You know it's a slow summer when I start checking the first-person shooters off my list. I usually only get in one or two a year, but I've been blazing through them lately. Surprisingly, most have been better than average… though Killzone isn't among them. The iconic glowing goggles on the cover caught my attention, but once inside my PlayStation 2, everything else lost it.
The good things first… quite honestly, I would never have believed graphics this superb were possible on Sony's soon-to-be-retired machine until I'd seen them myself. In fact, the graphics are so good that it makes the infamous steroid-enhanced E3 trailer for Killzone 2 seem much more plausible. Honestly, I don't think they're that much different when you get right down to it. However, Dan is exactly right when he says that this game is too much for the hardware. It does lack smoothness at times, but I will admit that it's really not a big issue—I expected it to be worse than it is. What Guerrilla Games has achieved here is nothing less than honest-to-goodness programming wizardry, and my hat is off to them for it. I am completely impressed.
However, technical prowess is not the same as good design. Guerilla may rock the box visually, but there are a lot of areas that outright stink.
For example, many of the levels are interesting and appealing… at first. Fighting around crates and on top of a crane while the ocean crashes on the docks was a favorite, and taking on the Helghast in a wide-open park (complete with benches) was a great change of pace, but levels are consistently too long and have segments that are repeated too often. The novelty of taking out those glowing goggles was eroded by the fact that the developers have a fetish for cutting and pasting huge chunks of an area, and then stacking them back-to-back. This constant feeling of déjà vu completely detracted from my appreciation for the environmental design, and made the game feel much more tedious and repetitive than it needed to.
It also hurts that there are many illogical or annoyingly bad choices like not being able to hop over a two-foot ridge, or bumping up against invisible walls when it looks like I should be able to take the path. Besides that, I'd like someone to explain to me how Luger's scope pistol can take out a Helghast with one shot from 300 yards away, when an assault rifle at pointblank range takes at least half a clip to down the average grunt.
The characters and their implementation could use some work too, since the design of the Killzone squad feels generic and unremarkable. Obviously, the developers were trying to stay close to a "realistic" paradigm, but they err on the side of being boring, in my opinion. It's not often that I play a game where the stealth assassin (usually the easiest to make appealing of any group) comes off as flat and lifeless, but in this case the "Shadow Marshal" feels just as vague as the rest of the crew.
Functionally, I disagree with Dan about the characters being truly different from each other. Pragmatically, it boiled down to a choice of "Will I need to shoot accurately or to survive a ton of damage?" If the former, choose Luger. If the latter, choose Rico. The other two members of the unit were superfluous, although I may have given them more of a chance if it was possible to switch characters on-the-fly during a mission. It makes no sense to have to quit back to a menu in order to change to a different soldier, and removes any feeling of dynamic action that could have been created by having four people with different skills to choose from. (And the suggestion that I should replay levels to try different characters? No thanks, they're too long and dull the first time around.)
Although the things I've just discussed are all significant flaws in Killzone's core identity, it's easy to see what Guerilla was going for. They set their sights high, and the goal was an admirable one. This studio obviously has some majorly talented people in its stable capable of amazing stuff, but it's suicide to turn out a shooter as inert and blah as this one. It's a shame, but the amazing graphics go to waste—in spite of its phenomenal good looks, Killzone is a prime candidate to be tossed aside at the halfway point.