Killzone HD almost never happened. Franchise creator Guerrilla Games had to search long and hard for the PlayStation 2 title’s original assets – eventually discovering them in a shoebox beneath the house of an IT technician. Even with the appropriate materials located, it spent many hours sorting through outdated source code and incorrect header files in order to port the title to PS3. Having played the high-definition update, we can’t help but feel that the developer’s time was seriously misspent.
While franchises such as Sly Cooper and Ratchet & Clank have weathered the test of time, Killzone feels like a relic by comparison. The futuristic first-person shooter failed to impress upon its original release over eight years ago, and as such this port is a redundant reminder of the original game’s failings. It might look and perform better than it did on previous generation hardware, but you should only really consider purchasing this port if you’re a faithful fan of the franchise or are eager to see where the series started.
The game’s art direction and tone was never a problem in 2004, and unsurprisingly it remains Killzone HD’s greatest asset just under a decade later. The rousing monologue of Autarch Scolar Visari that scores the title’s opening cinematic is as powerful today as it’s ever been, and it’s complemented by some supremely confident design decisions. Even if you’re playing the title (or franchise) for the first time, it’s hard not to be impressed by how quickly the game relays over three centuries of science fiction lore.
Unfortunately, Killzone HD begins to fall apart the moment you’re given full control. First-person shooters have come a long way over the past ten years, and it’s harder to go back to previous entries than almost any other genre. While Guerrilla Games has attempted to spruce up the control scheme to match more recent entries – switching reload to the now customary Square button, for example – the game still doesn’t feel right. Weapons are clunky and imprecise, while Helghast forces shuffle in front of your cross-hair like brain dead orange-eyed zombies as opposed to the incredibly intelligent units of Killzone 2.
The title’s just not particularly exciting to play. Combat scenarios are agonisingly rote, as you spray through wave after wave of hostile forces, with very little respite to let you recover your breath in between. The occasional turret section helps to change the pace a little, but Killzone was an especially dull shooter when it first released, and its problems are only accentuated under the spotlight of modern expectations.
That’s not to say the shooter is entirely without merit, though. The introduction of multiple characters throughout the game’s campaign remains an intriguing idea, and it’s unfortunate that the developer hasn’t opted to expand it further in more recent entries. Primary protagonist Jan Templar plays the all-round good guy and assault rifle specialist, while Luger brings stealth into the mix. Rico – yes, the same one from the PS3 sequels – is an all-out war-machine, constantly exposing his prejudice by undermining Hakha, a half-Helghast human spy. Switching between these characters allows you to tackle missions from different perspectives. Hakha, for example, is able to bypass Helghast security systems, while Luger can slip through small openings into new environments. It’s a cool dynamic and it encourages replay value – if you can get past the oodles of shoddy shooting, that is.
The campaign is split into chapters, which are again segregated into short ten-minute missions. The pace of the adventure is broken by statistic sheets, which themselves feel archaic. These days we’re used to first-person adventures unfolding naturally and seamlessly, but Killzone feels agonisingly disjointed by contrast. At least the pause to load new environments prompts a save point – otherwise you’d be entirely at the mercy of the title’s terrible checkpoint system.
Guerrilla’s done a decent job of updating the game’s graphics, but it doesn’t quite upscale as favourably as other franchises like Sly Cooper. The visuals are grainy for a reason, but it all ends up looking a bit drab. Even a shootout in a blossom filled park fails to impress, and you’ll never really find yourself doubting that this was a last generation game despite the evident improvements.
Performance is one area where the re-master shines, though, eschewing the performance mishaps that hampered the original release. It still doesn’t achieve the silky smooth 60 frames-per-second presentation we’ve come to expect from PS2 reboots, but it runs well enough.
It’ll take you about 10 hours to get through the game’s single-player campaign, but you’ll spend a lot of that time retreading familiar corridors. Even artistically impressive stages like a rain-slicked sea-port outstay their welcome, because it feels like you’re constantly exploring the same stretch of land over and over again.
Sound is similarly disappointing due to some of the most woeful voice acting you’re ever likely to hear. There’s some enjoyment to be derived from the Helghast’s comically exaggerated mumbles and groans, but it gets tiresome as you crawl through the second-half of the single-player slog. Joris de Man’s impactful score is as imposing as ever, but it’s scandalously underused during gameplay.
In addition to the single-player campaign, Killzone HD repurposes the original title’s split-screen multiplayer mode. This allows you to play a variety of team matches against bots with a friend, and is a reasonable reminder of how multiplayer sessions used to feel. That’s a good thing, because the online component has been completely removed. Trophies pull the package into the current generation, with a good mix of story and gameplay trinkets up for grabs. There’s also the overarching lure of a Platinum to keep you playing.
Despite its impressive art direction and intense sense of style, Killzone struggled as a PlayStation 2 title. On PS3 its issues are accentuated, with shoddy gunplay and repetitive environments amongst its most notable flaws. If you’re hell-bent on experiencing the origins of one of Sony’s most popular franchises, or simply want to revisit a forgotten favourite, then this is a worthy upgrade – but at £11.99/$14.99, you should approach with caution.