After receiving mixed reviews for its first-person shooter Killzone (predominantly negative in the US, more positive here in Europe), Guerrilla started work on Killzone 2 (of which the trailer caused a seismic shock in gameland) and Killzone Liberation, a third-person game for the PlayStation Portable. Are the Dutch back with a vengeance?
Killzone Liberation picks up where Killzone ended. Ever since you (Capt. Jan Templar) and your team stopped the Helghast invaders, the ISA forces on planet Vekta have gone on the offensive and it’s your task again to lead the way. The storyline is forgettable though, since Liberation focuses entirely on its gameplay.
The switch to a third-person isometric view isn’t the only thing that has caused a sizeable shift in gameplay. Whereas the previous game was basically a run-and-gun type shooter, Killzone Liberation is a far more tactical game. You constantly need to be aware of your environment and take cover behind walls and objects, because the game is very challenging and just running around, shooting people is a sure-fire way to get you killed.
The AI in Killzone is remarkable. The Helghast always work as a team: they’ll try to surround you or use the triend-and-true suppress/flank attacks against you.
Enemies come in different varieties, most Helghast carry light submachineguns or shotguns, but others can throw grenades or fire bazookas to make your life a living hell. If you get too close, they’ll even try to knock you down with their rifles. Luckily, you can do the same. The strong opposition can be quite frustrating at times, especially if you’ve already reloaded the last checkpoint (of which there are plenty, on a side note) a couple of times. Still, the game never feels unfair, since there is always a way you can use the environment to your advantage and walk away unscathed from an encounter. Admittedly, it might take some trial & error before you actually see the solution.
Killzone Liberation features a wide variety of missions in many totally different environments. You’ll wade through swamps, war-torn urban environments, abandoned factories, harbours and many more. On several occasions, you’ll get to use vehicles, such as a hovercraft and even a tank, which keeps the game fresh and interesting. Because the levels are pretty short, not very big (a common thing in handheld games) and filled with action, boredom won’t have a chance to kick in. In fact, the game’s fifteen levels will be over before you know it. Once you’ve completed the story mode, there’s a decent ad hoc multiplayer mode (featuring the usual stuff, namely deathmatch, team deatchmatch, capture the flag and assault) for up to six players that can keep you busy for some hours more.
The biggest letdown of the game is its lack of a decent online infrastructure mode. Playing this game with fifteen others would have been very cool, if you ask me.
Another way to lengthen the game’s lifespan is by playing the singleplayer challenges. If you want to get gold medals (and thus earn maximum points) you’ll have to push your skills to the limit. Your objectives may vary from just killing a number of targets in a set time, clearing a gun course, defending a zone, and so forth. The more points you gain in challenges, the more bonuses you’ll unlock to make the campaign easier, such as the abilities to plant C4 more quickly (useful), carry more grenades (very useful) or sustain only half as much damage (extremely useful). Another cool idea is the fact you’ll need to buy new guns by collecting suitcases with Vektan $ in the campaign mode. So the better you explore the levels, the faster you’ll gain access to more powerful tools.
Your arsenal is pretty sizeable, can pack quite a punch (though some guns seem to be having about the same impact as you peeing against a wall), but isn’t revolutionary. It’s your everyday collection of submachineguns, pistols, sniper rifles, flamethrowers and rocket launchers. On some missions you won’t take on the Helghast armies on your own. Rico (the heavy gunner from the PS2 game) will be yours to command from time to time. You can issue him orders by pressing up on the D-pad, such as shooting enemies, taking cover or plant explosives. He usually is a great help and generally listens to your orders very well.
Killzone Liberation is a looker too. Especially the well-designed levels (often there are several paths to your objectives) and the great physics deserve praise. Killing enemies (especially by chucking grenades at them) lets you watch the often hilarious ragdolls. There’s plenty of stuff to blow up too. The character models are great and have a lot of detail to them. Though the voice-acting can be overdone at times (I’m thinking of Rico’s wannabe-badass remarks), in general it maintains a high standard. It’s also nice to hear the Helghast give each other orders. The soundtrack adjusts to the pace of the game and the gun sounds and explosions are really impressive. For the best possible sound, you might want to plug in the earphones though, since the PSP’s speakers can sound a bit ‘metallic’ at times.
With Killzone Liberation, Guerrilla Games have done an excellent rehearsal for their upcoming triple-A title Killzone 2. Though it doesn’t break new grounds or push the system to its limits, Liberation is a very satisfying and challenging shooting experience that will certainly be appreciated by the many fans of Killzone and action games in general.