Killzone HD review – it was a gentler time, a time of….DIE! Da-da-da-da-da!

Killzone 1 HD screens

D’aaaww Killzone. I just sort of want to ruffle your hair and send you off to play in the garden you little scamp. There’s an almost childish enthusiasm for pretend war here that’s hard not be won over by. This portrays combat in a far more innocent way than more modern shooters, like a playground mess around. “No! Johnson! He was only a boy!” shouts someone at the start. I don’t know who, I wasn’t looking the right way at the time but I can’t help imagine Johnson falling to the floor in flailing, melodramatic death throes – milking it for all it’s worth – before getting up and running off be someone else who gets killed later. “Stephens, nooooooo!”

Killzone HD review

It’s amazing to play this now and think at one time this was Sony’s flagship shooter – the biggest hitter they could bring into battle way back in 2004. It’s aged well technically – there’s a robust shooter here and the visuals spruce up nicely in HD – but there’s an almost comedic level to the portrayal of war by today’s standards. And I mean that affectionately. What was once a deadly serious space opera now almost has a Darkplace level of parody to it. From the lead hero, Jan Templar’s knowing MacGyver nod to the camera on the selection screen, to Rico, the army gorilla, and Hakha the spy’s love/hate relationship which reaches ‘now… kiss’ levels of bromance.

It all works in the game’s favor. If the macho posturing and military hoo-ha still felt as serious and poe faced as it was obviously intended back in the day then this would be a dry old slog. Instead it’s a light and breezy blast unintentionally packed full of great one liners like “That’s 90 kay through a shitheap of Helghast!” and my favorite line, possibly of the year, “What the f*ck’s a Shakespeare?” which was Rico’s response to being fed the ‘infinite number of Monkeys’ line. We’re in space see? Thousands of lightyears and actual years from the bard. Now that’s some classy expositional dialogue.

It makes this an almost charmingly sweet take on murdering hundreds with machine guns. After the likes of Medal Of Honor Warfighter trying so earnestly to be all HARD and UNSHAVEN and SERIOUS about SAVING LIVES GODDAMMMIT, this is a cartoon shooter and fun with it. It’s full of comedy villains leering like panto bad guys as our plucky team of four try to save the planet of Vekta from a Helghast invasion.

This team are more than just a narrative tool, each of the characters bring something to the gameplay if you choose them for a given level. Rico is the heavy with a people-liquidising, rocket launching minigun. Hakha, as a half-Helghast spy, can bypass his own security and Lugar, the shadow marshal, has heat vision and can sneak through openings to reach areas the others can’t. Oh and there’s Jan. He’s basically the great hair guy. He doesn’t actually seem to have any specific ability other than to be the leader binding it all together, and therefore by default is the coolest. He knows it.

Killzone 1 HD screens

Things start with just Jan but it’s when you collect the full team that the game really finds it’s pace. The slightly sci-fi WW2 feel at the begining (trenches, bombed city streets and so on) give way to a variety of other locations. A hotel and park full of pink blossoming trees still stands out now. As does a verdant Vietnam flavoured jungle and a rain-swept dock. It’s a misty-eyed, retro nostalgia fueled pretty, but pretty nonetheless. As these areas come and go the initial “WE’RE AT WAR SIR! WE NEED TO SHOUT AND POINT AT THINGS!” bombast of the opening settles into a more ensemble feel as the story moves away from the frontline and into one of those one-in-a-million missions. You know: the ones that always work.

Underneath all this it’s actually quite a stern shooter. Mainly because the Helghast are such bullets sponges. This is the kind of game where pulling out a rocket launcher to shoot ‘a man’ doesn’t feel like overkill. Mainly because that man might take a clip and half before he even thinks of going down. Now throw in another six or seven of them, knock your health down to ‘near dead’ and see how long it takes you to start taking things seriously.

Killzone 1 HD screensIt’s a good job most of the guns are fun to fire because you’ll spend ages shooting. The combat isn’t taxing at first because the number and range of enemy types isn’t overly challenging. They wander into view and you hold down the trigger until the problem goes away. However, after a while the variety of classes and increasing numbers start to really up the stakes. Levels also open out giving you room to dodge about the place to avoid incoming fire. It’s never quite Doom levels of run and gun straffing (it’s too slow for that) but later levels can be a challenge – you’ll have to hang back, to peek in and out of cover, side step and really work for it if you want to press on. Fortunately the levels are bite sized – it’s a good few hours before you find anything that lasts longer than ten minutes – so it’s hard to get frustrated.

Some things feel weird – the absolute absence of music for example. Levels can be whistling voids of silence at times as all the sound effects are geared toward war and shooting. When that all stops the game just sort of makes an embarrassed shrugging face at you while mouthing “I’ve only got gun noises!” It’s an odd oversight considering how the sound design is generally excellent: they really nailed those iconic raspy Helghast voices first time. The cutscenes also unfortunately look like they were downloaded from a Youtube SD stream and upscaled. Bonus points, however, for letting you completely remap the controls. The first thing I did was gently but firmly throw out the weird 2004 controls (precision aim on R3, are you mad?) and rebuild it all as a modern shooter.

What you really have here is a slice of history that brushes up well. The first few hours sail by in a huge nostalgia tip as you shoot things like its 2004 but as you progress and acclimatise to the mechanics it can get involving as the combat opens up and you warm to your simple but endearingly aggressive companions. Worth checking out both as a PlayStation, and gaming, fan if you want to see an evolutionary step on the way to where we are today.

Our Score

Score: 6