Saturday, February 12, 2011

A Forgotten Classic

I am a big old geek.

I am looking forward to the release of Killzone 3.  It is shaping up to be one THE shooters for the year.  A combination of what looks to be crazy multiplayer action, and a story mode that is gritty and immersive.

Killzone 2 hit a while back, and folks hopped on it pretty well, and the Beta dropped for Killzone 3, and it has been a hugely popular.  I've been surprised though at the number of folks who missed the original on the  PS2 seven years ago.

Guerilla Games produced a game that I played the crap out of.  Halo and Halo 2 took a lot of the attention away from this game, when this dropped in 2004, I scooped it up for my shiny PS2, and I took to it far more than Halo.  In part, the story appealed more.  The characters of Templar and Rico, Lugar and Hakha actually gave you multiple points of view--and a variety of game play styles to run through your missions with.  The voice acting was fantastic.  The variety of environments ran from trenches, jungle, arctic ice, swamp, to beat down urban tangles.  Halo was just a hair too clean a future, and it wasn't until much later did I pick up either of Bungie's titles.

In part, the design ethic got me. It was a future that was lived in. It looked useful. Well, except for the Helghast's  glowing red goggles which made them easier to spot.  The weapons had a certain weight to them, they each had a different feel.  Different purposes.  The ISA's main battle rifle with its grenade launcher was handy for some situations. The Helghan battle rifle wasn't as accurate, but it chewed things up, and the secondary shotgun fire was just mean up close.  The vehicles had a certain design ethic that was internally consistent.  It was a future that looked organic and right.  From the industrial areas to the makeshift camps.  The heavily armored Helghast soaked up bullets and kept coming. The control centers and urban environments were beat on.  Barrels on your turrets and big guns overheated if you pushed them.  There was a balance in the limitations that seemed realistic.

The characters sucked me in as well.  Captain Templar as an officer with a task, Luger who finds him on his delivery of an agent to hand over to the ISA, Rico, a gunner with attitude galore, and the In Field Agent Hakha.  The relationships developed as time went on.  The plot peeled back mission by mission, and while not  incredibly deep, it was not overly complicated.  You never got the feel that the writers were just piling on plot to yank the rug out from under you with a Clever Surprise.  It was a war tale, and it marched along at its own pace, and the grit and immersion helped that. You reloaded, you looked at the weapon.  You got tired if you ran too long.  There was smoke and mist that obscured your vision.

It wasn't without problems. The game could glitch.  The AI was sometimes less than brilliant. The controls took some time to get used to.  For amazingly athletic soldiers, you couldn't jump over things save in preprogrammed areas.  There was no real cover mechanic, so you wound up squatting next to things, and that had to do.

But despite these things, I found it to be a huge amount of fun. The controls, when you mastered them, were immensely satisfying. The environments were varied, and mastering them had their own rewards too.  Mastering the characters was likewise entertaining--and the missions changed a bit for tactics depending on who you controlled.

Killzone 2 revamped the system entirely.  Lean and peek cover. Vehicles. Simple objectives to plant charges, and a relatively long campaign mission. Less variety in environments, but a lot of house to house and tunnel to tunnel combat made up for some of that in being equally gritty. The design ethic of usefulness continued.  Less variety perhaps, but environments that could be used with differing tactics.  In many ways, it looks as if Killzone 3 is going to be an extension of the gains that Killzone 2 made, but no matter how pretty, and graphic and gritty the new one is, I retain an affection for the first. Not a perfect game, but like its design ethic, it was useful.  And a lot of fun.

Folks are having a lot of fun with the brutal combat and the convoluted environments in the newest game in the series, but for me, it's nice to see the seeds from the first game finally seeing their ultimate fruition. If anything, it appears that Killzone 3 is making good on the promises and the continuing evolution from the first.

If you haven't played the first, there are copies available on Amazon and other vendors. It is priced fair cheap, and for those who fell in love with the second, and those who are fans of the third's preview copy, it might be worth a peek, just to see how far things have come, and where the seeds were lain for such a great design ethic.

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