Killzone: Liberation

Viva la libertad! We go hands-on with Guerilla's amazingly multiplayer mode.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: April 27, 2006
We often joke about how little the gaming press matters when it comes to games, and for the most part, it's true. No matter how much we screamed and shouted that Beyond Good and Evil was one of the most amazing experiences ever made for the PS2, you still didn't buy it. But every now and then the gaming press has the awesome ability to twist things, and the internet just runs with it.

At no point was the PlayStation 2 touted to have "Toy Story-level graphics" by anyone at Sony -- that was someone in the press (and mainsteam press at that). Likewise, nobody at Sony called Killzone a "Halo killer" (again, the press, this time the European version), but it doesn't really matter; both quotes caught on like wildfire and the result has been more than a bit of disappointment from people that bought into the bits of text as doctrine.

So it's with no blind eye to what can happen when something gets out of control that we say Killzone: Liberation could very easily be a killer app for the PSP -- and we're speaking purely on the grounds of the multiplayer experience. After an hour on a single map we still wanted to play more, and every time we passed the four PSP dev kits with someone invariably glued to the PSP screen, we were greeted just moments later by some kind of scream or squeal of glee. It's still early, and we're supposed to be objective here, but screw it: this game kicks ass.

First person shooters don't work on the PSP -- not in a world of dual analog sticks. Sure, you can map things to the face buttons and use the analog stick, or come up with some kind of jerry-rigged solution involving the analog nub and the d-pad (a la Syphon Filter, but you're still fighting the controls for a while, and that introductory time should be spent getting into the game's story, not wrestling with moving a character.

Evidently, Guerilla Software was aware of this, and though it's a direct continuation of the Killzone storyline and world, the perspective has shifted. Literally. Liberation is presented with a top-down 3/4 isometric view, and while it's a little disorienting to see the familiar art style and environments presented in such a way, it quickly starts to make sense in the context of the game.

Cover is paramount -- so much so that the developer mapped a button all its own to ducking behind objects. From a crouched position, you can blind fire or lob grenades, but to actually aim and fire your weapon, you'll have to let go of the R button and zero in on a target with the handy laser sight, squeezing off shots with the Square button. Double-tapping the L button will produce a roll that can be used to get out of enemy fire, and running up close on an enemy and tapping it once will lock onto an enemy allowing you to circle-strafe them.

If you come across a crate, you can tap X to open it and rummage through the contents. In the multiplayer matches we played, this was especially important, because there were opportunities to load up on new primary and secondary weapons like claymores, as well as refill our health after a firefight. X also serves as a melee kill if you hit it after running up on an enemy (a perfect way to follow a nicely placed grenade).

What was impressive about the multiplayer matches was how well the camera panned. If more than one character was on the screen, it would pan over to include them in the view. While running, more of what was ahead was shown with subtle recentering. It was so intuitive and natural that we didn't even notice it until it was pointed out to us; which is a sure sign of it being done right.

The matches themselves were an absolute blast, and available in both Ad-Hoc and glorious Infrastructure Modes. We mentioned before that every time we passed a new group of players, we picked up little yelps and shouts of joy. The fact that you can see the other players just makes it that much more intense, and rather than hurting the experience, it just makes it that much more frantic. Again, we only played one map, but it was so much fun that we couldn't get enough of it.

The single-player game (which we sadly didn't have time to plug through, but then that's what E3 is for) is a direct continuation of the PS2 game, taking place two months after the close of that storyline arc. The Helghast General, Metrac, still holds most of southern Vekta, taking innocent civilians as hostages and ignoring the established rules of war. Once again, Templar is sent in to poke holes in the Helghast offensive while rescuing the hostages.

Guerilla is intent on making this a complete Killzone experience regardless of the fact that it happens to be portable; vehicles, teammate AI (commands can be issued at any time, and this actually plays into flanking maneuvers), enemy AI (they can -- and will -- use the same flushing and flanking moves) and heavy weapons like turrets can be mounted at will. Though our time with the game was far shorter than we would have liked, it's obvious that Guerilla is treating this not as a dumbed-down port, but as a narrative bridge between the events of the first game and the upcoming PS3 sequel.

We'll have more as soon as we can get some time in with the single-player aspect of the game. Check back in two weeks for that and much, much more.