but the game is linear and will lead to the same place in the end. The brief spurts of freedom are nice, but they could have been more.

The Bad
Whatever character you pick to play as for the level, the other three become allies, following behind you and providing cover. Unfortunately, they're all morons. Half the time they'd end up shouting phrases like "Be quiet!" in the middle of a bullet fight, the other time was spent shooting walls. Man, could they kill us some walls! Walls ran away in fear just because they knew...they knew my friends would mess them up! There's also some glitches here and there, with the reloading animations going silent and other gameplay actions mucking up. For a game this hyped, it should be bug free. It should be fine tuned. It should have been a lot better than this...

The multiplayer maps are expanded portions of levels from the single-player adventure. They look nice, having some buildings to hide in as well as hills and other high-vantage points. But the battle quickly becomes dumb once someone has hold of a grenade launcher, making it difficult to stay alive long enough to devise an attack plan. I haven't tried the online games yet, but I honestly don't ever see myself sitting down for such a session. I haven't played the game again since I beat it.

We're given the option to choose different characters to play as at the start of each level. There's Captain Templar (all around action hero), Rico (heavy artillary), Shadow (sniper), and Hakha (a half-Helghast himself). But really, each play the same and there are only minimal opportunities to use each's abilities to their full potential. Just play as Rico and blast your way through levels. There is no need to have any other characters.

The Fugly
Please tell me how a grenade launcher to the face does little to no damage to a Helghast, but a shot in the leg can take them down instantly. While we're at it, how come ten shots to the head do nothing as well? It doesn't make sense, and it makes each weapon feel the same. If a shotgun can't take down a Helghast soldier in proper time, why would an assault rifle be able to? Or a pistol? I found it much easier to just use close combat tactics than waste my bullets. The damage system of Killzone is poorly developed. And on occasion, fallen bodies stick through walls or hang in the air showing off bad bits of clipping and unattractive polygons.

The Overall Vibe
Killzone has a lot of potential but feels severly underdeveloped. The setting and atmosphere its brimming with does not make up for its shoddy gameplay, linear structure, and unforgivingly bad glitches. The first few levels are fun, but once you realize that the next ten or so are going to be the exact same thing you begin to get annoyed. So far, the PS3 version looks pretty, but we've only seen an intro video at this point. I'm a little hesistant to judge it this early, but from what I now know of Killzone, meh. Be cautious and pass on this one...

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