Killzone was a victim. A victim to a phrase that must have struck fear into the hearts of any developer back in 2004, a phrase that must have been the bane of any over-enthusiastic PR team and the cause of many headaches at Guerrilla games. Halo killer! Back in the mid noughties the game scene was settling in with the new king of console shooters, Xbox was taking off which was probably due to the Master Chief alone, and his second outing was on the horizon. Sony needed a competitor, something to quench the FPS thirst of its seventy million strong PS2 owners club.
The exhilaration and pressure Guerrilla games must have felt when their first attempt at the FPS crown was expected to eclipse Bungie's flawed masterpiece must have been immense. Working exclusively with the biggest console player to reach a massive audience would have no doubt been a fantastic opportunity for Guerrilla but it would have also increased the expectations of brilliance, and ultimately the disappointment felt when those expectations were not met. The decision to re-release Killzone with a veneer of HD lovely-ness has arrived on PSN eight years later, have those years have been good to our Halo killer?
Killzone HD tells the original story of the Helghast invasion of the planet Vekta, with you playing the part of a small squad of ISA troops beating back the invasion as best as you can. The game starts with a rather abrupt bump with next to no introduction as you find the first character of your squad Jan Templar fighting Helghan forces on the front lines of the battlefield. The missions in Killzone HD take you on a journey of espionage and betrayal, introducing new cast members and plot points quite regularly however with next to no coherence or writing the story is an absolute shambles. You have next to no drive pushing you forward from the plot and even less investment in the characters. Even more annoyingly the inclusion of other playable characters later in the story offers no real change to the gameplay or your attachment to your squad.
Unfortunately you can combine the very poor storytelling with mediocre level design which has you trundling down corridor after bland corridor or through endless concrete courtyards. All of which is held within a colour palette which would make Gears of War seem vibrant and colourful, hitting you with a double whammy of dull within the first five minutes of the campaign which does not let up. There are some positive points - the AI enemies do pose a threat and can give you a run for your money at times which is nice to see but this can be tainted by the utter incompetence of your AI allies, causing a few frustrating instances where you find yourself pinned down by your enemies without a hope. The weapon choice and Killzone-esque slow and meaty gameplay is present making sure you do not charge into battle without planning your attack or favour one weapon over another. This is nice to see as it shows guerrilla have not compromised their vision of Killzone’s combat style since its inception, as it is faithfully carried onto later installments in the series.
The game also has a battlefield mode which is a split screen multiplayer type experience where you and a friend can battle AI bots in a number of scenarios (unfortunately this is not enabled online). The usual suspects are present death-match, team death-match, domination and capture and defend where you have to both defend your own and destroy the opposite team’s generator. This is where Guerrilla have done the best work as the levels seem well thought out and show great room for yourself and the AI to breath, giving you some great firefights and opportunities to flex your strategic muscles compared to the very linear campaign missions.
With the HD re-release (handled in house by Guerrilla ) the graphics have been given a basic clean up and all the previous problems with frame rate and glitches have been addressed. Unfortunately though this is the extent to which Guerrilla gave tinkered with Killzone HD there are no new hi res textures, no new particle effects and the audio effects and dialogue seems to still be in their unaltered PS2 form coming across as very low quality (especially when heard through a large stereo system). Compared to some HD releases this has come across as a little stingy seeing what the studio are capable of with the latter two installments, graphically at least. When you take the muddy textures in with the very bland colour palette the game can come across as ugly at times, bearing in mind this was made on the PS2 the failed opportunities to increase the visual fidelity with minor updates is a major blot on this title’s copy book. Finally the one omission found from Killzone HD which is the most puzzling (as nearly all other HD releases have it in some form) is the lack of extra content, such as concept art or movie clips giving further background on characters or a making of documentary for instance, these are usually there to sweeten the deal for most customers and is sorely missed giving Killzone HD a bare bones feel.
The reason to re-release Killzone is an obvious one as it is the start of one of the biggest PS3 franchises in recent years. The reason to release it now seems a little odd as it probably would have sold better tied to a big release such as Killzone 3. Without offering any additional features or major upgrades (at least graphically) from the team that can do great things on the PS3 is a major omission. This leaves a rather bitter taste in your mouth and the realisation that Killzone HD is a mediocre game which has not aged well and offers no reason to buy when its younger siblings offer so much more.
Hell, I’m aghast at how far Killzone has come!