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Killzone 2 was the first game in the series I played and thought it was really incredible around the time it released. It looked amazing, it felt amazing, and was just very satisfying. I acquired Killzone 3 when that came out and remember it being pretty awesome as well but it’s the environments that stick out to me whenever anybody mentions it. Killzone 2, Killzone 3, and Killzone: Mercenary are all amazing from what I remember and Killzone: Shadow Fall was disappointing. It was my first PlayStation 4 game but it just didn’t live up to the awesome action-packed prequels in my opinion. Developed by Guerrilla Games and published by Sony Computer Entertainment, the original Killzone was released for the PlayStation 2 in November, 2004. It was remastered in HD for the PlayStation 3 by Supermassive Games and released in October, 2012. I acquired the original PS2 game some time after I beat Killzone 2 and remember it being underwhelming. Granted, it was released a generation earlier but I also remember the frame rate being absolutely atrocious so I never did beat it. For this review, I played Killzone HD which I’m happy to say contains a much smoother frame rate and also has improved visuals.
In 2055, a nuclear war basically rendered Earth uninhabitable. The world governments joined together and formed the United Colonial Nations before establishing colonies on two planets in the Alpha Centauri system – Vekta, which is similar to Earth, and Helghan, a barren wasteland. After the UCN imposed sanctions against The Helghan Corporation’s unfair business practices, a war broke out which led to the Interplanetary Strategic Alliance, abbreviated ISA, driving the corporation out of Vekta. The harsh environment of the planet Helghan killed off many of the colonists, forcing the survivors to use respirators and air tanks to breathe. The population would eventually mutate into pale-skinned hairless humanoids with increased strength, stamina, and intelligence and become known as the Helghast. They consider humans inferior and are the primary enemy faction of the game. The story opens with Scolar Visari, emperor of the Helghast, sending the Helghast Third Army to launch a secret invasion of Vekta which leads to a war between the ISA and Helghast. You start the game playing as Captain Jan Templar, an ISA officer and along the way he meets up with other characters that join him on his quest to repel enemy forces. The first to join him is Luger and she’s part of the elite ISA division known as the Shadow Marshals. The two of them eventually run into Ricardo Velasquez, otherwise known as Rico, an ISA gunner seeking revenge for the massacre of his entire platoon. The three of them rescue a General Hakha who is half human, half Helghast and works as a spy for the ISA. On their journey they learn that one of the ISA generals is a traitor working with the Helghast and they set out to stop him. I would say most of the voice acting is actually pretty bad although there is some celebrity voice talent here including Ronny Cox and Brian Cox. Brian Cox voices Scolar Visari and definitely gives the best performance even if it is very brief. Much of the dialogue is corny, most of the performances lack any emotional impact, and any attempts at drama are laughable. I think there’s supposed to be some kind of sexual tension between Jan and Luger and Rico and Hakha are always fighting, mainly because of Rico’s trust issues. The characters just seem very trite and I blame this, and many of the issues with the plot, on the writing which is a shame because I think the story has potential. The backstory, world building, and atmosphere set up an interesting premise, and the entire game has this gritty sci-fi feel to it that just isn’t fully-realized. Many of the playable characters will shout things during gameplay and it’s usually the same stuff over and over which becomes irritating, specifically Rico who never seems to shut the fuck up. Luckily, the plot isn’t hard to follow but it’s also not that interesting. It just ends up feeling like some generic war story but it’s the atmosphere, world building, and, of course, the gameplay that kept me engaged.
Killzone includes three difficulty modes – Easy, Normal, and Hard – and as you progress through the campaign you unlock new playable characters which can be selected before the start of levels. Every character can walk, run, sprint, crouch, vault over small obstacles, perform a melee attack, and carry three weapons along with some grenades. All characters have a stamina meter that drains when sprinting and health with limited regeneration but health can be fully restored by finding health packs in the environments or from fallen enemies. Jan is your basic ISA soldier who carries the standard M82 Assault Rifle and M4 Semi-Automatic Pistol. I think Luger is supposed to be some kind of stealth character or maybe just a mobile character who can move faster than the other playable characters but she can die faster, too. Outside of a few areas that let you sneak up on enemies, there’s not really a big emphasis on stealth as far as I can tell. She carries an M66-SD submachine gun and a knife which, when used to sneak up on enemies, can result in some awesome executions. She can also utilize thermal vision which is cool and all but I never really felt the need to use it often. Rico is like a heavy lumbering character that carries an M224-A3 Heavy Support Weapon which is basically a heavy machine gun that doesn’t require manual reloading but it can overheat. It’s also an extremely powerful weapon that can easily mow down multiple enemies and it can also fire rockets. He also carries the M4 pistol. Because of General Hakha’s Helghan heritage, he can heal faster than most humans and he’s also the only character that can walk through Helghan trip mine lasers without setting them off. He carries Helghan weapons like the StA-52 light assault rfile that also doubles as a shotgun, the IvP-18 Tropov Machine Pistol which can fire in single-shot or burst fire, and a knife. While each character has their own ups and downs in some ways, they don’t show any significant differences that really make them standout or truly change the way you approach situations. However, the multiple playable characters do alter the way you go through levels. For example, in some levels, the characters split up and the path you’re required to take depends on the character you’re playing as. This does give the game some replay value.
I would say Killzone is a very slow-paced game. It’s not like Doom, or Serious Sam, or even like Halo. It’s a slow-paced shooter but each level does contain plenty of enemies to shoot and the arsenal is pretty diverse with a wide array of ISA and Helghan weaponry. The characters may start levels with their own weapons but you can swap them out with others found throughout the environments or acquired from fallen enemies. And you can only carry three weapons at a time. When you first start playing most of the Helghan enemies carry StA-52’s so it may become your primary weapon for a while. Eventually you’ll come across other ISA weapons including the LS13 Semi-Automatic Shotgun, the M327 Grenade Launcher which just looks badass, and the M404 Missile Launcher. Besides the light assault rifle and machine pistol, other Helghan weapons include the StA-3 Stova Light Machine Gun, the StA-52 sniper rifle, the BP-02 Pup Grenade Launcher, the Pnv-3 Siska Squad Cannon which is a massive weapon that fires anti-tank rounds, a BDL-23 Dohvat Laser Designator which paints an area with a laser for artillery support, and finally the BLR-06 Hadra MRL which is a three tubed rocket launcher that can fire a single rocket or all three at once. There’s also several types of mounted weapons you can utilize. The two things I love about weapons is that they all feel heavy and chunky and are very satisfying to shoot. They also look really awesome in my opinion and it was fun trying out all of the different types. With most weapons, the bullets seem to land around wherever the crosshairs are pointed and when talking about heavy machine guns, spraying will most likely get you nowhere but I found that firing in short controlled bursts is the best approach.
Unfortunately, both the companion and enemy AI are lackluster. No matter what character you decide to play as, the others will always accompany you and they do provide some benefits like shooting and killing enemies, although you still have to do most of the work. And they’re also good at diverting attacks away from you. However, they’ll often get in your way and they rarely try to get out of harm’s way which doesn’t really matter since they’re invincible. The enemy AI is noticeably bad and the enemies rarely seem dangerous, at least on the Normal difficulty. Enemies will shoot at you, take cover, and do the basic stuff you would normally see in a shooter like this but they’ll remain in the same position even if they’re getting shot repeatedly, they’ll often cluster together making it easy to kill them all with a grenade or explosive, and they’ll coming pouring into rooms in a straight line, making it easy to drop them as soon as they enter. According to the backstory, the Helghast are supposed to have increased strength, stamina, and intelligence and I can honestly say that not one of those things are reflected in the gameplay. One mission has you defending a beach from invading enemies and it starts out pretty cool until they get to the trench just below your position and then they just stay there while you blow them away one after another. They don’t suppress, flank, or do anything to really make them seem intelligent. They’ll sometimes advance on your position but most of the time you can get behind cover and just stay there without worrying about them sneaking up on you or trying to flush you out. Regardless, I do like the enemies, at least the way they’re designed. But their varying appearances are just that, appearances, since they all seem to act the same. The tougher ones just wield deadlier firepower and can take more damage, essentially making them bullet sponges. Sometimes if you’re out in the open too long, enemies can shoot and hit you repeatedly and there’s one segment where enemies with grenade launchers are firing grenades directly at your feet as soon as you’re in view which seems to kill Luger instantly upon impact. Assault Infantry troops make up most of the enemies but you will come across Elite Soldiers and Assault Soldiers which appear more often towards the end of the game. I really like the design of the Assault Infantry troops and I think it’s because of their glowing orange eyes which make them seem very menacing. Every now and then you’ll come across flying Sentinel Drones that will shoot at you but based on my experience, they don’t really pose much of a threat. I should also mention the enemies are quite vocal during combat. They shout when you approach, while they’re getting attacked, when they’re pinned down, and will sometimes dramatically scream as they die. The enemies here should get together with the replicas from the original F.E.A.R. because both groups could benefit from a lesson in using their “inside voices”. They just seem over-the-top loud which ends up being humorous and easily gives away their positions. The enemies usually appear in squads and the last few levels up the challenge slightly by throwing more enemies at you at once, specifically more of the tougher enemies. But all it takes is a few well placed head shots to drop most enemies which is easy to pull off if you’re at close range or have a sniper rifle. Otherwise, you just need to hang back near cover, shoot in bursts, and wait for enemies to die.
The campaign plays out through levels, each with multiple missions broken up by loading points. The missions are very linear in design, making it almost impossible to get lost. You’re always going from point A to B. However, the checkpoint system could use some work. While most missions are not long, the game is slow-paced so it can take some time to get to your objective and if you do die, you may have to restart the mission from the beginning. The longer missions do have some checkpoints but they’re few and far between. Getting through the game on Normal isn’t really that difficult but the few times that I did die were annoying because I usually had to restart an entire mission. There’s also the problem of enemies being able to shoot you from a distance within the “fog of war” which means you’re getting attacked from enemies you can’t even see. And I’m not talking about enemy snipers which would at least make more sense, I’m talking about enemies wielding assault rifles or any other weapon and shooting you repeatedly from long range. Luckily, there’s usually plenty of objects to use as cover and most encounters take place in large rooms or small open areas. Enemies will sometimes arrive in vehicles or aircraft like jet bikes, drop ships, tanks, or boats and these are usually scripted sequences. You may see a drop ship hovering in the distance with enemies repelling down from ropes, or jet bikes will soar overhead, maybe you’ll have to deal with Helghast tanks, and you’re always provided the weapons needed for these types of situations beforehand so you’ll never feel overwhelmed. You’ll traverse through a variety of locations including what I think is a mall, a beach, docks, swamp, jungle, mountain pass, and even an orbital station in outer space, among other areas. You’ll be destroying Helghast APC’s, killing anti-aircraft gunners, shooting down enemy drop ships, you’ll even infiltrate an ISA Fortress overrun with enemies. Some of these missions include some cool looking set pieces that add some excitement. Unfortunately, I think that environments are supposed to represent a war-torn world and in appearance, they do, but most areas just feel empty and desolate with maybe a squad or two of enemies. For example, you need to infiltrate an enemy Firebase and you only encounter maybe a handful of enemies. The issue is you’re supposed to be at war and the game does a terrible job at conveying that in the gameplay. It does a better job conveying that in its atmosphere. I mean I can understand that having enemies and projectiles all over the place, among other things, would seriously hinder the performance considering it’s originally a PS2 title but it feels like the game is trying to seem bigger and more epic than it actually is. Basically the conflict between the ISA and Helghast on display here is all bark and no bite.
Besides the campaign, you can play multiplayer which is called Battlefields here. Evidently, the original PS2 game included online multiplayer but the remaster only includes local multiplayer limited to two players. If you were a fan of the multiplayer in the original, I could see this change being very questionable but you can set up matches with bots. There are six game types to choose from – Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Domination, Supply Drop, Assault, and Defend and Destroy. Whenever I see that a game supports bots, I’ll always jump in and give the multiplayer a try because ever since my experiences with the TimeSplitters series way back when, I’ve always felt bots don’t necessarily have to be just sucky fill-ins for real players. As showcased in the TimeSplitters games, they can still make for a fun single player experience despite the fact you’re playing multiplayer. Sadly, most game bots don’t possess the intelligence to even perform the basic tasks dictated in the multiplayer modes and the only game I can think of that comes close to the amount of fun I had with bots in the TimeSplitters series is probably Unreal Tournament. Unfortunately, the bots across all game types in Killzone show a real lack of intelligence but I’m not surprised considering how the enemy AI behaves in the campaign. You can choose one of two teams, ISA or Helghast, select the bot difficulty – Easy, Normal, or Hard – and then configure the game and bot settings. You can set a time limit, point limit, how many bots, friendly fire, spawn limit, and other basic stuff. There’s eight maps to choose from, which are based on locations seen in the campaign, and some game types only have access to specific maps. Weapons, ammo, and health are scattered around the maps and the character you play as basically controls the same as the characters in the campaign.
Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch are pretty basic. In Deathmatch you just try to kill everyone and earn the highest possible score. In Team Deathmatch, two teams need to kill each other for the highest score. Domination is a team-based mode where you run around the map capturing positions and the more positions you hold, the more points you earn. The first team to acquire a certain amount of points, wins. In Assault, one team must protect two generators from being destroyed by the opposing team. If the attacking team doesn’t destroy both within the time limit, the defending team wins. Defend and Destroy is similar to Assault but in this mode both teams have two generators. The first team to destroy both of the opposing team’s generators, wins. In this mode, I found that the enemy bots wouldn’t even get close to my team’s generators. Supply Drop is probably the worst mode to play with bots. The idea here is to acquire supply packets on the map and bring them back to your base. Having supplies at your base slowly earns you points. However, when playing with bots, they’ll bring the supplies back to the base and then just hang around, never going after the rest of the packets acquired by the opposing team. Obviously, multiplayer is meant to be played with other players and I would say the only real fun to be had with bots in multiplayer is derived from Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Domination. With that said, if you max out the bot count, some of the matches, specifically when playing Deathmatch, can turn into hectic war zones with bullets flying everywhere and frequent explosions. These instances feel more hectic and intense than any encounter in the campaign. I also want to point out the Extras which is accessible from the main menu. This is where you can re-watch the game’s intro, view the credits, or view War Scenes. So the obvious question is, what are War Scenes? These are literally random bot matches that you view as a spectator. That’s it. Why is this a thing? Why would I ever want this? And why can’t this be done through the multiplayer menu? All valid questions that I don’t have answers to. So if you enjoy watching bots then it sounds like War Scenes is right up your alley.
Killzone HD definitely looks better than the original game but it still shows its age in many respects. Animations are a bit stiff, including facial animations which just fail to portray any appropriate emotions. The draw distance is pretty terrible which is noticeable in many outdoor areas and often masked with a fog of war effect and object and foliage pop-in is prevalent throughout the entire game. I can let most of this go, given the age of the title but considering this is supposed to be an HD remaster, I think some of these things could have been improved. The cut scenes are also quite blurry which is definitely an eye sore. On the plus side, the textures are sharp and crisp, the reload animations look fantastic, and the game contains plenty of detail like dead bodies scattered around, destroyed buildings, rubble and fire, leaves from trees floating through the air, and other neat little touches that are responsible for the game’s impressive style. And that’s what Killzone excels at. Style. Style and atmosphere. There is a lack of color, I guess to emphasize that gritty feel the game is going for but I think more color would have made the varied locations more interesting to look at. I’d like to point out the weapon muzzle flashes which look like complete ass. And I know for a fact that they looked better in the original game so I really don’t understand how the developers fucked that up. On the audio side, I don’t think the music is that memorable. In fact, music doesn’t play during gameplay. You will hear it more during cut scenes and it just sounds pretty standard. For some reason, the volume during cut scenes is way too low but the sound effects heard during gameplay are pretty good. Explosions sound booming and all of the weapons sound powerful and have a nice punch to them. They could be a bit louder but overall they sound satisfying to shoot. When talking about the performance and technical aspects, the game’s frame rate is definitely smoother and more stable than the PS2 original but I did notice it stutter here and there and it did noticeably dip in a few areas. Every now and then I saw the body parts of dead enemies freak out and saw dead bodies stuck in things like walls, doorways, and objects. I did not experience any game breaking bugs or crashes of any kind but, ultimately, I do think this HD remaster is a bit unpolished.
I’ll be honest, despite my criticisms, I still had fun with Killzone. It’s not a terrible game, but it’s not amazing either. It’s actually quite a generic shooter gameplay-wise. What makes it stand out is its atmosphere more than anything else. But it does have a charm to it that’s hard to explain. The weapons have a chunkiness to them and they look and feel great, the backstory and world building is interesting and unique, I think the enemy designs are pretty cool, and there’s just something fun about it all. But the game places a heavy emphasis on a conflict that just isn’t fully-realized thanks to the uninteresting plot and seemingly desolate environments that are all style and no substance. It’s funny to see that a multiplayer match against bots can showcase an exciting action-packed war zone compared to the generic shooting gallery-like areas of the campaign that consist of squads containing only a handful of enemies. All of the more interesting action packed scenarios involve scripted sequences that are actually really cool like having to shoot down a drop ship, destroy missile launching APC’s, using the laser designator to destroy entire enemy encampments and vehicles, but these sequences are few and far between. However, having multiple playable characters is another standout of Killzone and does give the game some replay value. From what I remember of Killzone 2, most of these issues were rectified in that game, but it was interesting to see how this series began. I get the vibe that the developers had all kinds of neat ideas that were gimped or not implemented due to technical reasons because the PS3 sequels do a much better job at representing the conflict and contain much more exciting gameplay. They were also designed to run on more powerful hardware.
In the end, Killzone is nothing special. It has potential but doesn’t quite reach the mark. But would I recommend it? You know what, I would. Because despite its issues, it’s fun. I had fun. There’s just something about it. The enemies, the gunplay, and just the way the weapons feel. The story falls short, the AI sucks, for some reason the developers removed online multiplayer in the remaster, and it just hasn’t aged all that well. On the plus side, it’s got a great atmosphere, interesting world building, and fun weapons. I would recommend this if you’re a fan of the Killzone series and it’s kind of cool to see how it all began. However, I would say this is easily the weakest game in the series. So maybe check it out if you think it looks interesting but just know that there are far better first-person shooters out there and that the sequels improve everything established here.
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