Weekend Special: Killzone vs Hype and the World

Killzone 2 CGI Target Render
Hey folks! Continuing my month long weekend coverage of the Killzone franchise leading up to Killzone 2’s February 27, 2009 release date, I’ve decided to spend this week contemplating the franchise as a whole, and its history with the media, the hype, and the fans and fanboys.

For many that are familiar with the franchise, they know it’s troubled history, but for those that don’t, I’ll briefly summarize here.

The original Killzone was the first title created by new studio Guerrilla Games for the Playstation 2 and released in November 2004. It was also the first truly high profile first person shooter from Sony on the little black box. Playstation fansites, and the media at large quickly latched onto this as Sony’s answer to Microsoft’s amazingly successful Halo franchise.

Unfortunately, many a journalist couldn’t contain their excitement, and Killzone’s fate was sealed with the words “Halo Killer?” generally emblazoned across the covers and headlines of many a story previewing the title.

A part of me understands the hype: the screenshots were beautiful, the gameplay looked solid and intense, and it had the full support of Sony behind it. What could go wrong?

I admit that I was drawn into the Killzone hype. Not enough to agree with the “Halo Kiler” moniker, but enough to be excited for the game’s release. Unfortunately, Killzone’s reception was less than stellar, and by the very same media that set it up to fail by dubbing it the “Halo Killer.” The sad irony was not lost on me.

I’ve already retro-reviewed Killzone, so my thoughts on its quality can best be summed up as, “I liked it. It’s a flawed gem.” But the media at the time were not so kind. Slapping the game with medicore scores, and quick to point to more Sony “lies” and “deception” due to the title not living up to its hype. I find it very funny that neither Sony or Guerrilla Games ever once said the game would kill anything, let alone a monster franchise like Halo. They did, however, say that they wanted to create a very different, gritty, intense FPS, that would stand on its own, instead of in Halo’s shadow.

Depending on how empty or full the glass is, you can say they succeeded in part with the original Killzone. It certainly got the unique feel, gritty, intense atmosphere and gameplay correct, but the title wasn’t simply allowed to be an FPS. It had to stand for everything Playstation 2, and in a sense, be its final word on the FPS genre for that platform. There was absolutely no way it could have met those standards. Nor any game, for that matter.

The franchise was dealt a crushing blow, and has been struggling to recover ever since, despite the improvements of its successor, Killzone: Liberation, which I’ll get to in a moment.
Killzone 2 gameplay

In hindsight, I think a lot of people look back at Killzone 1, and realize that it wasn’t the catastrophe that it was made out to be by the very media that had given it its godly status, but it most certainly was not a perfect FPS. Needless to say, the series has had an uphill battle ever since.

Killzone: Liberation took a drastic turn for the franchise by moving it from the Playstation 2 to the PSP, and from First Person to Third Person. The change was jarring for the few fans that appreciated the original for what it was, but ultimately, the shit to third person was accepted, and received rather well when it released in November 2006. Liberation improved on a few of the major complaints about the first: it was beyond the capabilities of the PS2, and suffered from framerate issues, pop in, and control issues.

Guerrilla Games developed Killzone: Liberation well within the technical means of the PSP, and produced a visually impressive, intense, and overall enjoyable handheld title, as well as implementing a few features that would find its way to the PS3 sequel, like a cover system.

It’s a shame that the damage caused by the media and gaming community’s backlash to Killzone 1 resulted in Killzone: Liberation being dismissed by the masses once again, and embraced by that same few who still championed the original against the popular opinion that it was a “dead,” “worthless” franchise. It’s interesting to me, because unlike the original, the media’s coverage of Killzone: Liberation was not laced with monikers of it being the “Halo Killer,” or any kind of the ridiculous hyperbole lavished upon it. It was covered like any other title, and recieved very good scores by the same media who slapped medicore scores on the first title.

My point is simply that Killzone: Liberation was reviewed as a game, and not as a savior of the console it was on.

Liberation went unnoticed by the more hardcore fanboy sect, who still dismiss the franchise when appraising the potential worth of the upcoming third game in the series: Killzone 2.
Killzone 2 gameplay
Speaking of Killzone 2. Its own history, irrespective of the original titles, has been one of controversy and the origin of many a heated fanboy war on the forums across the mighty internets.

It began with a CGI Target render shown at E3 2005 that had everyone talking with its amazing visual presentation, animations, intensity of the fire fights, and then some. People doubted that it was in game, and I’m not about to argue about whether or not Sony tried to pass it off as in game, but I will say that I was at that E3. I saw the debut trailer for Killzone 2. I thought it looked amazing, but I did not in any way, shape, or form, believe that it was running real time on hardware that didn’t even exist at the time the trailer was shown off. How so many people took up the mantle of Sony saying it was real time is baffling to me.

Again, the media fed this hype with comments like “if this is real time, then the Playstation 3 is going to give other consoles quite the run for its money.” The lack of any real denials by Sony on the capabilities of it’s Playstation 3 platform (which didn’t release until November 2006, a full year after this target render CGI was shown), didn’t help matters either.

The media’s handling of Killzone 2’s target render was typical, sensationalistic media, but unfortunately for Killzone 2, and even moreso, developer Guerrilla Games (who did not create the trailer; it was handled by an outside company, I believe), was that that trailer didn’t just speak to the potential quality of the Killzone 2 game, but the trailer spoke to the quality of the Playstation 3 as a whole.

Once it was finally accepted/revealed, that the trailer was CG, people began to question the other claims about the console boasted by Sony at various E3’s prior to the PS3’s release. Various media outlets savagely attacked the Playstation 3, Sony, and Killzone 2, claiming that there was no way the system would ever be able to produce visuals on par with the CG trailer, and pointed at the relatively lackluster visuals of 2006 Playstation 3 launch titles to prove their point.

Guerrilla Games, on top of their own ambitions and desires for the franchise, were now carrying the weight of an entire console on their shoulders. This is where I think hype is a very dangerous, damaging thing when it’s allowed to spin out of control.

The actual unveiling of Killzone 2 gameplay at E3 2007 was one of the most anticipated events of the whole show. Fortunately for Guerrilla Games and Sony, the trailer delivered some spectacular in game footage, punctuated by the fact that a Guerrilla Games developer was on stage, playing it live for 15 minutes, just to prove it was indeed, real time gameplay being shown. And people still did not believe it was real.
Killzone CGI vs Gameplay - Gameplay on the right, CG on the left
What’s even more interesting to me, is how quickly the media hype train shifted gears on Sony, the PS3, and Killzone 2, praising the game, and the graphical prowess of the PS3 that they doubted and downplayed since it’s launch. I also find it interesting how not a single web site that had condemned the CGI trailer, never once admitted that they were wrong, and the game, while not 100% matching the trailer, came closer than anybody, even the most die hard Playstation 3 fans, expected it to.

It’s humorous to me that the game, in the 2 years since that E3 2007 reveal, has improved even more, and, in my opinion, meets, and often surpasses the CGI trailer in more than just a few areas.

I’m not going to defend Killzone 2 in this post, but I have to say that I’m extremely disappointed in the media’s “hype’em and herd’em” mentality when it comes to covering games this generation.

They spend months, either hyping or anti-hyping the game (in Killzone 2’s case, it was anti-hype: “the game is never going to look like the target render,” then, when it wowed everyone with it’s graphics, “well, sure, it looks good, but the gameplay is going to be weak, just look at the first one,”), and then letting their readerbase, which trusts them to cover news both fairly, and honestly, spread that hype or anti-hype to the point where I feel it’s beginning to damage the gaming industry as a whole, and not so much individual games like Killzone 2.
Killzone 2 gameplay
I won’t get into it here, but many a game over this past generation has been buried by the media hype/anti-hype train. Games of actual quality have gotten destroyed critically and commercially for failing to live up to insane expectations – for example, Heavenly Sword, which was trashed for not being the “savior of the PS3,” or “justifying the cost of the PS3,” instead of being judged on its worth as a good action game.

Other quality games have been ignored altogether because they don’t generate enough hype to warrant the media’s coverage. To relate it to comic book terms, it’s the “Wolverine Effect.” Wizard magazine discovered that the issues that featured Wolverine on the cover ultimately sold more copies than the issues that did not. I can’t remember the exact number, but Wolverine has appeared on the cover of Wizard magazine more than any other super hero out there.

The gaming media, in particular web-bloggers, most of which are just poor shmoes like me who simply aren’t journalists by any stretch of the imagination, have taken a similar approach to game coverage: “We will pimp the games that generate hits/revenue for us. We will hype or anti-hype depending on the current trends we have established over our previous coverage of the industry”.

Here’s a clearer example of what I mean: look back at coverage of the Playstation 3 in particular from E3 2006, to E3 2007. Read the numerous stories claiming doom and gloom for the console. Read the constant bombardment of memes such as “Riiiidge Rager,” and “Massive Damage,” and “PS3 has no games,” “PSN is woefully inferior to LIVE,” etc, etc.

Now, look at coverage of the Playstation 3 from about E3 2007 to present. While there are still a few sites (whom I won’t call out…yet), that carry an overall negative, derisive tone when covering the PS3, many of the others have completely done a 180, and are finally embracing the machine and it’s games, and giving them fair consideration (ie, no more rating a game down because of “too much variety” in their reviews).

Why is this? Mostly because trashing the PS3 just isn’t profitable anymore. While it may generate a few spikes in hits due to fanboy traffic, it ultimately just ends up driving away that particular reader base. The same applies to trying to manipulate the Microsoft and Nintendo fans. The gaming media is currently trying to smear the 360 and Wii, as the shift of the negativity pendulum swings towards them.

I’d hate to see what happened to the Killzone franchise and the PS3 happen to games like Alan Wake, or Mad World, or any other game that, if they were just left alone to be games (like Killzone 2), would be better received by the audiences they are attempting to woo.

Hype isn’t all bad. Just about all of us gamers get hyped about something (I’m currently really excited about God of War 3, and Killzone 2 among other titles), but those of us that dare to attempt coverage of the gaming industry need to control how we hype something, and truly question ourselves when we decide we must “anti-hype” something for whatever ridiculous reason.

Nitpicking a title is not a means of “keeping people from getting overhyped about it,” in the same way that overhyping something is not a means of expressing your excitement for a new game, on whatever platform it’s releasing on.

My personal rule of thumb is that I get excited about the games that personally interest me, and not the games that the gaming media is telling me that I’m supposed to be excited about, and hating the games they are telling me I’m supposed to hate. I think it’s worked for me so far, and I’ve enjoyed a great many games that way.

Happy gaming and Valentine’s Day, everyone!

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2 Responses to “Weekend Special: Killzone vs Hype and the World”

  1. greghorrorshow Says:

    It’s been a while since a game left the gaming community so divided and the onset of ‘fanboy-ism’ hasn’t helped matters.

    I always hoped it would live up to the hype and it almost does. I have a spoiler free review if you’re interested. See below.

    ———————————————————————————

    Check out my Killzone 2 review: http://greghorrorshow.wordpress.com/2009/02/16/killzone-2-review-ps3/

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