Killzone E3 2004 Hands-On Impressions

We were treated to an extensive demonstration of Guerrilla's upcoming PS2 shooter, Killzone.

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We didn't waste any time at E3, getting a first-day, in-depth demonstration of Killzone, Sony and Guerrilla's highly anticipated first-person shooter for the PlayStation 2. We also had an opportunity to try out the game on the show floor in both single- and multiplayer modes.

Killzone's story is based on a war between two rival factions of humans: the militaristic Helghast, who serve as the game's bad guys, and the ISA, which you'll be a part of. The near future has seen the advent of interplanetary colonization, and as humans have expanded their reach over the galaxy, new sources of conflict have arisen. The game will start off with the Helghast invading the ISA-controlled planet of Vecta.

There will be 11 missions in the game, each of which will be split up into about three segments. Between each of these segments you can choose to control one of four unique squad members, each of whom has unique strengths and weaknesses. Templar is the commando and is an all-around, well-balanced character. Luger is a female assassin with stealth capabilities. Rico is the heavy-weapons specialist who can take and deal loads of damage. Hakka, the fourth character, is a mysterious fellow whom Guerrilla didn't want to reveal much about; he's a spy who defected over to the ISA side from the Helghast.

The missions we've seen followed a fairly linear path, but you can still experience a good amount of variation depending on which character you choose. For example, the urban "slums" level included an entrenched machine gunner. Playing as Rico, taking out the gunner was a simple matter of firing a rocket into the nest. As the less heavily armed Luger, though, we needed to sneak around the shadows to the side in order to find a good spot to toss a grenade. Later in the level, we came across a rope that led up into the ventilation system of the ruined slums. As a stealthy assassin, Luger has the unique ability to climb ropes and crawl through vents, where she was able to mete out some sneaky justice on the Helghast guarding a hallway. The other characters have to fight through the hallway in the more conventional manner.

Killzone will include 26 different weapons, 21 of which can be carried by a character, and five of which are static emplacements. You're limited to carrying three weapons at a time, but you can easily swap out weapons as you see fit. Since each character has different specialties, they'll exhibit more skill with guns that suit them more. Luger, for example, is most adept with the sniper rifle, while Rico is probably best at handling the rocket launcher. Just about all the weapons we saw had some kind of secondary fire capability. The standard ISA assault rifle that Templar carries included an underslung grenade launcher. Helghast assault rifles have a devastating shotgun shell as their secondary fire; though only one shell can be loaded at a time, it's almost powerful enough to be a one-shot kill in multiplayer. Rico's massive machine gun offers a rocket as its secondary fire function.

Aside from guns, you'll be able to attack with grenades. As in Halo, grenade tosses are done with their own button (L1), so there's no need to switch weapons. By holding down the L1 button, you'll be able to "cook" the grenade so that it explodes without any delay. The amount you have cooked the grenade is indicated to you via a handy row of lights on the grenade itself. The longer you've held the grenade, the more lights that come on--once the last light is lit, it's probably a good idea to throw it, although in this E3 build it didn't seem possible to accidentally blow yourself up by holding it too long. Grenade cooking will likely be useful in single-player as well as multiplayer, because AI enemies are smart enough to run out of an enclosed area when they see a grenade.

Melee attacks will also be a part of Killzone, and each weapon seems to have its own animation. Rico can impale enemies on the barrel of his massive machine gun before tossing them aside. Templar takes a two-step approach with his assault rifle, smacking the enemy across the face before following up with a head smash on the butt of his rifle. Luger's knife kills were our favorite--by walking slowly, she can sneak up behind an unsuspecting Helghast, before pulling him backward and jamming her knife into his neck.

The game's graphics seem pretty impressive at this point. Two of the levels we saw included a lot of shadows and darkness. This made the glowing eye sockets of the Helghast masks all the more intimidating when it was all we could see staring back at us in a dark hallway. Weapon models are very detailed, and the artists have done a nice job with reloading animations. As far as the environments go, the urban slum level offered a good amount of detail, with rubble obstacles to climb over or hide behind and twisted rebar sticking out of the broken concrete walls of gutted buildings. Another level saw us fighting in World War I-style trenches and bunkers, with stripped trees, barbed wire, and sandbags adorning the sparse brown landscape. One interesting thing we noted is that the game has a grain filter applied to it, giving it the feel of an old war movie, even though the setting is a sci-fi future. Guerrilla noted that different levels in the game may have different visual effects applied to convey a theme, be it the grain filter, exaggerated palettes, or color-saturation tweaks.

Unfortunately, Guerrilla was mum about Killzone's multiplayer modes. The game will support 12 players online, or two-player split-screen with bots on a single PS2. We played a bit of online deathmatch via kiosks on the show floor, and the gameplay seemed pretty basic. Weapon balance will probably undergo more tweaking, as the assault rifles seemed rather underpowered, while the shotgun function of the Helghast rifle seemed to be about the only attack that could reliably kill another player. The more interesting multiplayer modes will somehow play into the single-player campaign's story, requiring one side to be ISA and one to be Helghast. Guerrilla reps also implied that there would be some type of objective-based modes, but other than that, we got no further concrete details.

We're intrigued by what we've seen so far out of Killzone, but we're still interested in seeing what Guerrilla has up its sleeves as far as unique multiplayer modes. The three single-player missions at the show seemed pretty solid, but again, they didn't offer anything that seemed particularly new to the genre. Assuming Guerrilla can offer some interesting multiplayer modes, and design most of the single-player levels to play out in a manner as varied as the slums level we described earlier, Killzone could turn out to be a solid FPS game for the PlayStation 2. The game is currently slated to ship in November.

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