Killzone is Sony's first attempt at bringing a FPS to the PlayStation 2. There is clearly a gap in the console's market for a good game in this genre; bar the TimeSplitters series, there has been nothing of note, and certainly nothing that can compete with Microsoft's big-hitting Halo franchise. When the first screen leaked onto the net at around the same time as an official magazine claimed to have played a "Halo Killer", Killzone was thrown into the limelight. This was the game to finally give PlayStation 2 owners something to throw in the faces of smug Xbox owners. Over a year later, the game is in our hands, and Xbox owners need not worry about their pretty faces.
In a future world humans have colonised space. However, all is not well and a rebellious splinter group leave the colony to start a new life on the planet Helghan. Helghan's atmosphere is different to that of Earth and over time it changed the population, forming a new race called the Helghast. This evil race wants total domination and an end to the human race. Setting their sites on the nearby Vekta, it is up to you to stop them. The plot is suitably Sci-Fi, and is moved along by a fair few cutscenes, but it is never that clear, and with some fairly lengthy load times between cutscenes and actual action, you feel a bit separated from it.
It is hard not to compare to Halo when talking about AI. Bungie created an enemy that behaves so intelligently, repeated play will result in vastly different battles. The guys at Guerrilla haven't been able to produce such great enemies. Perhaps I think too highly of the Helghast, but I would think that they - despite being evil - want to survive. Maybe the army sent to fight is comprised of the most inept of the population, while the true intellect stay safe, working on new weapons technology. Whatever the reason, the Helghast are dumb. Sure, they can shoot guns and throw the odd grenade, but on more than one occasion, standing in front of them will render them useless, as if you have donned a cloaking device. They are nothing but cannon fodder, never providing you with a real intellectual challenge, and only ever a threat when attacking in groups.
Your team-mates also reveal some rather morbid fantasies. Taking endless bullets to the head seems to be the fetish of choice, with a constant barrage of fire from a tank not enough to force them to move, let alone take cover. Later in the game when you team up with characters whom you can chose to control (not on the fly ala Brute force, only during character selection before the level loads), you get a little feeling that they are providing some help, but if you want something killed you are going to have to do it yourself. Rico, Hakha, Capt. Templar, and Luger make up the four selectable characters, with each offering a slightly different style of play. Some levels will play out differently depending on the character you chose, but for the most part you can get by fine by choosing who you like most.
Killzone could have been a showcase title for the aging PlayStation 2. In stills the game has a look that many would have thought impossible to realise on the old chap; gritty warfare has rarely been brought to a videogame with this much atmosphere. Colours are subdued, enemies are truly scary, weapons are beautifully modelled, and a roughness to the game's appearance (filter effect, or hardware limitation) creates a world that draws you in. You are clearly in a Killzone; that is until the technology behind this world throws you back into your armchair. The brilliant world that you saw in screen shots is actually not that far away from what the game gives you; a game with such bad frame rate problems that you will at times think you are looking at a flick book. To list all the graphical glitches would be unfair to a game that, bar the frame rate, looks great. However, a thick fog hides a less-than-spectacular draw distance, and there are numerous occasions where lighting from another room will seep through walls. Whether due to time constraints or another reason, the visuals lack polish, and that is a real shame.
Not wanting to outdo the visuals, aurally the game is another mixed bag. Combat sounds great, with artillery really packing a punch, and the voice acting is a cut above average, even if it can be a little hammy at times, most notably during cutscenes. If you weren't sick of the sight of Helghast, you will be sick of their repeated groans and commands. After hearing them shout out the same thing, time and time again, your desire to kill them starts to correlate with how many times they have said the same thing in the last five minutes. It really does start to irritate.
The game does itself no favours by implementing a sloppily designed check point save system. Rather reminiscent of the recently-released Crash Twinsanity, you are often forced to replay huge chunks of a level, only to fall at the same hurdle over and over again. Some parts of the game are genuinely enjoyable, but spending a few hours failing to get past a certain section, followed by an unnecessary trawl to get to that section again is unforgivable. Many people will simply not want to go on any further, it is that annoying. To compound all the other problems, the game's controls are very twitchy. No matter how you tweak the sensitivity the dual analogues never work how you want them to; aiming is a nightmare, with the only real option being to strafe across a line of enemies, in an attempt to mow them all down. TimeSplitters proved that the Dual Shock can provide good FPS control, so why can't other developers master it?
If you do decide to give up on the single-player campaign you do have a wealth of multiplayer options. While not in the same league as the recently-released Halo 2, you can play online in a variety of modes with a maximum of 16 players. Standard modes are all present, with deathmatch and team deathmatch providing instant action, while modes such as domination (controlling zones), assault (destroy an object that is protected by the other team) and supply drop (effectively capture the flag) give you something a little different to have a go at. Two-player split-screen is supported if you don't have broadband, but it has limited appeal. On the whole, fans of the game will find much to enjoy in the game's online modes, but basic technical problems with the engine and control issues will mean it won't be for everyone.
What we have is a game flawed in so many areas. Technically the game struggles to run on the PlayStation 2 despite a valiant effort, enemies provide you with little reason to be worried, check points are often unfairly placed and the multiplayer mode is affected by the lack of control the game's frame rate and twitchy control gives you. It is a shame that the PlayStation 2 is still waiting for a truly great FPS of its own. Killzone could have been that game, but for everything it does right it does two things wrong. The Helghast should have stayed on Helghan.