Killzone is reborn in this consistently intense, periodically infuriating, yet undeniably enjoyable handheld tactical shooter.
- Tightly focused and very satisfying shooting action
- great-looking graphics and excellent audio
- a full range of ad hoc multiplayer modes, both competitive and cooperative
- extremely challenging.
- Single-player campaign is rather short
- no online play included
- story is minimal, at best.
Though 2004's Killzone for the PlayStation 2 might not be the most fondly remembered of sci-fi first-person shooters, Killzone: Liberation for the PSP is bound to make a more lasting impression. For one thing, Liberation has just about zero to do with its PS2 predecessor from a gameplay perspective. It's still a shooter, but the viewpoint has been switched to an isometric, top-down view and the action itself has improved exponentially. This is a game that provides a great deal of intense shooting action, with tough enemy opponents that don't lie down and die easily. Throw in an ad hoc competitive multiplayer component and co-op play for the whole campaign, and you've got a thoroughly excellent package.
For those uninitiated to the Killzone universe, the series takes place in a futuristic society where humanity has taken to the stars. A militant subset splinters off from society to form its own government on a planet called Helghan. However, over time, this planet turns these people into something other than human--a race known as the Helghast. In Killzone, you were neck deep in the battle between the Helghast and the human race, fending off a Helghast invasion on a planet called Vetka. In Liberation, you're going in the opposite direction. Picking up where the first game left off, you're once again playing as the human soldier Templar. Now on the offensive, the human army is going after the Helghast, and you'll take on a series of missions, as Templar, to bring down the enemy. In truth, there's not much story progression for the Killzone universe to be found here. The game spends a small amount of time setting up the objective for each mission, and there's a basic plot involving a pesky Helghast general named Metrac and some key members of the human political and military system getting kidnapped. However, for the most part, the focus is very much on the action in Liberation, and not on the storytelling.
Were the action not so good, that'd be a real problem. Thankfully, you'll probably be too neck deep in fending off hordes of Helghast soldiers to care why you're doing it. Though at first glance Liberation looks like a Killzone-themed dungeon crawler, it's very much a shooter, and a challenging one at that. You begin each level with a specific gun--you start out with a weak assault rifle, and as you play through the game, you'll unlock more powerful starting guns--and a basic mission objective or two. Along the way, the Helghast will come at you in all forms, from groupings of grunt soldiers to rocket-launcher-wielding baddies to massive tanks. Killing them is challenging for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that they're very smart. Though you'll see occasional bad guys stand around in a stupid spot, just waiting to get shot, most of the time enemies will find cover the moment you start firing at them. They'll duck, they'll dodge, they'll launch grenades at you to try and flush you out from cover, and they'll even shoot an exploding barrel if you happen to be standing next to one.
Suffice it to say, the Helghast are very good at finding ways to kill you, so you have to be a good shot, as well as mindful of the environment. This is not a run-and-gun shooter. You have to be methodical in your movements, keeping an eye to cover points, knowing when and where to throw grenades, and basically just not walking into firefights with guns blazing.
The shooting mechanics are handled very well in Liberation. There's no specific autoaim function, but when you point your gun in the direction of an enemy, your character will lock on to that enemy. This mechanic works no matter where an enemy is standing, so if enemies are above you, you'll point up, and if they're below, you'll point there, too. Little touches like rocket launchers and tank cannons knowing where to lock their fire make aiming remarkably easier, as well.
That's not to say that the game can't be a bit frustrating at times. Maybe that's an understatement. Though it isn't cheap or broken, few games on the PSP will induce the same level of rage that Liberation's single-player campaign will. Because you need to figure out the environment to survive a fight, you'll be dealing with a great deal of trial and error. You will die in this game...a lot. On the plus side, the campaign has a great checkpoint system that rarely forces you to replay too terribly much of one section of a mission. Of course, that will be small comfort to those who find themselves getting decimated by scads of Helghast troops on a regular basis.
Another interesting wrinkle to the gameplay system is your ability to command non-player characters. Though you won't be accompanied by a computer-controlled ally on every mission, there are several sections where you'll have someone working alongside you, and in most cases, that's an allied soldier named Rico. By pressing up on the PSP's directional pad, you'll pull up a command menu that shows you exactly what you can make an ally do at that point. In most situations, you can simply command them to take a specific firing position, but you can also order them to, for example, attack specific enemies and plant explosives in key spots. The artificial intelligence does a great job of following orders, and you'll almost never have to give an order twice to get them to do what you want. In fact, the worst complaint you can say about the allied AI is that they have the ability to shoot you if you get in the way, and vice versa--and that will happen every now and again.