Freedom isn't free.
For a game that was supposed to be a Halo-killer, the original Killzone ironically missed its mark. It aimed for the head but didn’t blow our minds, or even do enough damage to make us blow fifty bucks. Rather than dare an equally dubious shot by releasing yet another first-person shooter on the mono-nubbed PSP, Sony took a wiser approach with Killzone: Liberation, working within the system’s limitations and crafting a top-down tactical shooter that puts more emphasis on planning than pwning.
In Liberation, the Helghast (red-eyed mutant soldiers) are on the run, and you’re what they’re running from. With the help of the occasional comrade, you’ll march through war zones dealing death, dying a lot yourself, and breaking plenty of crates before quickly winning the game. It’s a little frustrating and a little fun, but not a lot of anything.
Before each mission starts you pick a gun, and then you run around shooting things. What separates Liberation
from a million other games is its perspective; the isometric view is very reminiscent of Metal Gear Solid
. Obviously, you can’t really aim on your own, so you automatically lock onto enemies if you’re pointing in their general direction, then fire away.
Most of the time the auto-lock works. You can also duck behind cover, then pop out and fire. It isn’t rocket science, just stupid fun. Especially satisfying is the way you can run up to enemies, smack them down with your gun stock, and empty a clip into them. There are times, though, when you’ll encounter an enemy only to shoot five feet to his right, or become locked-on to a foe twenty feet behind him, while he fills you full of holes. This is when the Helghast stop running and start laughing.
That’s because they never have any trouble shooting you from any distance, yet you can only see thirty feet in front of you. Now, the levels are usually designed for close encounters, negating your nearsightedness. It’s when the game sticks a big open area between you and a guy with a heat seeking missile launcher that things get really frustrating. Then there are the dogs. Oh, the dogs are bitches. For some reason, they’re nearly impossible to lock onto, and fighting them is a matter of timing a button press to counter their lightning-quick lunges. Where’s some mace when you need it?
Liberation shows flashes of brilliance – sometimes you’ll fling a grenade at a sniper in the middle of beating his comrade to death, and blow him from his nest, screaming. Other times your aim will be off, and you’ll be the one to die screaming as the sniper and his friend knock you into a landmine you didn’t even know was there.
Landmines are just one of many things that will kill your little super soldier. Spider-bombs, rockets, snipers, dogs, tanks – the enemy can kill you in a million ways, but you usually feel limited to crouching and shooting, pretty slim options for a game billed as tactical. You don’t have any sneaky moves and your gadgets are limited to various explosives. Things get a little tactical when you fight alongside allies, as you can slow down time and issue simple commands, but your strategy is still the same – crouch and shoot.
That’s because Liberation isn’t really a tactical game, but one of trial and error. For every section you run and gun through, there will be others where success seems to hinge on the lucky bounce of a quickly thrown hand grenade. Sometimes, this game will piss you off so badly you’ll literally want to kill something, so you’ll have to kick ass in another game just to make yourself feel better.
That’s more the exception than the rule, though; much is blissful catharsis. Most of the weapons are pretty cool, and you can find new ones in lockers throughout the stages, or unlock them by finding scattered suitcases, which give you thousands of dollars each. You use the money to upgrade guns you have, or buy new ones. Either way, the game gets better and better the stronger your weapons become.
The separate Challenge mode allows you to unlock things like greater grenade capacity and stronger health-ups for your campaign. Challenges have you fending off enemies and running through areas within certain time limits, and they’re a fun way to get a small dose of action. The problem is that sometimes you’ll get a gold medal on a challenge and receive nothing for it, other than the pride of knowing you’re an awesome spider mine herder.
Hunting for briefcases and completing challenges adds an important chunk of playtime, because you can blow through the campaign’s four stages (each with four levels) in about six hours. In other words, soon after you really start to have fun, the game ends. You can play all the missions cooperatively with a friend via ad-hoc, which is cool, and you can also play ad-hoc versus matches. Sony claims infrastructure play will be downloadable in the future, but at the time of this review, your multiplayer options are limited to your number of friends with copies of the game.
Regardless, Liberation looks good. Units animate well and are subject to the throes of rag doll physics, and the environments are clear and crisp. Explosions fling fire, dirt and bodies with equal violence, and the tanks emit cool-looking steam, and even cooler looking rockets. It sounds fine, with decent gunfire sounds, voice work, and unobtrusive music.
Killzone: Liberation is a fun but frustrating action romp with some good unlockable content and a really short single player campaign. Sometimes it seems worth a full forty dollar commission, other times it’s worth a quarter and a dirty look, going from hero to zero and back again. The reality is somewhere in the middle, like a crazy soldier or a brave hobo, worth its weight in change, if not dollars.