The End of an Odious Affair (with the blockbuster FPS)

I’ve written before about how I’m kind of okay with blockbuster FPS games. I won’t bother linking to any such articles because I’ve said it a whole bunch of times. Around Arcadian Rhythms’ parts it’s pretty much a necessity, because we’re all over-opinionated shits and AJ and Dylan are particularly offended by what Call of Duty et al have done to the FPS genre.

That’s a gross simplification of their positions, by the way, but it’s cool because I’m about to crawl bruised and bleeding from the trench I’ve been squatting in for the past few years. I am about to rant like a man possessed by AJ.

And for why?

KillZone 2.

Helghast eyes

I bought a PS3 not long ago, partly because I want to play Way of the Samurai 4 when it finally comes out and partly because I am a vile consumer vulture, picking at the disintegrating corpse of UK game retail chains. Along with my PS3 I bought a few very cheap games: the delightful Little Big Planet, the bland and dated Resistance: Fall of Man, and the aesthetically sumptious KillZone 2.

I say ‘aesthetically sumptious’; it’s even more of a grey-brown shooter than any other grey-brown shooter that I can think of. Even Gears of War has a more varied colour palette. But I don’t care about that: a consistent visual style is fine with me, and KillZone 2 does at least have those iconic glowing Helghast eyes.

I suppose audio would fall under the same category. The audio is certainly… imposing. Intense. Explosions, gunfire, all of that shit. It’s almost like being in an actual war! It’s like you somehow fell into a real kill zone! Boom!

The enemy death screams are also some of the best/most amusing I’ve ever heard in a game, and I acknowledge that acknowledging this may make me sound like a sociopath.

Okay, so the voice acting and dialogue is fucking atrocious even by the standards of this kind of game. Your snarl-faced thick-necked character and his arsehole buddies are so typical of the manshoots genre that you anticipate every moronic utterance that emerges from their faceholes, which is convenient as there are many of them. But I don’t care about that. This sort of thing falls into the so bad it’s good category, right?

I also like the artificial sentimentality these games try to induce: one of your stupid squadmates dies in a protracted manner and you get to watch a cutscene where an overhead camera pulls back on someone shouting at the sky. It’s hilariously stupid and misjudged, since at this point I cared more about the unfortunate meatshield cannon fodder I’d already seen die a hundred times over. At least they weren’t wearing a stupid fucking bandana.

The less said about the story the better. Unless you’re making fun of it. I’ll summarise it thus: bad dudes need invasion dropping on them by good dudes. DEFINITELY NOT ALLEGORY JUSTIFYING WESTERN FOREIGN POLICY. Bad dudes are really tough and committed to total war: no innocents. DEFINITELY NOT JUSTIFICATION OF ‘CLASH OF CIVILIZATIONS’ IMPERIALIST JINGOISM. Good dudes die a lot, run into superior technology, get whupped. DEFINITELY NOT ARTICULATION OF MEDIA SCAREMONGERING OVER WMDS. Eventually, small team of good dudes do what entire army good not: kill everything in sequence of zones, defeat boss, win bronze/silver/gold trophies. DEFINITELY NOT VIDEOGAMEY. SOMEONE CALL MICHAEL BAY.

The thing that really, really turned me off KillZone 2 was how much of a pain in the arse the game is to actually play. Admittedly I’m not that used to the PS3 controller yet but I’ve been playing a PS2 for almost a decade and SixAxis novelty dice aside they’re not that dissimilar. So was it just me or does your character in KillZone 2 handle like a bus full of drunken Club 18-30ers?¬†And was it just me or is the cover system kind of fucked? Half the time I tried to stick to something I found I either couldn’t peek over it properly, or I was actually glued to it in such a way that enemies and myself could see each other perfectly well and, indeed, shoot each other perfectly well. That’s good, isn’t it!

Ah, what else. How about how one thing the game does really well chafes uncomfortably against a different design decision? It’s extremely cool that the Helghast move around so much and make great use of cover. The enemy AI acts like it cares about preserving itself. That is pretty rare. You only get momentary chances to shoot at open targets and they’re usually in motion. I really like this idea. Unfortunately the bullet-sponge nature of every fucking enemy makes it an irritating chore to take out even a few basic enemies if they’re in cover. You can try for headshots – and with those glowing orange eyes the game’s encouraging it – but good luck manouevring your drunken bus arms into place in the one second window you have.

(That sounds a bit like me admitting to being shit at the game. It’s true, I’m not great. I beat it on normal and now I never have to play it again. I’m glad. Also, most of the weapons are just not that fucking accurate, so shut up you horrible straw man.)

What else? The terrible directional indicators, for one. I spent the entire game unable to judge which direction I was being shot at from. The screen is doused in so much red I might as well have spun around in a circle firing wildly. Thanks to this the best approach through the game, where you don’t have an over-powered super-weapon, is to take cover near the start of an area or a natural choke point and pop up and down until everything is dead. This can take fucking ages, but you can’t flank when you can’t tell which direction you’re being shot at from. Well, you can if you memorise enemy positions over the course of repeated failed attempts, but fuck that noise.

The boss fights, by the way, are dreadful. The worst was probably fighting a gunship on a rooftop. You have to use a pistol to shoot electrical transformers which then release a charge which disables the gunship momentarily. This gives you time to wallop it with a couple of rockets. Unfortunately this already unfun proposition is made still worse by a gunship that rockets tend to fly straight through. I am not shitting you here; fully half the rockets I fired at the goddamn thing went through the cockpit and out the other side. Who puts a centre-mass gap in a hitbox? Who, damn you, who?

The checkpointing can also be a bore. Particularly towards the end of the game I got extremely bored of replaying segments over and over just to immediately die on a harder bit. But hey, if you get stuck you can always just try running through an area to trigger the next bit, or hiding for a while so that the friendly AI can whittle down the numbers a bit. Just like being a real soldier!

I will be nice and only mention one bug I encountered: after a really tough fight one of my squadmates disappeared from the game. He was supposed to open a door, so there I was with two other squadmates, all of us staring blankly at a fucking door that no one else could open. Top-notch scripted bullshit right there. Reloading saves and rebooting the game didn’t work, so hooray! I got to replay a really irritating section over again. Fortunately this time I played through it in a boring and wrong way: running around slapping guys with the butt of my gun. Welcome to the kill zone.

KillZone 2 does have some stuff in its favour. It’s gorgeous looking, for one, even years on, and when buildings collapse (yeah, in cutscenes) it’s pretty impressive. At points you’re given guns that are super fun. There’s a bolt gun that one-shots most enemies, nails them to walls and THEN EXPLODES. This pointlessly over-the-top innovation filled me with childish glee. I laughed like a sociopath every time I fired it. Then there’s the lightning gun. Run around and fry guys, even when they’re behind cover! You can just run and gun, no need to bother with the cover mechanics. Utterly game-breaking but highly entertaining. Oh, and at one point you get to go in a mech. I like mechs.

All told I found KillZone 2 an exercise in immense frustration. By a third of the way through I was laughing at it through gritted teeth. By two thirds of the way through it gave me superweapons to revive my flagging interest, allowing me to blitz it in short order. And then it dumped me into a final chapter that repeated every mistake to date.

So that’s it. I’m done. No more blockbuster FPS games for me. KillZone 2 has killed my desire to play them.

Or at least… I hope it has. Because I don’t want to go through all that again.

Stupid Fascists

Keep your stinking planet, space fascists.