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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.





21 responses to “The End of an Odious Affair (with the blockbuster FPS)”

  1. badgercommander Avatar

    My review of Killzone 2:


    Awful, awful game.

    1. ShaunCG Avatar

      But didn't it look 'nice'!

  2. BeamSplashX Avatar

    Was there something useful on the planet? Games usually have piss-poor excuses for not nuking places to oblivion (see: Gears of War 3).

    1. ShaunCG Avatar

      I'm guessing "opportunities for ill-advised, idiotic heroism" doesn't qualify as "something useful"?

      1. Sid Menon Avatar
        Sid Menon

        That must be what unobtanium is.

        1. ShaunCG Avatar

          Thanks for that, Sid. I spent years in therapy trying to forget about 'The Core'.

          (I know unobtanium as a concept/joke is way older than that rubbishy film, but those are my mental associations…)

  3. mwm Avatar

    Maybe things wouldn't be as bad if writers started to freelance video game scripts. There'd be a bastion of quality frames tailor-made to fit the form it would eventually take. After all, no company can be expected on a writer to finish an entire much-longer-than-a-movie script before beginning a project. Trying to get massive-scale corporations to notice would be a brilliant way to piss someone's life away…

    All the same though, I would piss myself if the Coen brothers helped make a game with brilliant and competent enemies. Gameplay could focus on avoiding enemies, since they're actually better then you are (they being trained soldiers clad in body armor and whatnot. It always bugged me that I could gun a Russian down as easily as his cotton-wearing terrorist brother), or occasionally being backed into a corner, being badass, and taking on one of them at a time. A shooter game where the last thing you want to do is shoot…

    That, or they could make a proper Bad Company game.

    1. ShaunCG Avatar

      I've never worked directly within the development environment but I think a lot of games nowadays do adopt a Hollywood-esque approach to scriptwriting for their games. Videogames are certainly capable of presenting bland but coherent and well-paced action blockbuster-style stories (looking at you, Uncharted). But as with films I'm sure a lot of that changes during development and, besides, with a game that you know is mostly going to be played by pubescent men, why bother doing more than presenting a boring hodge-podge of generic macho war film cliches? (It's not that I approve of it or even agree with it, but I can see why it was done.)

      But even when they bring in talent from outside the field, as with Richard Morgan and Peter Watts for Crysis 2, the results can be disappointing. There were *elements* of Crysis 2's writing and story which I liked but overall the plot was little we hadn't seen before and was also not terribly… *videogamey*. Almost as if two middle-aged science fiction novelists weren't all that familiar with the narrative possibilities of the field!

      I really liked Bad Company 2 but would still love to play the game you described above.

      1. mwm Avatar

        I guess it's a subject that deserves a little more research.

        Oh no, not Bad Company 2. BC1. They really are very, very different single player experiences. The games even have markedly different shooting mechanics.

        The 'original' was a tongue-in-cheek masterpiece. It's very best moments usually had wargame-badassery, but were mostly ridiculous and sarcastic. Memorable moments include: Killing your first tank (Mmmm); Haggard charging down a hill and starting a war with a neutral nation; driving a dictators (literally) golden helicopter; leaving said dictator on a little island; driving a tank, chewing through dozens of enemies while Haggard wishes he had carzilla; "The whole damned red army can't stop this ^%*!*&% golf cart!"

        It's fun and ridiculous. BC2, however, just uses it like George Bush used his dad. He did his job, yes, but you have to wonder what could have been.

        1. badgercommander Avatar

          It takes a fucktard like George Bush to make his father look 'ok'.

          Politics aside I have heard similar stories about Bad Company 1 being the one to play for the single player.

        2. ShaunCG Avatar

          I may have to check out BC1, then, as it sounds like a good bit of fun SP.

          I enjoyed BC2's single player as well, partly for the destructible scenery and solid FPSin', and partly for the entertaining discussions among squad members between firefights. At one point I stood for a good ten minutes listening to them talk about Predator.

  4. guillaumeodinduval Avatar

    Go play KillZone ONE. It's a bit better (not by much).

    I too have had the SAME issues with the controls and difficulty at shooting things. That's why I quickly stuck with what was found to be most effective in the game: the sprint function combined with the knife.

    You one-shot anything and run so much faster, you don't need TOO much skills to 'dodge' bullets and, as if inspired by your insanity, all your teammates will follow you at the same pace which pushes the enemy lines back at a frenetic rate and, since they are all rushing in with guns by your side, the enemies tend to prioritize on everyone shooting at them and taking cover against them rather than ''that one lunatic with a knife''.

    Worked well for me for the first-and-one-time I played the game (and that while I was, let's just say, ''drunk''), got me from half way in to the last boss no problem… except at one point the last boss is impossible to hit with a melee weapon, so you have to switch to a range/rocket-type to bring him back to arm's reach.

    Then again, that won't be of any use against bugged out bosses with poorly implemented hit-boxes…

    1. badgercommander Avatar

      Shaun, do not play the original it is also terrible.

      1. guillaumeodinduval Avatar

        I hear the PSP one is good though… ah wait but it ain't an FPS.

        1. ShaunCG Avatar

          I've played the first Killzone and couldn't really get into it. Part of that is really hating FPS games on the PS2, though. The only one I ever played on that platform and liked was Nightfire (and only because it was the first console FPS I had played since the indoor bits on Jurassic Park for the SNES) and Urban Chaos (because it's brilliant trash and I don't mind the janky PS2 analogue sticks when I have a massive riot shield and generous headshot hitboxing).

          Ugh, the last boss. What a tedious grind. Oh, he's invisible, teleports and can one-hit you if he gets close? Thanks for that. In the end I hid in a corridor with a shotgun. War! Kill! Zone!

          The PSP one I do kinda rate, and not just because it's the only game with my name in the credits. It's a pretty simple but tough action game. I'm struggling to get much further in it though due to the rocket launcher guys who can almost insta-kill you, and can shoot you from further away than the screen zooms. That's shoddy design. But I do still like the game. It feels nice.

  5. Madd Avatar

    I liked the article, but it sounds like you will never play games of this genre again because of crimes against design committed by one single game.

    1. badgercommander Avatar

      Crimes existent in most of the other games that this game just happens to shine a big glaring light on.

    2. ShaunCG Avatar

      That's not entirely unfair. I definitely upped the hyperbole way beyond my usual levels for this article. I don't tend to stay angry for long and I wanted to try and express how angry this game made me!

      That said, AJ is right when he says that pretty much everything this game does is also done by other games of its type. It's just that KZ2 seems to manage to combine so very many poor decisions, design issues and old-fashioned immersion-damaging technical issues into one underwhelming package.

      It's a looking glass through which to examine the imaginative and mechanical paucity of the blockbuster FPS.

  6. @SouthernInvsn Avatar

    Well, I liked it. I liked the sound design and I liked the fact that teh enemy AI actually presented a tactical challenge. Also, the online multiplayer was nails. Up against real people on good levels made a world of difference and it's a shame it wasn't covered in this review. After 45 minutes you had to walk away or suffer severe shellshock.. But it's horses for courses at he end of the day.

    1. ShaunCG Avatar

      I believe I did highlight that the behaviour of the enemy AI was one of the better things about the single-player component. ;)

      I could've mentioned the multiplayer, but I never tried it. Glad you enjoyed it though!

  7. @sw0llengoat Avatar

    If a robot man from the future appeared in front of me now in a flash of light and said that he would offer me either £10,000 or the promise that no computer game would ever again have large quantities of enemies out of the player's sight shooting at them with no indication to the player of where they were being shot from, I would thank him kindly for his services to the videogame industry, request that he put his wallet back in his robot trousers, and I would have no regrets.