Killzone Impressions

We get an early peek into Sony's upcoming military action game.

Killzone was on hand and playable at the recent Santa Monica Studios media day. The futuristic first-person shooter is being developed by Guerrilla Games in conjunction with Sony Computer Entertainment Europe and SCEA Santa Monica Studios and marks the first internally developed first-person shooter for the PlayStation 2. We had a chance to play a few levels in the game, which provided a small sampling of the ambitious title's scope, and we came away quite impressed.

There were several playable levels available, which included small segments of the larger overall levels. The levels were evenly divided between indoor and outdoor settings, and there was a shooting range for practice. The indoor and outdoor levels showed off many of the game's key features, such as the different playable characters' strengths and weaknesses, weapons, squad mechanics, dynamic levels, and some impressive graphics. The demos offered two character choices: Templar, a heavily armed soldier, and Luger, a more stealth-oriented character. Going through the demo levels, it was clear that Templar, with his heavy arsenal, was a better all-around soldier, while Luger was much more precise. The weapons they both started with provided a solid level of firepower, although Templar appeared to have the edge. Despite the slight difference in balance between the characters' weapons, you'll find plenty to use in the game. One particularly cool feature is what appears to be a proximity-based combo system for melee combat. When you're close enough to a foe, you're prompted to press the X button. If you get the timing down, you'll rush at your target and knock your foe around good. The move you perform will vary depending on what weapon you're holding.

The squad mechanics that were shown off make a good case for the game's dynamic artificial intelligence system. The members of your team are smart and look after themselves as you go about your business. The AI perfectly complements the way the levels change because of all the explosions and assorted madness going on. One of the coolest things we saw was a massive airship swooping down from the sky all of a sudden. As the enormous craft came and hovered above the ground, ropes popped out of its belly (showing off the game's proprietary physics system). The downside to the experience was that about a half dozen Helghast troops came sliding down the ropes with guns blazing.

Another of the playable levels in the Killzone demo was a shooting range that featured various targets, such as human silhouettes, for target practice. All of the weapons in the game were littered on the ground behind each of the positions where the players were intended to stand and fire the weapons. After picking up a weapon and taking your position on one of these designated firing platforms, a small pop-up window appears in the corner of the screen that shows a close-up view of the target so you can see where your bullets are hitting.

After taking some target practice and trying out the weapons, it's clear that a great amount of detail has been put in to making sure that all of the pistols, machine guns, rocket launchers, and such are as realistic as possible. The reloading animations for each of the weapons are fairly impressive, thanks to specific animations that show a surprising amount of detail in how the mechanisms of each weapon open up and move when reloading. Many of the weapons feature a primary and secondary fire--for instance, the rocket launcher's primary fire deploys a single rocket, while the secondary fire deploys three rockets all at once.

The sniper rifle is extremely cool since it's been designed to require a great amount of skill to use it, meaning that its targeting reticle is incredibly sensitive when zoomed in at great distances. By pushing in the R3 button or pushing up on the D-pad, you can increase the sniper rifle's zoomed-in view. The right analog stick also controls the weapon's targeting reticule, which requires total precision when aiming.

In addition to taking the handheld weapons for a spin in the target range level, we also tested a few of the stationary gun turrets featured in the game. These weapons, as you might imagine, include weapon placements like a heavy machine gun that is governed by a heat meter, which, if filled, causes your weapon to stop firing for a brief period of time. Other stationary mounts are larger machines in which you strap yourself into a seat, and there barrels on either side that fire at a tremendous rate.

The graphics in the game are looking outstanding despite the fact that the frame rate is still not particularly stable. However, with that said, we were able to try the game in a two-player offline mode, which was still a little rough around the edges but playable. The indoor and outdoor environments all looked good and featured a host of little touches such as particle and weather effects. The environments are large and detailed and feature a good measure of interactivity that's suitably flashy. For example, you can break glass in the game when shooting at enemies, which results in dramatic cascades of particles. The overall graphical quality of the game is really quite impressive and is a testament to the research and development Guerrilla has done with the PlayStation 2 hardware. The use of multilayered textures has allowed for the creation of a powerful and flexible engine.

While the limited demos we saw offered just a glimpse of what the final game is going to be like, Killzone is looking like it's poised to be a big gun in the PlayStation 2 lineup. It's especially refreshing to see that, despite the fact that the console is getting on in years, developers are able to still work some magic on it. We're also especially curious to see just how the single-player and multiplayer modes fold into the story and just what sort of online offerings the game is going to have. While Sony reps at the event were vague, 12-player online games with USB headset support certainly sounds like the right direction to go in. Killzone is currently slated to ship in Q4 2004 for the PlayStation 2. Look for more on the game in the coming months.

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