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At long last the self-styled “Halo Killer” is released, but is it the PS2’s answer to Bungie Holy Grail, or just another Pretender to the Throne…
The anticipation surrounding Killzone has been building over the previous 18 months or so, aptly assisted by early claims of it being a â??Halo Killerâ? by sources in the industry â?“ after all, the number of prestigious FPS titles for the PlayStation2 has been somewhat lacking. Whilst Xbox owners have been able to savour the delights of the Halo franchise and the like and look forward to the possibilities of being able to play Doom3 and Half-Life2 on Microsoftâ??s box, PS2 owners have had little to shout about. The developers on Killzone hope to have changed all of thatâ?¦
This year has seen FPS titles all try and push the genre forward, from the addition of minor details such as â??Bleedingâ? and â??Verge of Deathâ? modes, to boundary breaking realism in terms of just about everything. Physics engines have developed to such an extent that the application of real-world logic is required to solve some of the puzzles set by the developers. So how does Killzone shape up? Itâ??s one of the last FPS titles to be released this year, with gamers already sampling the delights of id, Bungie and Valveâ??s latest offerings.
What the developers have cleverly done with Killzone is that they have aimed for a middle ground between the over-the-top sci-fi fantasy that is Halo, and placing the basis on classic historical events like the Medal of Honor series. Set in the near-future when mankind has started to colonise space, Killzone plots the events following an invasion of the planet Vekta by the Helghast, a faction of mutant humans from the planet Helghan. The planet was barely inhabitable in the beginning, and the Helghast had to adapt to their new harsh environments. At the start of the game, the Vekta colonies are now under retribution at the hands of the Helghast, and Vekta is the first planet to feel their wrath. The storyline of the game is certainly engaging, although weâ??d have liked to have seen it develop a little more as you progress through the game.
At the start you play as Captain Templar of the ISA, part of the Vekta military machine which is struggling to contain and push back the continuous assaults of the Helghast. As you progress through the game, you come across three other playable characters, Luger (a female assassin and former lover of Templars), Rico (a heavy gunner with a hatred for the Helghast), and Hakan (an ISA spy who happens to be half-Helghast â?“ cue confrontations between Rico and Hakan). All have their own default weapons, and players can choose which of the four to play as at the beginning of each mission, once they have unlocked them. Their specialities, such as Ricoâ??s anti-artillery/tank skills or Lugerâ??s silent assassin role, mean that mission objectives can change. For instance, if you are playing the part of Rico, then it is expected of you that any APC or tank that threatens the team must be taken out by you â?“ if you are playing as any of the others, you let the AI controlled Rico destroy the vehicle. What this means for gamers, is that Killzone should have an extended longevity by completing the missions as the other characters, whilst also providing a certain degree of choice to the player â?“ if youlike big weapons go for Rico, or perhaps youâ??d rather conceal in the shadows with Luger.
The graphics in this game are nothing short of amazing, and there are few PS2 games that can match Killzone in the visuals department. The game has a definite graininess to it that helps to convey the dirty side of war, with buildings in a varying state of damage, and the roads carved with trenches.
The character models in Killzone are fantastic for a PlayStation2 titles, with the level of detail equally impressive. Though there are times when the detailed features of characters are loaded after a slight delay, it is worth seeing the bigger picture, which is that the only way such an exceptional LoD can be created for the PS2 is through clever manipulation. Sceptics of the slight delay should remember that a little game called Halo 2 also experienced slight oddities in texture loads during cut-scenes, so any criticism of Killzone in this area is harshly unjustified compared to the results gained by using this technique.
Not to give too much away about the environments in the game, but in one section you find yourself having to traverse a park in the city, and there are blossoms flying in the air as you pass through the tree filled area. The game takes in numerous environments from urban areas to jungles to sand dunes, creating a nice sense of variety to the proceedings of the game. All of the environments look impressive, and some really strengthen the WW2 feel of the game â?“ if youâ??ve wondered what it must have been like for the Germans on D-Day, then in Killzone youâ??ll get the change to defend beaches from Helghast landing craft.
There have been some comments made that the Helghast all look the same, with only slight variation between them. Whilst this is a true point to make, it is worth pointing out that there arenâ??t massive variations in design in real-life military uniforms, and if the Helghast are wearing full facial apparatus, their individuality becomes even less apparent. It can be looked upon as a negative, even lazy, attitude on the part of the developers, but what it actually helps to do is create a feeling on absolute uniformity amongst the Helghast. They are a united war machine that is faceless and almost robotic â?“ emotionless visually, and their communications are always professional.
One of the really positive points that can be made about Killzone is that all of the movements whether they are the weapons reload actions, or when our character leaps over a barrier, are very, very fluid. The developers have managed to capture motion to the extent that itâ??s almost as if you are viewing the action through a camera mounted onto the character. There is a conceivable walking movement in Killzone, and you can almost feel that the main characters are walking and not gliding along the environments as you see through their eyes.
The melee attacks are a feature that also gives a feeling of realism to the game. Rather than the player just swing the weapon around the enemy, in Killzone, the whole camera swings forward too, and unlike games such the MoH series, you actually feel that you are putting your full body weight into the attack.
The standard array of weapons are found in Killzone, from the lowly knife to the Rocket Launchers, so donâ??t expect any Halo style Energy Swords because the developers are firmly rooting the available arsenals in reality. The weapons in general, are quite beefy, and there is a definite difference between the ISA and Helghast weapons. Whilst the ISA arsenal is more accurate, the Helghastâ??s weapons are more powerful. Guess itâ??s a case of you pay your money, and take your choice. Ricoâ??s Heavy Machine Gun with an inbuilt Rocket Launcher as a secondary weapon packs a punch though, and we canâ??t imagine a better combination of weapons to merge together. Some of the weapons have secondary weapons build into them, such as the Helghast standard Assault Rifle, has a single-barrel Shotgun integrated into it, perfect for a close up one-shot kill.
The HUD in Killzone is quite minimal and compact. There is no radar in KillZone, which might be a hindrance for some, but the off-shoot of that is the level of anticipation and anxiety which is increased. Forget being able to prepare for attack â?“ half of the time you wonâ??t be able to see the Helghast until you hear their communications and the bullets start whistling past your head.
The HUD displays the amount of health that your character currently has, and in true Halo style, it replenishes itself over time. Underneath that is a stamina bar, which allows you to judge how long you can sprint for. Aside for the icon that shows you the amount of ammo remaining and the weapon currently in use, thatâ??s about all you get. The occasional icon will appear when you are close enough launch a melee attack on a Helghast soldier or when you can mount heavy artillery, but for most part your view will be kept fairly uncluttered.
The sound in Killzone, especially the music, has been played up by the developers, since they have utilised the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus to provide the soundtrack. The result of using a real orchestra, rather than a multitude of synthesisers, is that the real world authenticity of the game is strengthened.
The voice over work for the four main characters is of a very high standard, and the voices match up well to the look of the characters. Secondary characters are also well matched, while the general ISA soldiers generally have a similar voice to them. The screams of fatal wounds, and the calls for reinforcements by the Helghast sound very similar, but that again would reinforce the â??one united enemyâ?? idea that the developers have tried to create.
In many ways, Killzone is a case of two steps forward and one step back. It is certainly an improvement on the FPS titles that PS2 owners are used to, but there are some annoying aspects, such as some barriers that you can leap over, and some that you canâ??t â?“ despite them being lower. Perhaps we are starting to take too many things for granted now. We, by no means, expected the game to be near the stratospheric heights of realism that were attained by Half-Life 2, but it would also have been nice to have an increased level of physics than just being able to shoot out glass; as it stands the excellent environments are let down by the fact that objects such as tables appear to be completely impervious to damage â?“ the end result detracts from the overall feeling of realism.
One particular area that did impress is the level of AI featured in the game. Taking control of one of the main members, youâ??ll notice the other three acting cleverly across the battlefield, whilst the same can be said of the ISA grunts along with the Helghast youâ??re fighting against. If you decide to jump straight into the action, other characters will automatically lay down covering fire for you, whilst discovering hidden rooms will see them prop against the walls whilst you (or somebody else) chucks in a grenade to clear the room.
Killzone is a nice FPS to play, and it is based much more on the real world than Halo. In fact, it has a completely different feel to Bungieâ??s franchise, and itâ??s also much different to Medal of Honor and Men of Valor. Killzone is somewhere in the middle of the two and can straddle the middle ground between the two big franchises quite successfully. The addition of 16-player multiplayer modes offers the game an extended lifespan, but to be honest, the modes donâ??t offer anything different from the usual MP fare and cannot hold a light to the delights of Halo 2. That said PS2 owners havenâ??t got a lot to shout about when it comes to online FPS, so if youâ??ve got the equipment make sure to check this out.