Following mankind’s successful expansion into space, human colonies have sprung up on numerous planets around the galaxy. Feeling a little separated from their Earthly origins, these new found settlements form the ISA, a galactic United Nations of sorts. However, wishing to distance themselves further from their roots, the inhabitants of Helgar are, for one reason or another (of which all are poorly explained), hell bent on all-out war. First on their hit list is the neighbouring colony of Vekta.
Picking up after the initial Helghast incursion, the player is thrown headfirst into a raging battle where they must navigate a network of muddy trenches whilst trying to repel the oncoming Helghast onslaught. With smoke billowing across the war-ravaged landscape, dirt raining down from nearby explosions and the cracking of gunfire rattling around your skull, the atmosphere is suitably intense with a great feeling of being on the frontline.
Whilst on the surface Killzone looks like a typical gung-ho sci-fi shooter, after just a few minutes in its company it soon becomes apparent that it has more in common with tactical first-person shooters such as the Rainbow Six games. New areas need to be approached with trepidation, using the environment as cover where ever possible – go in with all guns blazing and you will more than likely be stopped dead by an overwhelming Helghast opposition.
Although these hulking Nazi-esque soldiers are a menacing sight on first encounter, it doesn’t take long to realise they’re quite mentally inadequate. These goons have little grasp of team work – like automons, they charge at you relentlessly (usually in single file), ignorant to the fact that their brothers in arms are being mowed down in front of them. When taking refuge behind scenery, more often than not, they can be found facing in the wrong direction. Their reaction times are also laughable; it can take at least a few seconds before the player’s presence is acknowledged, allowing enough time to size up an easy head shot. These delays aren’t just isolated to the AI, however; lob a grenade at a squad of Helghast and watch them be thrown into the air, screaming a second after it has exploded.
Each new area offers a new wave of bumbling cannon fodder, each coming into play with almost pre-scripted predictability. At times Killzone can feel much like an on-rails style shooter, which is further compounded by its context-sensitive actions. Basic manoeuvres such as jumping, crawling and climbing, are completely dictated by the designers, which severely jar the flow of the game and throw up countless inconsistencies. Other basic actions, although not controlled by the designers, further disrupt this flow, with long drawn out animations which leave the player open to attack.
To begin with the player takes control of Captain Templar, an ISA roughneck and general all-rounder when it comes to the art of combat, but a few missions later and three more characters become available, each one proficient in different fields of combat. When not controlled by the player the CPU takes care of the rest of the squad. On some missions, certain tasks might fall upon a particular character; if the player chose that character then it is up to them to complete this task, otherwise the AI takes care of it. A nice touch, but with no allies to draw enemy fire, flying solo is the last thing you would want to be doing.
To offer a challenge greater than shooting fish in a barrel, the developer has decided to make the Helghast nigh on bullet-proof. It can take almost a whole clip of ammo to take down just one of these death-defying bastards, and with the game’s dire aiming system, where seemingly only one in four bullets ever hits the intended target, any enjoyment soon turns into frustration. The weapons are also particularly weak, with even the most powerful weapons struggling to take down a single enemy. To add to the frustration, checkpoint saves are few and far between which can see players, if killed, trudging through fifteen minutes of previously chartered territory. It’s just needlessly frustrating.
After the promise shown in the first few levels, the game drops downhill quite rapidly. The level design is somewhat lazy and average at best, with ‘copy and pasted’ scenery and invisible walls barring the player from taking any short cuts. There are moments of inspiration, but they tend to get bogged down by the game’s numerous problems. It doesn’t help either that, regardless of the setting, the world seems to have been painted with the same muddy green and brown hues, with the only noticeable bouts of colour coming from the Helghasts' piercing orange eyes. This does give the game a suitably gritty feel but, even so, war does not make you colour blind. Furthermore, with only a few different types of enemy troops encountered throughout the entire game, it can get a little laborious.
Whilst the overall art direction is impressive, Killzone looks to be struggling to squeeze every ounce of power out of the PlayStation 2’s old, aching chips. On top of the stuttering framerate, it also suffers from a multitude of graphical problems. These range from minor issues such as the odd briefly-missing texture or enemies stood knee deep in the floor, to more glaringly obvious problems such as whole chucks of scenery disappearing and allies walking through closed doors. The end result looks like the developer has bitten off more than the PlayStation 2 can chew.
Enlisting the vocal talents of acclaimed actors such as Brian Cox (The Bourne Identity, Troy) and Sean Pertwee (Dog Soldiers, Event Horizon), the delivery of dialogue cannot be faulted – but the same cannot be said of its execution. Fellow squad members will often repeat lines of dialogue, which may not even relate to your current situation. The Helghast are also overly verbose, shouting out every action in an almost patronizing manner, and to further add to the list of aural annoyances they can be heard regardless of how far away they are - even over the din of fierce gunfire. To hear an enemy shout “kill him”, as if they’re stood right behind you, will send most people scurrying for cover, only then to realise they’re actually sat on the rooftop of the building opposite some 50 feet away.
Like the game’s aiming, Killzone misses the mark by a mile. Afflicted with so many niggling problems it has ended up a shambles of game which barely delivers on any front. Whether this is the result of it being rushed to market to steal the thunder from a certain high profile Xbox release, or even just lazy development, the end result isn’t pretty.
Text by Dave Ward / MonkeyWrench