Killzone – Liberation – Review

g-killzone200Killzone: Liberation

(Sony for PSP)
by Mike Delano

From its inception on the PS2 to its sequel’s mysterious trailers on the PS3, the Killzone series has always had a personality crisis. More accurately, it doesn’t have one. From a moniker that screams “working title” to its by-the-book FPS gameplay, to its drab, washed-out battleground environments, the presentation of Killzone feels like an incomplete boardroom brainstorm. There’s no charisma in the heroes, just bland military types dropping F bombs, and on the villains side, there are no aliens or minions from hell, just the Helghast, which, for the most part, are entirely interchangeable soldiers in SS-looking black uniforms sporting gasmasks.

But despite its seeming lack of interest in aspiring to anything beyond a by-the-books action title, there’s plenty to like about Killzone‘s tight gameplay and polished presentation. It may not be particularly memorable, but the series’ straightforward action gets the job done. Killzone: Liberation the first entry of the series on the PSP, and it does it with precision.

For all the PSP’s power, though, developers haven’t yet been able to master the FPS on its small screen, so the first thing gamers notice is the game’s top-down camera, similar to the Metal Gear series. It’s disappointing at first, both because the intensity of a FPS can’t be replicated with a fixed camera, and because that camera style is often associated with blow-through arcade shooters.

Liberation is far from a quick, Neo Contra-like experience, however, and the new perspective allows for creative level design that evenly blends action with some mild strategic elements. Exploration isn’t an issue, since the stages are small, but the enemies are formidable enough and your arsenal limited enough to force you to plan your approach. No mindless running and gunning here. Even with squads that you intermittently command, you’re always outnumbered and outgunned, so planning your attack by using the environment as cover and choosing the appropriate weapons is a must, and such pacing adds longevity to the game.

Even without the traditional FPS viewpoint, it’s impressive to find a game as deep and satisfying as Liberation on a handheld, a format largely associated with entertaining but quick and immediate gameplay experiences. While games trip over each other this holiday season in a frenzy of one-upmanship over the newest gimmick or the sharpest graphics, Killzone: Liberation just gets down to business.