Killzone Updated Hands-On

We go to war with the latest preview build of Guerrilla's highly anticipated PS2 shooter.


Currently in development at Guerrilla (formerly Lost Boys), Killzone is a futuristic first-person shooter that will boast both an extensive single-player campaign and online support for up to 16 players when it's released in November. We recently spent some time with the latest preview build of the game, which comprised a significant chunk of the single-player campaign as well as a number of "battlefield" multiplayer options that we were able to play against bots.

A tutorial it might be, but the first level is no walk in the park.
A tutorial it might be, but the first level is no walk in the park.

The single-player campaign kicked off with the same tutorial level that we played previously at both E3 and G4techTV's G-Phoria event earlier this year. The tutorial did a good job of reacquainting us with the game's controls as we navigated and eventually retreated from a network of trenches and bunkers that were being advanced upon by Helghast forces--whose glowing "eyes" made them easy to distinguish from our allies (for the most part). We got to kill plenty of the advancing enemies before retreating, of course, and one of the first things we noticed is that the armor worn by the Helghast was significantly more effective than that worn by their cannon-fodder counterparts in most other first-person shooters. Although the enemies' blood could clearly be seen after every shot, we found that the Helghast were able to sustain quite a few hits to the body before they'd even think about showing off Killzone's rag-doll physics. Headshots, thankfully, proved to be much more effective and were definitely worth the effort, especially since they also helped to preserve valuable ammo.

Our own body armor wasn't to be sniffed at either, mind you, because you'll find that you're able to sustain at least six or seven shots from an enemy rifle (or even a mortar) before you're unceremoniously taken to the "Failed" screen and given the option to quit or try again from either the start of your current level or from the last checkpoint that you reached. What's more, if you manage to avoid enemy fire for more than a few seconds at any point, you'll notice that you recover health at quite a significant rate (if you've played Halo, the implementation is very similar to Master Chief's shield). Your health won't always return to 100 percent, of course, so you'll need to find first aid kits for that. However, the system does ensure that you shouldn't ever have to head into a battle knowing that the next hit you sustain will be your last. Also familiar to fans of Halo will be Killzone's weapons system, which allows you to carry any three (as opposed to Halo's two) weapons simultaneously, along with a handful of grenades. Because ammunition is often in short supply, you'll be forced to change your weapons often by using whatever you're able to procure from the bodies of your slain enemies and fallen comrades--both of which will be plentiful.

To say that fallen comrades will be in plentiful supply isn't necessarily true, actually, since your actions will invariably determine how many members of your current, generic group (as opposed to when you fight alongside other central characters) survive any given encounter with the enemy. You'll quickly learn, as awful as it sounds, that your best bet is often to have your allies do as much of the killing as possible. That way you'll not only save your ammo, but also, should any of the good guys get killed, you'll be able to help yourself to their ammo as well. If you do all or most of the work yourself and none of your comrades die, your only reward will be to progress to the next area with less ammo, since your allies will often opt to stay behind to "secure the area" while you scout ahead.

You'll occasionally be able to use fixed gun emplacements against the Helghast.
You'll occasionally be able to use fixed gun emplacements against the Helghast.

Whether or not the artificial intelligence in our preview version of Killzone is representative of what will be featured in the finished game remains to be seen, but right now the best word to describe the behavior of non-player characters in the game (and, in particular, your comrades) would be "inconsistent." We've seen a lone, gung ho private gunned down ahead of us as he foolishly charged into a room where enemies were hiding, and at the other end of the scale, we've witnessed a group of three soldiers hiding and doing their best to look busy while basically doing nothing to aid us as we went up against an armored Helghast vehicle and all of the enemies that accompanied it. Allies wandering across and even taking up their own positions in our line of sight in the middle of a gunfight have also proved to be a nuisance on occasion, although they did make for pretty good human shields while we were reloading. Killzone doesn't claim to be a squad-based shooter in the same vein as something like the Rainbow Six series, but almost every level we played felt like it would have benefited from us having the ability to issue even the most basic commands to those who were trying to help us out.

Plays Well With Others

Without wishing to go into any detail about the specific levels that we've played through, we'll tell you that both the locales and the gameplay have actually been pretty varied (for a first-person shooter, anyway). We've fought in trenches, picked off enemy snipers from the top of a tower, defended comrades from enemy ambushes, battled our way through a burning office building, and stealthily made our way through a beautiful park--picking off the enemies that were camping there (camping in tents as opposed to just sitting somewhere with a sniper rifle) en route. All of our missions have been quite linear thus far, and any attempts to stray from the obvious path have invariably resulted in us meeting with an impassable obstacle of some description. There's nothing wrong with that, but what is slightly worrying are the problems we've occasionally had getting past obstacles that really shouldn't be obstacles at all--like stepping up to a sidewalk from the street, for example, or being unable to step over a lamp that's fallen on the floor in an office. What makes these anomalous problems even more noticeable is the fact that we were able to use the same action button used for getting on and off ladders to vault over far larger obstacles and through certain broken windows.

Luger's thermal vision makes it easier to operate in the dark.
Luger's thermal vision makes it easier to operate in the dark.

Since we've played through a number of the single-player levels on multiple occasions, we can report that many of the enemies' actions are scripted and, as such, make the missions a lot easier to beat on the second attempt. Killzone promises to offer plenty in the way of replay value, though, not only because the contents of your arsenal are likely to be different each time you start a given level, but also because you'll be able to play many of the missions as any of four different characters. It's not yet clear what the deal with the additional playable characters will be in the finished game, but in our preview build, most of the levels only allowed us to play as Templar, who is basically the game's jack-of-all-trades.

As we progressed through the game, we unlocked two additional characters: Luger, who specializes in stealth and looks a lot like a female version of Splinter Cell's Sam Fisher; and Rico, a burly heavy weapons expert with an arsenal that any action game hero would die for. Based on our limited experience with Rico, playing as him won't be radically different from playing as Templar. Rico moves more slowly, but his weapons do their jobs much more rapidly, and that's about it. Playing with Luger, on the other hand, requires a less "direct" approach, and she'll actually take different routes through the same areas on occasion. One of the levels we played, for example, saw all three of the aforementioned characters working together. But whereas playing as Rico required us to walk down a flight of stairs and straight into a large number of enemies, playing as Luger saw us navigating an elevator shaft, crawling through air vents, and picking off enemies from a distance with her silenced (and very powerful) pistol. Luger's other trademarks are a knife that she can use to kill enemies silently (the other character's melee attacks are somewhat more clumsy, though equally satisfying) and thermal vision goggles--neither of which were really needed in the two areas that we played as her. Killzone will also feature a fourth playable character named Hakha, and little is known about him at this point--except that he's a spy who defected from the Helghast.

The multiplayer options in Killzone will include deathmatch, team deathmatch, domination, supply drop, assault, and defend and destroy gameplay modes--all of which we were able to play against bots in our version of the game. You'll have the option to set the bots in your game to easy, normal, or hard, and we're pleased to report that the bots seem quite intelligent--often appearing to work in pairs or small groups in the team-based games rather than acting individually. The multiplayer maps we've played were also impressive and have included reworked versions of large single-player maps in such locales as a tropical creek, slums, a railway station, a beachhead, and a number of buildings in an otherwise barren desert. Weapons, ammo, and health packs were scattered quite liberally around the levels, and among the weapons on offer were those carried by Luger and Rico in the single-player game.

Rico's arsenal does away with the need for any kind of sneaking around.
Rico's arsenal does away with the need for any kind of sneaking around.

All in all, our time with Killzone has left us feeling pretty positive about the forthcoming offering. The single-player game promises to offer plenty of replay value, and the multiplayer modes (which will support two players on a single screen) should keep you entertained long after you've beaten the single-player missions with all available characters. Our version of Killzone doesn't do a whole lot that you won't have already seen in other first-person shooters, but it's done a good job of keeping us interested, and, more importantly, it's left us wanting more. Expect additional information on Killzone just as soon as we get our hands on a more complete version of the game.

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