Weekend Special: Killzone: Liberation – Retro Review

Hey folks, just tuning in again with another Weekend Special, as well as continuing my coverage of the Killzone franchise.

This week I have a review for Killzone: Liberation, which I’ve been enjoying over the past few days, and is available on the Playstation Portable (PSP).

First things first, Killzone: Liberation takes place 2 months after the events of the first game, and the Helghast have been dealt a severe blow by the ISA thanks to the efforts of Captain Jan Templar and his squad. However, the Helghast still control a significant portion of the ISA home planet of Vekta, and as valiantly as the ISA are fighting, they are losing ground.

Once again the ISA call on Jan Templar to go on a covert mission, this time to rescue hostages captured by new bad guy, and number two to Emperor Scolar Visari, General Armin Metrac. This new threat is vile, sadistic, and has no reservations about wiping out the hostages when learning of Templar’s attempts to rescue them.

Unlike the original Killzone, in this PSP iteration of the game, Guerrilla Games recognized the limitations of the handheld in relation to first person shooters, and decided to employ a 3D, third person, isometric view to display the action. I personally prefer third person to first person, so this title felt right at home when I fired it up the first time.

Gameplay wise, players control Templar through 4 chapters, each containing 4 levels chronicling the rescue operation. A fifth and final Chapter was made available to download later.

Combat is straight forward – you point at the Helghast, and you shoot them, but to keep things fresh and exciting, Guerrilla Games implemented a few changes that would eventually carry over into the upcoming Playstation 3 sequel.

First off is the ability to duck behind cover, and pop out and shoot your enemies. While this isn’t new in itself, it’s interesting to note that this mechanic appeared in Liberation a month before it was made popular by Gears of War (Liberation released in October, 2006, while Gears released in November 2006).

Because of this new gameplay mechanic, battles felt more strategic and tighter paced, as you rush from cover to cover, trying to find a defensible position in which to repel the Helghast onslaught. AI seems on the level with the first, so expect the Helghast to employ suppressive fire to keep you pinned down, and throw grenades to block your retreat, and flank you at the same time.

The game is brutally difficult, but not insurmountable. I’ve had to restart on more than just a few occasions, that’s for sure. The firefights are intense, especially when facing a large number of enemies. Throw in some solid vehicle segments, in which you generally take control of a tank or Hovercraft and blow away enemies, and you have a rather entertaining shooter. Of course, like with most games, even some of the best, it is not all roses.

This brings me to my only real gripe with Killzone: Liberation – controls.

For the most part, the controls are very simple, and work well. You control Templar with the analog nub, fire bullets with Square, reload with Triangle, perform actions and melee with X, and fire grenades with Circle (which brings up a handy “arc” visual to help you gauge the arc of your throw for more accuracy).

Where things get tricky is the lock on mechanic, and the useful cover mechanic, which are handled by the L and R buttons respectfully. The R button works like a charm. You hold it down, and Templar will crouch behind cover. When you want to pop off a shot, just press the Square button, and he will emerge, fire off the round for as long as you are holding the fire button, and dip behind cover again.

When you are crouched, the lock on mechanic works well also. While crouched, you can hold the L button, which will lock on to any enemy or destroyable object within visual range. You can then use the analog stick to aim around the screen for a more precise shot. This works great while stationary. You can duck behind cover, hold L, and use the nub to find just the right target, and let off a few rounds to take them down/destroy it.

Unfortunately, that mechanic doesn’t translate well to movement. Oh, you can still hold down the L button to lock on, and use the analog stick to strafe around that locked on target, but when facing multiple enemies, you can sometimes (not always, and not really terribly often, which is why it a small gripe for me), pick a non-vital threat or destructible object, and the only way to fix it is to hold R to crouch, and realign your shot with the analog stick again. This isn’t likely to kill you, but you will take some cheap shots while you adjust.

Gunning from the hip gameplay works when you are facing one foe at a time, since Templar usually only locks onto that one target, but I strongly advise finding some good cover, and employing the cover system/stop and pop method for multiple enemy encounters (which is often, especially in later levels).

The controls aren’t a deal breaker, but that area should be noted.

The second area in which Guerrilla Games attempted to expand gameplay is in a “leveling system” of sorts. No, it’s not anything as sophisticated as in, say, Call of Duty 4, or Resistance 2, but you can get improved skills/abilities/weapons by completing “Challenge Rooms,” which reward you with points you can use to buy upgrades to your abilities (like carrying more grenades, having more health points for you or your allies, and weapon upgrades to make them more powerful or accurate).

The Challenge Rooms are split up into 4 Chapters, each containing 6 Objectives that, if completed, will earn you a Gold, Silver, or Bronze Medal. These medals earn you points you can use to upgrade your character. The objectives are very straight forward(ie, collect all 5 documents as fast as you can), but enjoyable, and offer a nice break from the narrative. While this isn’t anything new in and of itself, it most certainly illustrates that Guerrilla Games were on the right track in the shooter genre, as leveling up your abilities/weapons/skills is now a staple of the genre thanks to titles like CoD4.

As in Killzone, I was unable to test out the multi-player aspect of Liberation, but also like the original, I have heard nothing but good things about it. It features Ad Hoc and Infrastructure play, as well as the standard gameplay modes like Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Deathmatch Duel (where the map is considerably smaller than other maps, and walled of by damaging barbed wire), Capture the Flag, and Assault.

As a note, Deathmatch Duel and Infrastructure play were made available as downloads later.

If you have a few friends with PSPs, however, you can most certainly get a game up and running.

Because I haven’t touched on it yet, and they are worth noting, I have to mention that the visuals in Liberation are quite excellent, not only for a handheld, but for a PSP title in general. The environments are detailed, with relatively sharp texture work, and although character models are generally weak, you don’t see them up close that often, and they play well on the PSPs crisp screen.

Overall, I was highly impressed with Killzone: Liberation. It addressed issues from the first game, while offering vastly different gameplay from it’s predecessor, and a much tighter story and varied content offering. It is certainly a standout PSP title, that belongs in any fan of the handheld’s library (who happen to like shooters also, of course).

If I had to break down the score, it’d be thus:

Graphics: 4/5 – Some of the best on the handheld, but average character models hold it back. explosions, water effects, and other details are excellent.

Controls: 3.5/5 – When stationary, or utilizing cover, they work incredibly well, but the Lock On/Strafing system when in motion can be a pain, especially when multiple enemies are involved.

Sound: 4.5/5 – The audio is what I’ve come to expect from the Killzone franchise. The voice acting is solid, the weapon effects are very good, and overall ambiance is good, and the musical score is fantastic.

Gameplay: 4.5/5 – The campaign continues the ISA battle against the Helghast threat, across varied environments, and through hectic firefights. There’s nothing terribly new or innovative by today’s standards, but it certainly offers the one thing that matters more than a bullet point list of features and innovation: a fun time.

Bottom Line, Killzone: Liberation gets a solid 4/5


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