Dane. Designer.

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So I Cancelled My Killzone 2 Pre-Order

I just spent the last half hour running through the Killzone 2 demo, a game for which I had previously been looking forward to quite a bit, going so far as to even pre-order it. However, after this playthrough, I’ve had to cancel my pre-order, which serves as a good prelude to this entry.

Killzone 2 is already getting plenty of accolades for its graphics, and even for its gameplay. It currently holds an impressive score of 90 on Metacritic and is sure to sell in the millions. Congratualtions to everyone who worked on it, I’m sure it will entertain many and hopefully break well more than even.

And I don’t mean to be the cynical prick trying to bring down this apparent masterpiece, but…

I don’t care much about graphics. Most games these days look pretty good, and to be honest it takes a lot more than grungy graphcis to impress me. Killzone 2 does have some nice touches, but while well-crafted, it’s also exactly what I expected.

In fact, I think I’ll coin the term JAWZ. Just Another War Zone.

Despite being able to launch very awesome spaceships across the stars and have them hang in low orbit, the soldiers are still equipped with rifles that have no punch beyond 20 meters. A shame that, otherwise this war would probably have been won considerably easier. Obviously, this is meant to pull the player in close to the Helghast, and as such it works. Even if I personally would have liked a slower, more deliberatly paced war game, in which your most effective strategy at any given moment isn’t to charge and punch them with the butt of your rifle.

Apparently ‘Sev’ has some pretty impressive biceps.

Now, despite what I want and what I get being to different things, I’m not set on disliking Killzone 2. It’s just that they remarkably managed to implement some of the most annoying, grating and unsatisfying gameplay mechanics out there. In some ways, it’s like seeing a first person shooter from ten years ago, which just happens to look really good, but which carries with it last millenium design methodologies.

It all starts with a…

Theater

The D-Day-like landfall that opens the demo looks and sounds pretty good (if a bit repetitive), but soon reveals itself as pure smoke and mirrors. Lots of big fireballs and machine gun fire, and no real casualties… This can work; check out Medal of Honor: Allied Assault’s D-Day landing, for a considerably more convincing piece of theater (for its time).

So, there I was, standing in the middle of a ‘killzone’ as it were, and though people were shouting that I should get a move on, there was no penalty for not doing so. Now I’m not saying the player should always be penalized for taking longer than what is required to keep the theater realistic, but at the same time, if you have motars, machineguns and dropships dialed up to 11, perhaps a little encouragement, in the guise of flying lead, isn’t out of the way?

I try to pick off the enemies on the bridge ahead, the ones that are spraying bullets everywhere and launching motars, thinking I might be able to loosen up the resistance a bit before I get there. But, like the snipers in Half-Life 2, they aren’t real enemies, but some other contrivance, and you have to kill them by following the script laid out, not through the use of gameplay.

Great.

So I move up and get closer to the bridge. There’s been a lot of ‘acting’ going on around me, but I didn’t pay attention to any of it, because I thought I was there to kill; after all, it’s KILLzone, not ‘THEATERzone’. But no.

I try to pick off the guys on the bridge again. No luck. Until I’m told to pick up the rocket launcher. So I shoot the bridge with the rocket launcher. It blows up, which I knew it would, because the truck was carrying something red, which of course reads as ‘shooot heeereee’.

Unsatisfying in every way. Luckily it gets better, right?

Multi-Fronts?

Well, actually I should go back a minute, because before getting to the rocket launcher, you get out from under a bridge, where you are actually faced with two fronts at one time! Not a bad thing by any means. It forces quick reflexes, on-you-feet-strategies and allows for some pretty cool level setups if done right.

Of course, in this case, having had my eyes on the bridge from the very first moment of the level, I didn’t notice that I had baddies on my left now, and they in turn didn’t call much attention to themselves. So when I was hit, I though I was being shot from the bridge… After all, I was trying to follow the script I though had been laid down by the designer.

  1. Approach bridge.
  2. Pick up rocket launcher.
  1. Kill baddies on bridge.

As it were, this of course wasn’t a multi-front, because the guys on the bridge are puppets, and can’t kill me… I don’t know who they’re shooting at, but it ain’t me.

So no, nothing interesting here, just a misleading and poor directional setup.

More Theater

Eventually everyone’s dead, and my friends move along to the next area. I still have the rocket launcher, and play around a bit with trying to see if I can throw my six-shooter away and carry just an assault rifle and a rocket launcher, a setup I like considerably more than the six-shooter and rifle. But alas. So I keep the rocket launcher, thinking it’s more fun than the rifle anyway…

Alright, whatever, I’ll get going, alright? Well, now there’s a turn to the left, and someone is shouting something to me about enemies coming in. I just make it in time for the APC’s to roll up and baddies start pouring out.

HAH! I think. Good thing I brought my rocket launcher, it was made for taking out APC’s.

Or not.

So I pick up a rifle and start shooting. Meanwhile my friends are dying all around me. Apparently I’m the only one with a heart, as no one else is reviving them, and so I go about doing that as well. Except, once I revive them, they don’t take cover. They just keep sitting in the beach, thinking no one will see them or some such. They go down again… I’m thinking ‘how do I get out of this chickenshit outfit?’.

Now, I could swear I take down that machine gunner several times, but he just keeps…

Respawning

If there is one thing on Science’s green Earth I hate, it’s respawning. It is the lowest, worst, most horrible piece of design a game can contain. Yeah, sure, there are cases in which it makes perfect sense to have respawning, and I acknowledge that. But Killzone 2 makes a virtue of showing you only the worst.

As it stands, there’s a long standing tradition in first person shooters in particular, to use respawning as a way to keep pressure on the player, so that he is forced to move forward, which then triggers to the respawning to either stop, or continue from a new location.

It’s a poor decision, because you’re forcing the player to play the game the way you want him to, not in the way he wants to. In single player games, I’m all about the cautious strategy. I take my time, hold back, lay down suppressive fire and pick off the enemies one by one.

But I can’t do that, because Killzone refuses to let me play the way I want to play! Not because it can’t, but because it won’t.

So after the beach landing, you and another guy head down a hallway to a room, in which four or five Helghast have unwisely set up base amongst plenty of red gas canisters and red barrels. And you know what that means, right?

Well, if you’re thinking, I’ll just hang back up here and pick them off one by one, as any sane person would do, since the walkway provides plenty of cover and safe angles… Well, you’d be like me. But you wouldn’t be like the designer, who thought something along the lines of: “I need to lure them down. I need to make this area insane and awesome! Like Michael Bay would do it!”, well then you might get a job working on Killzone 3.

As it turns out, there’s a small room of sorts, with three doors in it, from which an endless stream of Helghast will emerge. You take down a baddie, a new one emerges. Ad nauseum. I looked around once inside the room and found no teleporter or secret passageways, so I guess they just happened to have been stacked in there in just the amount it took for me to get to a triggerbox that turned off the spawn point.

Oh, and my friend? He was incompetent, and got shot. As he lay there screaming in pain and agony… I went to the loo as a ‘Fuck you! You should have paid more attentin in boot camp! I’ll leave you here to bleed to death!’...

Which I did.

But of course, I needed him to get to the next area, so…

Strict Conditional Progression

“Cover me while I hack this blah blah blah”, he told me. Fair enough I thought, and crouched behind him, with my aim on the door behind us. And sure enough, Helghast spawned happened to appear in the room where we came from.

Unfortunately for them, they couldn’t see either of us, and apparently didn’t know how to move into position either. So they just kept running from cover to cover, just out of sight from us, while my friend was doing whatever he was doing behind me.

A minute passed.

I sure as shit wasn’t going to poke my nose out. Why would I? I paid attention in boot camp! Rule #1 of warfare: Don’t get shot. Rule #2: No seriously, don’t get shot, you’re likely to have to play through respawning enemies again, and you don’t want that!

Two minutes passed.

Wait a minute, I smell a rat here…

Three minutes.

Oh for fuck sake. As suspected, HackTime equals WhenAllHelghastDead.

So I killed them. Something I took abslutely no pleasure in, because by this point I was already putting together this entry in my head. All the while I was thinking that if they wanted me to kill the fucking Helghast, why didn’t they just set up a situation where I couldn’t take full cover? Where their AI didn’t break like fine glass underfoot of my mighty boot?

To set up a situation where the amount of time it takes someone to do something is equal to ‘Now + when all enemies are dead’, is trite and lazy. Not only does it break easily, as shown in the demo (perhaps the last place you want to see something like that happen), but when it breaks, it absolutely ruins the illusion of the world and your investment in it.

In Closing

There’s nothing wrong with linear and controlled experiences. And perhaps the full game surprises. But even if this demo just happens to showcase all the things I hate in one concentrated effort, that in itself doesn’t bode particularly well for the full game.

I don’t even mind the clich├ęd red-eyed enemies, or the standard-fare military banter (which could have come from any military game, it’s that ‘meh’) or even the JAWZ. But I mind lazy design, and I despise games that have the illusion of letting me play it in my own way, when in fact it can only be played in their way. That the theater fails to convince is one thing, but their use of respawning and strict conditional progression are just downright catastrophic design decisions in my book.

This might not affect you. I’m afraid it’s a work-related injury in my case, and if you enjoyed the demo, feel free to sound off below, so as to make me look like the fool I am.

But, at least this leaves up time for me to play some more GTA IV, which I’ve been enjoying very much this last week, and possibly even some Gears of War 2, though I honestly suspect it will leave me as non-plussed as both its predecessor and Killzone 2.

That’s just my opinion of course, and I’m probably just a stuck up idiot with delusions of grandeur.