Did the change in viewpoint help or hurt this PSP side-story?
The box definitely looks eerily familiar to its older console brother, but thankfully, that's where the similarities end. The Killzone property originally began life as a first-person shooter for the PS2, but given the interface limitations of the PSP (most notably the lack of a second analog stick), developer Guerrilla wisely decided to re-cast this sequel as an isometric third-person action title. Tailoring a game to the peculiarities of a particular platform is always a welcome effort, and not done nearly enough, but Killzone: Liberation stands as a shining example of how an alternative presentation can provide the same visceral thrills as its predecessor.
Yes, you heard that right, visceral thrills; despite the format, there is no squad-based tactical ruminating here. In fact, even while you are digging through menus, the action continues to unfold, albeit very slowly, Matrix-style.
The villains of the first Killzone, the Helghast (vaguely reminiscent of the Nazi army), are back for another round and it's your turn once again, as Jan Templar, to save the world. That's about as complex as the plot gets, but to be fair, the game's title alone should clue you in to the fact that this isn't going to be "Schindler's List." This game is about frenetic firefights and intense battles, and in that respect, does not disappoint-the experience is consistently exciting, and the developers do a good job of varying the gameplay. Just when you've had enough of running around and hiding behind boxes, you get an NPC sidekick to command or an opportunity to pilot a tank or hovercraft. These are very satisfying sequences and help keep the game fresh.
But be forewarned, this game is not easy. In fact, it is downright frustrating at times. The game thinks nothing of repeatedly plopping you down on a respawn point ten feet away from a tank, forcing you to replay the segment many, many times. As a result, the game has a distinct trial-and-error flavor, so be prepared to die. A lot. This game absolutely defines cheap death, and it is all exacerbated by the lack of a melee attack button, a significant oversight that simply can't be explained...or forgiven, when you die for the twelfth straight time because the guy you've shot down to 1 health point stabs you with a knife while you are reloading your weapon.
The controls are convoluted, but still fairly intuitive. Context-sensitive buttons streamline the interface immensely, and most of the button assignments seem logical. With that said, it is not perfect; aiming in particular is somewhat problematic. The analog nub is simply not precise enough to make the tiny 20-degree movements that are sometimes required. I often found myself wildly swinging the little laser sight around attempting to pinpoint it somewhere, while the five Helghast gentlemen around me enthusiastically tried to earn me the Congressional Medal of Honor. There is an auto-aim that helps a lot and ultimately makes the game manageable, but when you're facing multiple enemies in close quarters, it's still difficult to target a specific one.
The graphics are fairly impressive and show a lot of detail. The drab color palette is a little too uniform sometimes, making it hard to pick out small elements, but the ambience is sufficiently and appropriately foreboding. The CG work in particular merits special mention; it is staggeringly gorgeous and it's really a shame that there isn't more of it. Sound effects and voices are excellent, for the most part, but there is no actual music during missions. Whether that was done purposefully or not, I still can't help but think that the right music would have enhanced the game.
Ultimately, the single player campaign would be very short if you somehow managed to play through it in one sitting, but all the times you'll have to replay segments probably will double or triple that time. The game gives you a chance to replay the whole game with upgraded weapons and such, which may be a draw to some, but I would venture to guess that most of the replay value lies in the multiplayer, of which the game offers two ad hoc modes: a deathmatch-type Combat Zone and a Campaign Co-op mode.
All things considered, when you finally succeed in surmounting the insane difficulty level, the sense of accomplishment you get ultimately makes the game an enjoyable experience. Yes, it will kill you in many patently cheap ways and will frustrate you to the point of making you want to throw your PSP against the wall, but it's always compelling enough to make you come back for more until you finish it. And minor warts aside, that's pretty high praise for any title.
What's Hot: Impressive visuals and intensely exciting gameplay
What's Not: No limit to the number of cheap ways the CPU kills you