Developer: Guerrilla
Publisher: SCEE
Release Date: Out Now
Players: 1 or 2, 2-16 network play
Words By:

If you ask any PS2 owner what their console needs, they’ll probably say a first person shooter of the calibre of Halo on Xbox. In every other genre the PS2 seems to be covered, but despite some noble efforts, a top-quality FPS with first-rate multiplayer options is still missing from the PS2 line-up. Killzone has long been touted as a “Halo beater” and it’s finally here, the problem being that Halo 2 has just arrived…

Killzone is set in the near future, in a period of planetary colonisation and revolves around a savage conflict between forces that are still loyal to Earth (the ISA) and a separatist, militaristic faction who call themselves the Helghast. The game follows a squad of four soldiers on a suicidal mission behind enemy lines, as they fight to undermine and defeat the Helghast forces following their devastating Blitzkrieg attack on the human colony of Vektan. You play as Jan Templar, a Sergeant in the ISA Army, and as the game progresses you also get to play as Luger (the cool female spy and sniping expert), Rico (a hot-headed but effective grunt of a soldier with heavy weapons expertise), and finally Hakha (a Spy of half Vektan/half Helghast parentage). Together this unlikely foursome form an unstoppable force that is good enough and determined enough to wrestle control of vital installations back from the invading Helghast storm troopers, including one of the Vektan’s main defences, the massive orbiting space defence (SD) platforms. The campaign is fought over 11 mission-based levels that are split into smaller sections, and the invading enemy (The Helghast) are clearly modelled on German World War II stormtroopers (in fact the whole Helghast war machine has a distinctly Nazi look to it), their stylised uniforms are heavily armoured, meaning that headshots are the quickest way to kill them. They come in a few different varieties; the basic soldier who tends to be fairly dumb, poorly armed and easy to kill, the light soldier, who is quicker but carries little armour, the dangerous Elite soldier who has massive thick armour and tends to carry a light machine gun or a grenade launcher, bounty hunters who have incredibly tough armour and laser designators to rain bombs down on you, and finally Bodyguards, who are even tougher, more accurate and intelligent than Elites.

The basic controls are just about how you’d expect them; movement on the left stick and aiming with the right, the circle button is the weapon select button, L3 allows you to sprint for a limited time, and R3 zooms the view if the weapon permits it. L2 is the crouch button (very handy) and L1 is a dedicated grenade throwing button in a similar way to Halo, in fact the similarities to Halo don’t end there as the weapons you can carry are limited and your energy gauge also recharges over time.

The weapons are all futuristic versions of exiting weaponry; combat knives, pistols, assault rifles, shotgun, machine guns, minigun, grenade launcher, rocket launcher, automatic sniper pistol, sniper rifle and a cool laser designator that allows you to target armoured vehicles or dug in troops with an aerial bombardment that wipes out anything in the area. You fire them all with R1, and several have a secondary fire function set to R2 (the two different assault rifles have grenade or shotgun function for example). The sniper rifle, and the way it sights, is also worth a mention all on its own - it's bloody awful. You find out where all Killzone’s colour went as you sight up and get a reddy-orange tinted lens!, which means you can see virtually bog all at any distance, and it aims in a similar way to Timeplitters, i.e. the reticule moves within the screen and then drags it over as it nears the screen edge – you can zoom the scope with the D-Pad, but overall it lacks subtlety, and is a real let down.

The four playable characters are rather good for a change, and mean a nice bit of variation, but the implementation could have been worked in better; you have no Rainbow Six-style control over the squad, so the three non-player characters fight alongside you with some highly variable AI. Sometimes they’ll help you out, others they’ll leave you with your arse hanging out and not lift a finger to save you, so you never come to rely on them too much. They will even get in your way and then complain when you shoot them (fortunately they’re indestructible). You can play any level with any of the 4 (after they join the party) and get a slightly different experience every time, due to their differing abilities and the way the levels are mapped (Luger the sniperchick climbs ladders and can sneak up on Helghast to perform stealth kills with her combat knife, for instance), but there aren’t really enough opportunities for stealth and the other three will often blunder in and start shooting when you were trying to pick the enemy off surreptitiously from a distance. You can't go straight back and replay a level and change characters either, you have to quit your saved game and re-select the level and character from the menu, which feels a bit clunky and poorly thought out – it does mean that you’ll probably play Killzone through more than once though…

Visually Killzone is one of a kind. Faintly reminiscent of Metal Gear Solid 2 there are splashes of colour here and there, but, as you can see from the screens shots, everything is bleached, and drawn in a very subdued palette – it’s not quite a sepia effect but it’s as close as makes no difference. Game engine-wise it looks like the PS2 is about to have a heart attack at times – there’s loads going on, with the frequent hectic firefights and accompanying explosions, flames, smashable glass and breakable objects everywhere, and ragdoll physics, but it’s not the most solid game I've ever seen, with some disappointing clipping, warping, glitching and frame rate problems (particularly if you have the view zoomed in).

Killzone’s sound is pretty varied too; highly atmospheric for the most part with background ‘battle-in-a-big-city’ noise done really well. The many explosions and weapons also sound great (and look great too, although the detailed loading sequences take so long that they get on your wick). The music is also pretty good, a sort of rousing orchestral score that works well, but I found myself turning it down a bit. Voice acting is also well done (Sean Pertwee plays Hakha) and the Helghast all sound suitably annoying, arrogant and killable, but there aren’t really enough speech samples and their constant cries of “Advance”, “Medic”, “They’ve got me pinned down” get repetitive quickly…

Killzone’s multiplayer is a revelation. Online it allows you to play a varied game of out and out shooting or stealthy sniping/camping action over 8 levels themed on locations from the campaign. There are lots of overlooks, nook and crannies but if you don’t keep moving you will get nailed, and the weapons seem to have a realistic amount of accuracy built in, so that you can happily snipe away until someone gets hold of another sniper weapon to remove you, or a heavy weapon to flush you out, or manages to sneak up behind you and take you out from close range. The multiplayer maps can even be played on your own or with a mate with up to 14 extremely aggressive bots that will kick your ass even on 'easy' if you aren’t careful… and ahem… Bungie couldn’t manage that with Halo 2…

And as weird as I think it is to play what is basically a multiplayer game on your own, I know quite a few gamers who like it, and Killzone’s is rather good (you can even have more bots on your side than the enemy if you feel like being the bully for a change, and kicking some Helghast arse), so if you like playing deathmatches and don't have any mates or a network adapter it's perfect. The online network game works pretty well too - some really big and impressively detailed levels, and there are loads of people playing it at the moment. The voice coms are good too, which makes a nice change for a PS2 network game, but the lobby system is still a bit archaic. If this had the variation of Halo 2 or the frame rate of Timeplitters 2 it alone would be a reason to buy a network adapter or a new PSTwo, but the lack of driveable vehicles and variable frame rate spoils it at times - especially if you’ve been lucky enough to play Halo 2 recently. But Killzone games are always interesting (whether it’s with 2 or with 16) and the maps allow for plenty of intense battles – I love the weaponry and the gritty feeling of combat that Killzone gets across. Multiplayer modes include Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Domination (capture as many nodes as possible), Supply Drop (pick up the bags and return them to base), Assault (one team must destroy the other team’s generators) and Defend and Destroy (both teams have generators to protect and attack). You can define the time limit, turn friendly fire on/off, whether you want player names displayed, and of course the number of points to win.

Whatever you think of the look or the way it plays, can’t get away from the fact that Killzone is darned good - for the PS2. But the machine is five years old now and this often impressive-looking game really makes it work too hard, and it starts to look its age, and underpowered. Personally I love Killzone’s graphical style (let's call it GREYOVISION) but the detail level is just too much for the PS2 - it grinds to a halt sometimes especially when the view is zoomed in, and as the game clearly isn’t running in a high resolution this is a bit disappointing.

So Killzone isn’t quite the “Halo beater” that we’d hoped for, but it’s a big step in the right direction for the PS2 that seems to get stuck with innumerable multiformat WWII & Vietnam first person shooters, and little else. Killzone is an impressive and timely game to get so late in a console’s life, and Sony knew what they were doing when they signed Guerrilla, the game’s talented developers up to an exclusivity deal – Killzone 2 is a certainty, and it’s an exciting prospect.

Click these if you dare

Best Bits

- Good story and characters.
- Nice heavy weapons that fire LOTS of bullets.
- Gritty, violent and hectic battles with good sound FX.
- Some good locations that make the war seem more real.
- The multiple characters mean there’s a good replayability factor.
- Highly playable offline and online multiplayer.
Worst Bits

- The frame rate often drops.
- So many graphical glitches, even close up in facial animations.
- Some annoyingly long distances between checkpoints.
- The voices soon get repetitive.
- There are loads of vehicles in the game but you don’t get to play with them.
- Fans of colour should get Jak 3 instead.

by: Diddly

Copyright © Gamecell 2004

Been completely ignored? No-one cares? Reviews put people off? Well I got a copy to see just what was what, and because I don't trust commercial reviewers, biased fanboys and popularist internet sites wanting to court controversy. Well for those that know nothing about it, Killzone is a First-Person-Shooter, set in the nearish future on the next few planets away from Earth. One colony has got pissed off and invaded another colony. You play through as a small team of the defenders trying to help repel the invasion. It has nazi overtones which are well played out in FMV cutscenes, however most of the themes do not progress much further, and it devolves into generic skirmishing and relationship/story developments about the immediate moment. Really taking a look at the story from a distance, I dont know if the team achieved anything. As in if they had gone off for a beer if the end result would still be the same, which makes your efforts seem a bit futile in the scheme of it. Maybe one of the other character's cutscenes throws more light on things? So I might have to finish the game with the others.

I think the single-player aspect is pretty good. It's been much maligned in reviews, but is way better than the last couple of Medal Of Honor games, which it plays somewhat similar to. Weapons are functional rather than OTT. Displays do the job. The environment feels well realised, though it is basically on-rails, as even the outside bits are mostly very controlled as to where you can walk. The AI is both good and bad, mostly good, and they react when you shoot their buddy with a sniper rifle, unlike some games. They take cover, support each other, but are rather non-aggressive considering the setup of both the plot and supposed nature of its soldiers. Gameplay involves standard running and gunning, using cover and tactical application of the most suitable weapon (of which you can carry three). The characters vary the levels slightly, as some can take different paths, but they also handle weapons differently, so the heavy weapons guy does feel different than the spy using the same gun.

Graphics are excellent, with a very real grim atmosphere. This does portray very much like being in a warzone, with music and ambient sounds adding to the mix. The colour pallette is very reminiscent of ICO, as can be some of the starkness and emptiness of the earlier levels when you are by yourself. Each level seems to grab a certain muted colour and run with that. It's effective as an aid to setting the tone of the level, been called drab by others, and a tad arty. The character models are decent. Some reviewers have complained about the lack of variation in the Helgast, but it is logical when one considers that an army usually dresses a.) functionally and b.) similarly. It should not be 'green-bad guy with claws', 'red bad-guy with big gun' - that would not make sense given its premises. Also they do add a certain menace with their goggles aglow.

Sound is on the whole neglected. Magazine changing sounds are generic, maybe even reused, so loading a shotgun shell seems much the same as swapping a rifle mag. There needs to be about ten times as much banter from the Helgast, as repetition sets in far too quickly, and not always appropriately. Sure they should call out team tactics (fire from the left : give covering fire : squad member down) but when there's one guy by himself yelling out calls and giving the same grunt noise as he's shot by you... a bit poor. I'm not saying it's the worst I've heard but not up to the standards of the graphics. The ambient noise is better however.

I guess the main thing is all these elements do tie together to give a very believable world. It is all so realistic, for a sci fi game, which in some ways makes it less exciting than your Quakes, Halos or other flashy sci fi shooters, and has a grim atmosphere more like Games Workshop's Warhammer 40K. If you can accept that change from the current vogue it does draw you in quite well, and gives an appealing FPS experience of solid quality.

Online is a bit more variable; I'm well sick of some gamers awful latency. I was shooting one guy with the combat shotgun, and everytime I'd fire he'd not be there and would teleport left - killed me too! Another time I'm right behind a guy and I unload with an assault rifle right into his head. One clip later, and while I'm reloading he turns around and kills me with one shot from a shottie!... So when it's "laggy" it seems like anything with explosion damage and shotguns work (up close). The big chaingun is ok, but the smaller MG and rifles suck, sniper rifles are excellent against stationary targets.

Apart from those times there is some good stuff: game-modes not on other PS2 games, very atmospheric, and if you play with 5 or 10 respawns (only) it makes people play a lot more tactically. Weapon ranges (and their enforced inaccuracies) give guns realism too. Rifles are good at mid-ranges, or zoom for less efficient long range firing. MGs for suppression, but brutal if you can hit etc. A couple of times I've been in an artillery hole, pinned down by snipers or MGs and calling for backup, bullets flying overhead, a quick burst of fire at a half-seen shadow moving in the smoke from an exploded grenade, and thought "Hey - not many games in war settings recreate a war feeling this well".

Overall I'd rate it a decent online game, but whether it remains popular is down to some updates. I think Rachet & Clank 3 online is actually better, but it doesn't have the following of Killzone, and of course you have to tempt people away from SOCOM 2, which is always difficult, but it does have real potential.

Killzone is worthwhile playing in my opinion, and has had some unfair criticism. It's not perfect, doesn't push gaming boundaries much, and is patchy online. However it does many things better than previous games, fares admirably against its contemparies, and can give one of the most immersive feelings of a war zone that I've yet had.

by: Zed