Killzone: Liberation Hands-On - Campaign and Multiplayer

Guerrilla's third-person quasi-sequel to its PS2 shooter is nearing completion, and we tried out some portions of the near-final game.

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You might not get to play that luscious-looking Killzone tech demo on your shiny new PlayStation 3 anytime soon, but at least Sony isn't completely neglecting the compelling sci-fi universe created by developer Guerrilla in the franchise's first game on the PlayStation 2. The company is now readying Killzone: Liberation, a portable third-person shooter for the PlayStation Portable that will pick up not long after the original game left off. We got hold of a close-to-final build of Liberation to see how the action is shaping up, as well as to glean a few more story details about what exactly will be going on in the wake of humanity's triumph last time around.

Templar, Rico, and the gang are back for the invasion of the Helghast home planet in Killzone: Liberation.
Templar, Rico, and the gang are back for the invasion of the Helghast home planet in Killzone: Liberation.

From the looks of it, if you thought you ended the Helghast menace with your victory in the first game, think again. Liberation is set two months after the end of the original Killzone, and while you merely breached the planetary defenses in the first game, the PSP sequel will see the beginning of humankind's full-scale invasion of the Helghast homeworld. You'll again take control of Templar, the main character in the first Killzone, and this time your operations will be focused on the planet's southern continent, where a rogue general named Metrac is causing a whole lot of trouble for all involved. You'll head down south and blast through four chapters consisting of four missions each as you assist the human invasion and try to bring Metrac down before he does too much damage.

Liberation uses a very loose lock-on to direct your fire toward nearby enemies, though you can't circle-strafe around enemies or back away from them while firing ad infinitum. Rather, any drastic change of direction will break your target lock, so you have to maneuver around intelligently to stay alive and squash the opposition. Other combat moves, such as the up-close melee attack and the grenade lob (which uses a handy targeting indicator), have all felt good, and we're looking forward to trying some more complex combat situations later on in the game to see how the intensity ramps up.

So far, we've found the missions in the single-player campaign to be pretty varied and entertaining. In addition to shooting down a bunch of Helghast soldiers, you'll get to do things like planting C4 on barricades and doorways, disarming laser trip wires, and escorting VIPs back to a dropship. All of this is made easy by Liberation's streamlined, context-sensitive action interface, so we haven't had much problem getting the job done so far. Though the camera is locked to a fixed overhead perspective, we've seen some exciting moments in the early missions of the game, such as when a human dropship buzzed right by the camera before settling down to pick up some survivors.

We've been especially impressed with the ally-ordering mechanic in the campaign. If you've got a soldier fighting alongside you, you can pop up a quick ordering interface, which drastically slows down the action. You can then select any contextual hotspot in the environment and have your ally move to it to take up an offensive position, and if there are elements like turrets or C4 points in the vicinity, you can also tell your comrade to move over and perform the appropriate action. And just in case you get tired of ordering your artificial intelligence ally around, it's worth mentioning once again that you can play through the entire single-player game cooperatively via Wi-Fi with another player (hooray for co-op!).

In a nod to old-school shooters like Contra, Guerilla has wisely included the option to play through the entire campaign cooperatively with a friend.
In a nod to old-school shooters like Contra, Guerilla has wisely included the option to play through the entire campaign cooperatively with a friend.

Sony also let us try out the basic deathmatch mode with four players, though the game supports up to six. The gameplay here controlled pretty much exactly like we expected, given the controls in the campaign mode. You'll be able to sort-of-but-not-quite lock onto opponents just like in the single-player game, and we found the static-object target lock, which lets you focus fire on things like explosive barrels, to be especially useful in the multiplayer mode.

With its notable shift in design and perspective, Liberation is an unexpected follow-up to the original Killzone, but so far, it's looking like a worthy one. There's more to see of the game, including its arsenal of upgradable weaponry--which features some new weapons, like a heavy pistol and an explosive crossbow--and drivable tanks and hovercrafts in some missions. Liberation has also done a good job of maintaining Killzone's striking visual style, with the early missions set in the same dusty trenches and bombed-out industrial areas seen in the early parts of the first game. We're told the later levels will reprise the jungle and urban environments from Killzone's later missions, though we'll have to play further into the final game before we can determine the veracity of that claim.

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