Movie trilogies can be risky things. All too often we see a ho-hum first part followed up with a stormer of a sequel, but then the difficult third album lets it all down. Need proof? Spider-man and X-men.
And, as Guerrilla Games has proved, games can go the same way. The Killzone franchise found its footing with an incredible second game, but the rather bland, me-too third attempt seemed to spoil all of that. Not that Killzone 3 is a bad game; it just sacrificed the franchise’s identity, taking it from a slow-moving and visceral war shooter, and into CoD territory, favouring set pieces and quickened gunplay over what had made the PS3 debut such a winner. It was half the game Killzone 2 was when it should have been twice.
With a new game being rumoured for an E3 reveal (which could either be the Sony Cambridge-developed Vita spin-off or the true fourth game from Guerrilla), here’s a look at what the franchise needs to do to win back our hearts.
Saving Private Sevchenko
It was painfully clear that Guerrilla had taken plenty of inspiration from Steven Spielberg’s war epic with Killzone 2. The opening level saw the heroic (?) ISA forces storm the beaches of Helghan in a brutal battle that set the tone for things to come. The game’s second level set in the city centre was a particular standout in producing a theatre of war, as guns rattled away over the lightning-licked streets, with the haunting orange glow of iconic space Nazis dotting the player’s vision. It created an atmosphere unlike any other shooter this generation, something that not even the developers could match in the sequel.
Killzone 3 instead opted to focus on just a small group of ISA soldiers that carried out sabotage missions and stealth operations. Any feeling of being caught in the middle of a larger conflict was disappointingly absent for the majority of the game.
To stand out, the next Killzone needs to recapture that original rush instead of relying on the more sought-after cinematic thrills. It’s fine to have exciting, explosive set-pieces where robotic cats are trying to crush you, but let’s not forget what makes the franchise tick; placing players in the experience and showing a more horrific side to war instead of glamorising it like a Hollywood blockbuster.
Are we the… bad guys?
There’s always been an intriguing and yet strangely untouched question at the centre of Killzone lore; are the Helghast really bad guys? Sure, they’ll happily break every bone in your body and laugh while doing it, but their ghastly appearance was born out of necessity, helping them survive on their inhospitable home planet. And it was their loss at the hands of the ISA in an earlier conflict that had led to their exile in the first place.
Clearly, I’m not suggesting a Haze-style switch around, but the chance to explore and humanize the Helghast in the next Killzone could be key to telling an incredible story. While no game in the series has had a stellar script, its deep history has more than enough meat to craft one.
One of the more interesting parts of Killzone 3 was the inner-struggle between two authority figures in the Helghast hierarchy. It was an underdeveloped arc with the potential to serve as a memorable and unique story, contrasted with a dull escape plot on the ISA side and a truly terrible ending. The whole game managed to skimp on key plot points that left everything feeling rushed. Let’s see the next game learn from these mistakes.
Cast out CoD
I like Call of Duty as much as the next guy (unless he’s a Battlefield fan), but it has no place in my Killzone. KZ3’s set-piece heavy campaign often felt all too similar to sneaking round a conflict with Captain Price, or a nail-biting extraction mission with Soap. And the lighter, tighter controls reflected the same change. That’s not what Killzone is about.
The gunplay desperately needs to have that weight injected back into it; lugging your rifle round, slowly bringing up the sight and letting the reticule thrash about like a cat in a shower was the defining feeling that set Killzone 2 apart from the herd. These mechanics were pivotal to rooting players right down in the experience and making them feel like a soldier in war rather than a heroic killing machine.
No, it’s not the most accessible FPS on the market, but that’s a good thing. It’s an intriguing middle-ground between Call of Duty and Operation Flashpoint. Oh, and the SIXAXIS sniper-scope idea from 2? More of that, especially if it’s on Vita.
Multiplayer? Well… keep doing it
Notice how I’ve only been talking single-player so far? Well that’s because the series’ online component has been consistently brilliant since it reached PS3. I’ll admit Killzone 2 has the slight edge for me, but 3’s modes were relentlessly entertaining too, offering a true alternative to the industry’s heavy-hitters.
We could see room for improvement though, especially on the co-op side of things. KZ3 packed a tacked-on split-screen co-op story option, but we’d like to see more innovative additions to the mode. How about some missions that are co-op tailored, or the series’ own brutal rendition of Horde?
With shooters these days we want the complete package, and as Sony’s flagship FPS, Killzone should be offering a compelling mix of competitive and cooperative play.
Wishful thinking? We’ll have to wait another month to find out. I have complete faith that Guerrilla can prove that Killzone 2 wasn’t a fluke because I’d hate for part 4 to go all Quest for Peace.