The original Killzone unfortunately fell prey to an immense amount of hype. It had visual flair and an interesting setting, and its gameplay mechanics were decent if a little flawed. All said however, it couldn’t help but disappoint. Killzone: Liberation is a handheld addition to the franchise, but instead of first person warfare, everything’s gone isometric. It’s a startling yet fantastic decision by developers Guerilla, and one that helps Liberation stand out as one of the more essential games for the PSP.
Regarding the new and inspired viewpoint, everything is seen from quite a distance, so all action is considerably more tactical. Gone are the run and gun tactics and constant barrage of enemies of the original, and in its place is a steady and challenging strategic third person shooter, and it’s all the better for it.
One thing that hasn’t changed across the two games is the visual style and setting. Liberation still takes place in the barren land of Vekta, only this time in a new area – fear not however, the franchise’s futuro industrial aesthetic is ever-present. Greys, browns and more muted colours take centre stage, but instead of this acting as a concern; it fits the game perfectly, and adds an impressive amount of gritty realism to the game world. Guerilla have done a great job of realising the raw style of Vekta.
The game’s central focus lies within the campaign mode, which follows Templar through four missions. It sounds short, and essentially it is quite, but as each mission is split into four sections, the game’s length is not as big a problem as you would expect, and you’ll be satisfied by the end of it all. With downloadable content for those connected (see ‘A great Vektension’), it’s by no means a paltry offering. As well as the campaign you have local multiplayer and a ‘challenge’ mode, which pits your wits against varying tests of skill that in the long run will help your campaign game.
The story is a little thin on the ground, and won’t keep you gripped or hugely interested, but it’s effective in applying context to your actions, and at times will make intrigue you, even if its originality is lacking. The basic premise picks up from the first game. You play as Templar and are on the offensive against the mighty Helghast, tracking down the persistent General Metrac. While in your quest for victory you’ll encounter kidnappings, political unrest and all the generic happenings of a war game like this, but all of it doesn’t matter too much, as the gameplay is all that matters here.
A Great VektensionWhile the fact an extra chapter and online multiplayer wasn’t included in the game from the off will always spark wonderment, if you’re able to get online with you PSP you’ll be heavily rewarded. The fifth and final chapter includes an exciting section that takes place in a desert land, where for one section you control a jeep with remarkably realistic physics, which naturally is a joy to drive. The difficulty of the boss at the end of the chapter borders on ridiculous, but will satisfy the more ardent gamers. Online multiplayer is also included, and, like the local multiplayer on offer, supports up to six players in game types such as deathmatch and capture the flag. As you would expect, the combat is fierce and competitive, and a tactical joy.The game will take you through all types of environments, from murky swamps to a futuristic jet base. A particularly memorable level takes place atop a set of cliffs, and sees you fighting the Helghast at a soaring height. While the colour scheme throughout the levels is never vibrant, it doesn’t need to be, and you’ll come to love it – there’s a remarkably solid feel to the aesthetics.
The gameplay is what makes the game different, however, and is brilliant pretty much all the way through. Apart from the obvious combat element of the game, you’re also required to commit different acts, and while these hardly break any boundaries, they provide you with a nice sense of variety, be it a simple lever puzzle, a vehicle run or an escort task. Collectables in the form of suitcases of money are also dotted around the levels, which encourages exploration. Naturally your efforts are paid off – with better weapons available to be bought, which enables you to start with them. Once you return to the Helghast battle however, you’ll welcome it, as the combat is almost flawlessly implemented.
The combat is challenging, and requires tactics and skill unlike many modern shooters these days. As everything is seen from an isometric perspective, you can see a generous amount of the area around you, so you’re always aware. A red sight – much like a laser – is attached to each gun to guide your aiming, and shooting foes is immensely satisfying. There is a wide array of guns to get your hands on, from the powerful but reload-heavy shotgun, to the light machine gun that works best in one-on-one situations. More rare weaponry like a rocket launcher, an explosive crossbow and a relentless minigun also join the fold, but are only found in certain situations. Each weapon has its disadvantages, so there’s a lot of strategy in picking what you think is right for the job, especially since you can only hold two at a time.
The AI is excellent; incredibly intelligent and responsive. They’ll flank you, throw grenades with accuracy, retreat, and duck behind cover, only bobbing out their head when they believe it’s safe. When the AI is this good it’s expectant that this would translate to the difficulty, and that it does. The game has three initial difficulties, and each one – even the easy difficulty – is challenging. The bosses you encounter usually spike up the difficulty massively, unfortunately, and will either frustrate you into giving up, or choosing a lower difficulty. That said, apart from the bosses, death is not as frustrating as it could be, thanks to well placed checkpoints and the fact death is always a lesson to be learnt. You will never die unfairly; you just weren’t good enough. Sometimes in game, you are accompanied by a comrade (usually Rico from the original Killzone) and you can order him around, telling him who to target, what to destroy and such simple operations as that. They complete your requests with consummate ease, which again is another example of the fantastic AI.
As well as the campaign mode, there’s a neat challenge mode, and local multiplayer. Challenge mode is partly connected to the main campaign, as you reap rewards for the challenges you complete. Once you beat a mission from the campaign you can partake in five challenges, they range from directing spider bombs into cages, to completing assault courses for the quickest time. Achieving gold will give you most points, and with enough you can afford perks for Templar in the campaign, such as an extra grenade slot, extra health, or quicker diffuse times with C4s. It’s an incentive to keep playing them till you get the best, and will make your campaign game more enjoyable and rewarding.
The graphics are fantastic, with the locations realised with excellent confidence from the developers. Textures are finely detailed, and the level architecture suitably authentic. The animation of the Helghast and your characters, the ISA, works well enough given the unusual viewpoint; however there isn’t much save a few animations for crouching and the like. Sound is impressive, too, with a dramatic score and some convincing sound effects that accompany the combat well.
Killzone: Liberation is a fantastic shooter that combines strategic combat, excellent level design and some genuinely (and maybe too much so) challenging gameplay. It’s a game incredibly appropriate for PSP and its demographic, and an excellent addition to its ever growing catalogue of games. It’s an understated gem.