But I’m not really here to talk about Killzone 2, which is my pick for best FPS of all time, no. I’m here to talk about Killzone HD. Released in 2004, the original Killzone (PS2) was hyped as “The Halo killer.” Neither Sony nor Guerrilla take “credit” for the Halo killer label, but not only was it awkward when it originally was said at E3, but it became a Scarlet Letter for Sony as the game went on to pwn itself with a litany of glitches and bugs that assailed the game at launch.
The best you could say about it is that once patched, the overall experience was good enough for the microera in which it was released, but by the time Guerrilla and Sony had released the final patch, the damage had been done. Killzone was panned by most critics, who universally scoffed at the Halo killer, however most were generally nice enough to note that without the bugs, it would’ve been a great game. Of course a critic will never review a game based on what it might’ve been if it had worked properly…so Killzone was for the most part an abject failure.
Well, the patched (or final) version of the game got an HD remaster and was available as a solo download from PSN for $15, so I figured…what the hell?
Some may scoff at the possibility of its existence, but I’m a very big fan of the story behind the Killzone series. Not only is it pretty good sci fi, but it’s also a surprisingly intelligent and balanced examination of the nature of tyranny and the fine line between freedom, oppression and the people who are involved with the implementation of such things.
Throughout the Killzone games, we’ve played as members of the ISA who are portrayed as the “good guys,” or at least as “the protagonists” in their struggle against the Helghast. The reality of the narrative, however is that the Helghast war on the ISA that has been depicted in the games to this point, is a response to a brutal and frankly criminal invasion that the ISA perpetrated when it invaded and occupied planet Vekta and forced every inhabitant off the planet, exiling them to Helghan. That was called the First Extrasolar War, and I think those chapters of the story would be great settings for future games in the series.
For the uninitiated, please don’t think that the Helghast are made of sunshine and rainbows. These guys were fashioned in the mold of mutant space Nazis with glowing orange eyes to make them look extra creepy. As in the current gen sequels, all the Helghast have a gutteral but not quite cockney British accent, and like all good space Nazis, they have a propensity to yell “DIIIIIIEEEEEE!” extra melodramatically while in the heat of combat.
The game itself does not start out particularly well. The very first mission, defending against invaders from an earthen foxhole, just seems out of place. The mechanics are stiff and the enemy AI, while good by 2004 standards, isn’t nearly on the same level as the incredible enemy AI from Killzone 2 and 3. For people like me who came to the series on this gen and have never played the original, that is one aspect of the game that is going to let you down.
The first few missions are actually pretty…pretty meh. Those of us used to the current generation of FPS mechanics will take a bit to get used to the stiffer mechanics of KZ, and you’ll notice that there’s not a lot of inspired storytelling or compelling action along the way. And not like this is a big thing for a series with such bleak and somber settings, but the color palette of the first half of Killzone HD makes Killzone 2 look like Katamari fucking Damacy. Holy shit, there’s so much dark brown and grey that the game appeared to be an abstract reference to Ashy Larry.
However, somewhere in the second act of the game as you begin to secure assets during an evacuation, the action and the story pick up quite nicely. For fans of the series, you can see elements of Killzone 2 and Killzone Liberation (Guerrilla’s 2006 PSP entry into the series, currently available for PSP or PS Vita), especially the latter. While this should come as no surprise that there are common elements between games of the same franchise, given how widely Killzone was panned when it debuted in 04, it’s nice to see that Guerrilla didn’t abandon the vision that they’d had for the series in their sequels.
Being that the campaign depicts the Helghast invasion of planet Vekta, there are many sections where your character has to traverse damaged or bombed out terrain. This becomes problematic in some sections, and provides occasional dots of annoyance here and there throughout the game. During an evacuation sequence, the game makes a point to “shake” the screen to simulate crashes and explosions (one would guess, anyways) in other parts of the facility. This effect definitely gives a certain pause to the player but becomes more of an annoyance than an obstacle as the game goes on. Thankfully, it’s not something that lasts forever.
Certain parts of the game look quite nice considering that it’s an early PS2 port, unfortunately, the overall look and textures do not hold up. There have been some pretty high quality HD remasters of previous generation classics, and they all look better than Killzone HD does. Honestly, Killzone HD doesn’t even look as good as the HD remaster of the PSP’s swan song, God of War: Ghost of Sparta. That said, it doesn’t look bad, and given the fact that developers weren’t even able to push the PS2′s hardware in 2004 the way they were for later games, it’s certainly passable. However unlike the God of War remasters where you’ll occasionally ask yourself: “this was a PREVIOUS generation game?”, with Killzone HD, you’ll find yourself inquiring: “THIS was supposed to kill Halo??”
There’s a variance of environments that you play through in the campaign. You fight Helghast on a earthen brown hilly area, you fight in a park full of blossoming cherry trees, you fight in a mall, you fight in a slum similar to the slums in KZ2 (only much MUCH smaller) you fight on a couple of beaches, in some grassland…but more than any one type of area, you do A LOT of corridor shooting in Killzone. Many of those corridors open up to bigger areas, especially in the mall and in the military installations, and a good job was made making seemingly open environments as smartly crafted corridors. It’s not annoying or too detrimental, but make absolutely no mistake, I’d say most of your shooting is corridor shooting.
Though there is a wide range of environments, they do tend to get repetitive inside of themselves. Several industrial corridors outside the slums are one identical corridor after another, and that layering of similar corridors inside of an area continues throughout parts of the game. When the game ventures out of doors, the design does very well, but inside buildings, through industrial corridors and in particular, one sequence where you trudge up what is apparently a coast full of identical peninsular outcroppings with very similar industrial docks/cargo areas in the trough between each finger of the coast…you’ll find a sameness that falls only just short of hearkening to the weird redundant neighborhood that Wynona lived in in Edward Scissorhands.
Another interesting aspect of the environments is that throughout the game, you get the feeling that this was definitely done by a team in Northeastern Europe. The malls, the slums and the aforementioned docks area give much of the game an Eastern European urban-industrial feel…so much so that you can almost hear the rhythmic thumping of some random Rammstein song as you progress. At some points, it almost feels like it’s channeling Half Life 2. I was kind of irked by how Templar’s first name (Jan) is pronounced “Yan” in the original, seeing as how in KZ2, it was pronounced “Jan,” if only once by Rico in the opening cinematic…they probably should’ve stuck with Yan.
Like Killzone 3, Killzone suffers from “BeingInTheSameFranchiseAsAGenreDefiningGame-itis.” Some things are judged a little more harshly than they probably should, given my feelings toward Killzone 2…I may have mentioned, it’s my favorite FPS of all time. However, I have to say that being the prelude to KZ2 also helps the game, as it endears me to (some of) the characters and at the same time I automatically want to see how the story played out, despite my knowing its outcome from having played every other game in the series already.
Speaking of every other game in the series, we should talk about the playable characters. Originally, you play as Captain Jan Templar, but as you go along, you add three people to your party who are all playable at your leisure. Sgt. Rico Velasquez is back in this game, and while he’s not quite the unbearable jackass that he was in Killzone 2, he’s certainly not the only slightly ignorant Rico that we all remember and somewhat appreciate from Killzone 3. He’s still not very likeable, but at least he’s not insufferable. You can play as Templar, Rico, Shadow Marshal Luger or the half Human/half Helghast spy General Hahka.
Playing as Shadow Marshal Luger turns out to be the only character with a different or unique gameplay mechanic available. Modelled to be an assassin, Luger has night vision goggles and a knife only “stealth(?)” attack, but there’s not much stealth involved in the game at all, and the little stealth you can use seems fairly superficial. Luger’s “stealth mode” only really comes into play once, and it’s a throwaway sequence at best, IMO. Rico and Hahka are your standard soldier loadouts, with Rico carrying an LMG as his primary while Hahka rolls with the typical Helghast AR. You have three weapon slots, though…and I found that regardless who I played as, I almost always picked up two ARs and an LMG unless the situation called for something heavier.
Funny observation: the Killzone series has always dealt with the alienation of one or more races within the human species, the condition that we know as ‘racism,’ and while we know Rico hates him some Higs in a way that would make Derek Vinyard proud, the blatant racism behind half Helghast, half human, all white as fuck General Hahka calling Rico a monkey was only underscored by Rico’s subsequent line, which was “What the fuck is a ‘Shakespeare?’” I mean…fo realz?? Rico just gonna get played like that?? Count on some motherfucking Norwegian motherfuckers…man, that’s on some old fucked up shit, son. I’m talking Vincent and Jules arguing over coffee in Jimmy’s kitchen…that’s that gourmet fucked up shit.
Yeah, you may have guessed but the dialogue ranges from SMDH to full on facepalm. Both campy and offensive, the dialogue isn’t the worst part. No…that would be the battle chat. As you go along you hear quips and one liners from Rico, Luger, Templar and Hahka. Unfortunately, they repeat themselves so often that they go from annoying to almost self parody. Not a dealbreaker, but def could’ve used more variation in the battle chat. I know the game dropped in 2004…that’s no fucking excuse. It’s not 1973 anymore, Dirk.
Get in that booth and deliver me some more lines. I mean, if that fucking bitch Luger stops ghosting us long enough to tell me to “keep out of sight” one more time, I’ll bleed that ho…real quiet. Leave her there…the fuck.
So anywho, the game winds through a bunch of different environments, although the colors never really seem vibrant…like at all, outside of a “jungle section” toward the end that makes you wonder why an earlier “jungle section” wasn’t as green. There’s grass and there’s foliage, but it all looks greenish-grey like just after the first thaw of the year. Again, not trying to insist that infantry centric FPS start injecting fairy dust, unicorns and rainbows…but after a while, it’s just like…damn.
At the end of the day though, the story progresses and if you’re a fan of the Killzone series, if you enjoy the statement that the game’s narrative makes about things like racism, intolerance, tyranny and the duality of man…however unintentional it may or may not be…then Killzone HD is probably worth your $15.
Killzone HD gets 6 out of 10…and that’s because I’m generous. It’s a functional game that’s primary merit is for fans of the series, however it’s highly unlikely that every KZ 2 or 3 fan would enjoy playing this game. The lack of online MP isn’t so much a problem, but at $15, this is kind of pushing it. While it’s a nice remaster of the source material, the game doesn’t pick up until you’re about an hour or two into it, the color pallette is the type that inspires Bieber fans to cut themselves, and the dialogue ranges from hella campy to seriously what the fuck.
The game mechanics don’t reinvent anything, in fact they’re not even close to those from KZ2 or KZ3. The HD remaster is good in spots, but overall it is really quite lackluster when compared to the many excellent HD remasters that previous generation games have received. I personally liked the game once it got going, but again most of that really came from my investment in the overall narrative of the Killzone series. This remaster won’t win Guerrilla any new fans for Killzone Mercenary or Killzone 4…but if you’re a fan of the series and have an extra fifteen bucks laying around…then why not?
Perhaps it is an indicator of how the gaming community has matured in the last two years, perhaps not…but Killzone 3 released last week amid a fraction of the internet flame wars and console partisan fury that it’s predecessor came out to two years ago. There’s almost no 360 v PS3 fanboy nonsense about it this time around…but that doesn’t mean it’s not a hotly debated game.
We’ll get into that later, for now let’s start off by talking about the single player campaign for Killzone 3. The game’s narrative itself begins about three quarters of the way through Killzone 2, with Scolar Visari presiding over the detonation of the ISA nuclear warhead Red Dust in the Helghan capital city of Pyrrhus.
We see that Colonel Mael Radec and Stahl Arms Chairman Jorhan Stahl were there as were the members of the Helghast “Senate,” four guys who I have tentatively named “Mohawk Hitler,” “George McFly Sr.,” “Red Foreman” and finally “Epic Mutton Chops Guy.”
Please forgive the pic quality…I pulled it off a youtube screenshot.
Anywho, basically there’s a walk in and a cut to the speech that I guess Visari was broadcasting to the people of the planet Helghan as he blew up their capital city. The controller tutorial is presented from a different perspective…and then it just…well it just takes you to the end of Killzone 2.
For those who don’t already know, at the end of KZ2, generally unlikeable Sgt. Rico Velasquez murdered Helghast Autarch Scolar Visari, and playable character/mohawk machismo Sgt. Tomas Sevchenko sulks as a massive fleet of Helghast Warships overruns the ISA invasion fleet, most of the ground force of which had already been annihilated by the aforementioned nuclear holocaust visited upon Pyrrhus.
As said already, the game starts with you playing through the general weapons tutorial…as a Helghast soldier. You then take your Helghast ass up to a studio to oversee the execution of ISA soldiers on Live Helghast TV in retribution for murdering Visari.
Flash backward six months to the immediate aftermath of Killzone 2, and Cpt. Blowhard…errrrrrrrrrrrrr, Captain Narville is now berating Rico for being a murderous, racist idiot and basically telling him that he’s going to prison, he’s worthless, yadda yadda yadda. Rico doesn’t just allow people to walk on his feelings like that, though…and in defending himself, for the first time in the series, Rico took steps toward becoming a likeable character. Then all hell breaks loose and everyone has to drop everything to get out of the city.
The escape from the aftermath of Killzone 2 is pretty involved, and it takes up at least a third, if not half of the actual gameplay itself. It basically details Sev and Narville getting seperated from Rico and a large contingent of the ISA ground force. If the game were longer, this wouldn’t even be a talking point, but the game itself is pretty short…so it is. It also might help if it had set up the rest of the story properly, more specifically if it went into greater detail about what Rico and the Raiders (Rico’s band of merry but stranded ISA buddies) had been doing over the six months between the beginning and the end other than growing Rico’s afro…but whatevs. It wasn’t the last plot hole in the game.
As far as Killzone games go, the first half is a subpar experience all around. It plods along slowly and has several awkward moments that really take away from the enjoyment when they should be adding. There’s a vehicle section that starts almost literally out of nowhere, and it has you driving and operating a turret simultaneously. Problem being that the vehicle you’re driving is a PIG on rough terrain, and the turret has a rather large Dead Zone that it can’t aim into. Coincidentally, that’s where most of the enemy vehicles you encounter spend most of their time. It was so awkward that my neck hurt from it. Not even kidding.
There’s also a lot of plot inconsistency and flat out BAD voice acting. I think part of the reason Killzone 2 was such a success was because Guerrilla Games had almost intentionally stayed away from extended cutscenes of any kind. This time around, there’s drama, ambition, betrayal and bad feelings on both side of the ball. Petty internal power struggles affect both the Helghast and the stranded ISA invasion force. It’s all pretty predictable…with one side coming together to sing Kumbahya around the fire and the other side trying to kill each other and eventually triggering their own downfall. I’ll leave you to guess which one’s which.
The problem with it all is that it’s all so telegraphed and when it isn’t, it’s just uneven. Starting the story in media res was a first for the series and wasn’t particularly effective. Adding all that dialogue was money in some places and a crapout in others. The game didn’t seem to be a part of the same story that Killzone, Killzone Liberation and Killzone 2 were telling. It should’ve been among the darker stories of the series, but it’s really the one most like a Summer Action Flick.
That said, the game picks up with a vengance in the second half. There’s huge battles, dropships, and insanely large vehicles to commandeer and destroy as the stranded ISA forces try desperately establish communication with Earth and ultimately to escape Planet Helghan alive. The Killzone series encounters some of it’s biggest, most action filled, most chaotic and frankly best moments in the second half. The very end itself is big production…an intense affair that finishes awkwardly on a few different levels.
The best I can describe it without spoiling it is that the ending view does not give enough time to appreciate the gravity of what had just happened…and trust me when I say, it was pretty freaking heavy. But the game just zoomed to the credits, which (again…not trying to spoil anything) almost seems to downplay the severity of the finale, which if I were to rank it on a scale of 1 to 10, would get about a 12.
The gameplay has been tweaked, and while it’s not at all like Call Of Duty as many including myself had feared…it’s still a lot lighter than before. It is still Killzone, however…it still moves substantially slower/more realistically than CoD, and it’s just as intense as ever. Among other things, this game incorporates a reciprocal revive feature.
Where in KZ2 you would many times have to revive your teammates, they were never able (or inclined) to revive you when you went down. In Killzone 3, Rico and Narville will revive you if they’re close enough…and that’s a help during some of the more challenging sections of the game.
I need another entry to go into my opinion of the multiplayer offering, and I’ll save that for tomorrow or the next day. I will however give you my full game review score now…Killzone 3 is an 8 out of 10. It is most certainly NOT better than Killzone 2. It has moments that certainly trump KZ2 at its best, but the single player is simply BAD at some points. It also takes too long to get good and from there it doesn’t last long enough to truly enjoy it. Multiplayer is great if uneven…however the “support” that Guerrilla seems to be leaning toward for the near future of Killzone 3 is at best concerning and at worst…well, we’ll talk about that in more detail within the next 48 hours.
Killzone 3 gets an 8 out of 10. It’s a great game with great production value, great fun and a multiplayer component that is excellent fun despite its shortfalls. If you own a PS3 and enjoy shooters, this should eventually find its way into your library.