Retro Corner review: Killzone

Posted on June 29, 2010 by

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Oooh, Sony made a fuss about this one. They positively chuffing raved about Killzone. Marketed as ‘The Halo Killer’ in a time when there was only one Halo, and everybody thought it was a bit rubbish except for the Xbox fanboys who clung to it as the bastion of all hope for their baby console, (Things got better in terms of gameplay for Halo of course, but we all know how I feel about the writing…) Killzone was eventually released on November the 2nd, 2004 (7 days before Halo 2 came out) to massive critical indifference. It wasn’t panned by critics, mostly because they never knew it existed.

Killzone holds a special place in my cold, withered heart. It was the first Ps2 game I ever played, blasting away on multiplayer with my friends at a birthday party in summer 2006 (or 2005, my memory isn’t fantastic. What? Leave me alone, I’m not… wonder woman!) And so perhaps i’m biased, but I have always recalled Killzone as being an underrated classic FPS, and the inspiration for a new generation of shooters.

“Oh ho Seraph, you misguided, but handsome fellow!” you wail, “Halo was the genre-changer!”.  Wrong. Look at Halo- No modern FPS even begins to resemble it. Oh it gave us regenerating health, and the ability to sprint for about ten feet before your character apparently had a coronary, but compare Killzone to these two, completely unrelated shooters shown at this year’s E3. It was Killzone that defined this generations shooters visual style and feel.

Killzone 3, Medal of Honour, Modern Warfare 2

Killzone starts things off in true style, too, with an opening cutscene that is beautifully rendered in the game’s own engine (still a rarity at the time) combined with a stirring speech by the villain, voiced by the mighty Brian Cox, which just sets the tone so brilliantly. He makes a good case for why he’s initiating a war against the planet Vekta, there’s stirring music in the background, it all sets the scene for an epic conflict.

I’ll take a moment here to talk about the foes of the game- The Helghast. At first, they come off as Imperial Stormtroopers crossed with Nazi’s, and the Nazi theme runs very strongly in all your interactions with them, but never comes off as forced, it feels natural and grounds them as a realistic threat- they’re just another group of humans who’ve been put through hell by the more powerful planets, and who have had enough of it. The parallels drawn with Weimar Germany are subtle, further compounded by being mixed with the idea of the Helghast having been forcibly relocated- much as the Jews had been by Hitler’s Nazis. They are menacing in their Darth Vader style battle armour, their cold, clinical style of combat, and the fact they they are much better armed than you. The sight of their glowing orange eyes in the dark will chill you.

You play Captain Jan Templer, a solider in the Vektan army, who suddenly finds his planet not only besieged, but almost occupied by a foe with hugely greater numbers, superior weapons, and a blitzkrieg mentality that annihilates the normal Vektan methods of warfare. This is a game that, instead of running and running, encourages guerilla tactics to cut through the enemy.

The story is admittedly not much more than the B-Movie standards of the Halo games, but the way it’s presented makes it a very different thing. The plot might be a bit daft, but then come on, it’s a game, it;s got to be a little bit daft or what’s the point of it? It’s presented with sublimely acted cutscenes, an interesting cast of characters you care about- Templer- the weary everyman, Luger- the cold blooded assassin, Hakha- The snarky half-helghast secret agent, and Rico- the psycho with the really big gun.

The urban combat, set twenty minutes in the future, was a new and exciting concept- moving through cramped buildings, open streets, all part of an active warzone, with the war clearly going on around you at all times, was hectic and fast, and the weapons had a realistic kick to them, requiring skill and timing to pull off shots, which I know many people found annoying, but which was a small touch I personally loved.

It also, obviously, had both offline and online multiplayer capabilities, one of the few PS2 games that did, along with Star Wars Battlefront and Call of Duty 3, which was enjoyable and varied.

While Killzone was never the Halo killer is set out to be- and even now in it’s newest iterations still not really a Halo killer, although these days its real competition is Call of Duty, it was undeservedly bashed because of that claim. It didn’t set the world alight- but it did set the template for all the modern FPS’s since, and it was a solid, well written, well acted shooter. It can now be found in many a bargain bin and car boot sale, and is well worth a purchase for some brief shooty fun.

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Posted in: Games, Retrospective