Weekend Special: Killzone 1: A Retro Review/Editorial

February 27th is going to be a rather big day for Playstation 3 FPS fans. It is the day that Killzone 2 is finally unleashed upon the world in all it’s visual High Defness.

To prepare for this event, I decided to go back and replay not only Killzone 1, but Killzone: Liberation as well. While doing so, I came to some rather startling revelations about the original Killzone: contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t suck.

While this is more of an editorial on the way Killzone 1 is viewed by the masses and the media, I decided to approach it like a game review. I’ll even do it old school style, and separate it into categories. Here we go:

Graphics: 4/5

I’m playing the game via my Playstation 3, and it is being upscaled to my 40″ 720p Samsung. Visually, the game has impressive graphics for a Playstation 2 game, and I enjoy the atmosphere and art design. It is gritty, realistic, and boasts some impressive effects (good explosions, particles in the air, and the grainy filter that gives it that “war film” like touch). Character animations are rather solid, and the Helghast respond to bullets believable enough. Draw distance is overall fair, although in later stages, there is some pop in. Overall, however, the visuals fit the tone of the game, which is realistic Sci Fi warfare.

If I were to compare the game to anything out now, it would be more Call of Duty 4 than Halo 3.

Controls: 3.5/5

I had to adjust the button mapping on the game to a more comfortable control scheme, but overall, I found the controls to be responsive and solid. The game is realistic, and your character moves with purpose and a weight to them that isn’t generally found in other FPS titles, back in 2004, when KZ1 released, and even now. My only real complaint with the controls is that even when you lower the sensitivity, the horizontal turn radius can be a little floaty, because you can’t adjust acceleration. As I adjusted to the controls, however, the issue faded away and I worked within this limitation.

The lack of a jump button didn’t seem to hurt the experience, as there really wasn’t much need to jump over anything, and if you had to vault over an obstacle, a prompt would appear.

Story: 4/5

Killzone 1 is a war game. Enough said. I simply mean that war is war, and there are only so many ways to tackle a war campaign narrative. For those unfamiliar with the Killzone mythos, I’ll try and summarize as best I can here.

The Helghast Empire have decided to launch an attack on the ISA (International Strategic Alliance) colony of Vekta. They broke through the ISA’s defenses, landed on the planet and are kicking ass.

You play as Captain Jan Templar, whose squad is called upon to help assist in the defense of Vekta.

What is interesting about the Helghast, is that they are not alien invaders. They are actually humans, who broke away from the ISA and colonized the planet they called Helghan. Unfortunately, the harsh climate forced the new inhabitants to adapt and mutate in order to survive. So much so that they are not considered human by the ISA. They are faster, stronger, and more resiliant than your average human being.

And that’s the long and short of it. The Helghast visually have a very Nazi like visual aesthetic and mentality, and their leader, Visari, is blatantly modeled around an Adolf Hitler type. As far as a narrative goes, I have all the fuel I need to want to defeat the Helghast. I’m not expecting drama, just a good war game.

Gameplay: 4/5

This has been the area where Killzone 1 received the most scrutiny. Going into it with the expectation of a complete travesty, I have to say that I was surprised by how enjoyable the campaign mode played out. You have your typical war scenarios – assault this, defend this, ambushed, etc, but they were genuinely enjoyable scenarios, and the battles got to be very intense as you and your squad faced off against increasing number of Helghast.

I was impressed by how many different environments you traversed during your mission, from standard war torn battlefields, to city streets and buildings, to green courtyards and parks. While the combat was still “point and shoot at the Helghast,” not knowing where you were going next kept things interesting and fresh.

I was also impressed by the AI of the Helghast, which was generally criticized by the media. There were moments when you’d enter an area, and a lone Helghast might stare for a minute, then attack, but most of the time, they are a worthy opponent. They will seek cover, scatter from grenades, and even employ tactics against you – I was pinned down by a group of about 6 or more Helghast, and one of them up above us was throwing grenades at my squad. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t just stand there and lob a grenade, oh no. He would throw a grenade, then retreat out of my line of fire, then return and throw more grenades.

Since I was pinned behind my cover by the other 5 or so Helghast, I couldn’t just take aim and wait for him to appear again, they would (and had many a time) kill me. That doesn’t sound like broken AI to me.

I also hadn’t noticed any major framerate drops, even in the most hectic conditions, although I attribute that to my playing it on the Playstation 3. I’ve heard that the PS2 struggled to run the game, but so far that hasn’t been the case on the PS3.

If there is really one gripe I have with the gameplay, is the sporadic checkpoint system. It is quite frustrating when you are 3/4ths of the way through the level, only to die and be sent all the way back to the beginning. Not all levels have such awful checkpoints, but the majority do, and it’s the only real area where I feel Killzone suffers from amateur game design.

Audio: 4.5/5

The sound, acting, and overall aural effects are solid, and the musical score is also quite fantastic.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to experience the online mode in Killzone, although I’ve heard nothing but good things about it.  I have no score to give this category.

Final Thoughts:

Killzone 1 surprised me with it’s playability, fun factor, and overall lack of suck. It was Guerrilla Game’s first game, and they delivered a portion of what I believe is their overall ambition for the Killzone franchise, and what looks to be coming to fruition with Killzone 2, the third in the series.

The game was murdered by the media who themselves hyped it up as a “Halo Killer.” Guerrilla Games and Sony never stated they were trying to kill Halo. I followed Killzone up until it’s release, and all I remember was GG saying they wanted to do something different with the FPS genre on consoles, and they actually delivered on the promise, albiet not a perfect delivery.

It’s unfortunate that a solid, enjoyable game was crucified for not meeting expectations that were lavished on it by the media because, at the time, Sony didn’t have a premiere FPS franchise like Microsoft did.

I said it then, and I’m saying it now, Killzone is not, has not, and never will be Halo, or a Halo Killer. Because it doesn’t have to be. They are different franchises, with different goals. There is room for both types of gameplay, and contrary to a decade of reinforcement by developers, publishers, and the gaming press, console FPS titles do not have to look, play, and feel the same.

I was a part of the Killzone 2 beta last year. It doesn’t feel like any FPS I’ve ever played, from the PC to consoles. This is a good thing, and was a breath of fresh air from this gamer who, honestly, has grown tired of the genre. I don’t need new or innovative, or fresh. I need a good game. It just so happens that Killzone 2 sets the bar very high, and the ambitions of it’s underappreciated original look to finally become reality this February.

Overall Score for Killzone 1: 4/5

I’ll share my thoughts on Killzone: Liberation, which took the series in a few new directions next weekend, and stay tuned for our review of Killzone 2.


One Response to “Weekend Special: Killzone 1: A Retro Review/Editorial”

  1. […] already retro-reviewed Killzone, so my thoughts on it’s quality can best be summed up as, “I liked it. […]

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: