After a wait of over six months, the final chapter of the Killzone Liberation story became available for free download last week. Having given up on the single player campaign during the span since the game was released, I was spurred on by the arrival of Chapter 5 to get the four chapters that came on the disk completed so that I could play it.
Having been frustrated and stuck for a good while at a boss level in an earlier mission, I didn’t exactly relish the thought of going back to it, though. One of my peeves with game design is ridiculously contrived end of level nasties that force you to trudge through an otherwise simple level in order to get your ass kicked by trial and error at the end.
Unfortunately, it would transpire, that train of thought appears to be the fundamental ethos of game design at Guerrilla Games.
Switching the game onto easy mode I made it through the spider tank challenge I’d been stuck at for so long (made all the more frustrating because Brother Andrew and I had swept past it at xmas in co-op mode), then reverted to normal difficulty for the missions beyond. There’s some challenging gameplay in there – balanced enough not to be a breeze, but not so difficult as to make me give up on it, just about.
One annoying level had me accompanied by an AI team mate who seemed intent on walking into my line of fire and then moaning at me for shooting her. For the love of all that is good and proper about gameplay, I wish game designers would just cut this kind of crap out. I’ve yet to play a title with this mechanic where it actually works convincingly. Being punished for the stupidity of the AI is the opposite of fun. Always has been, always will be.
That behind me I had a dreaded escort mission to wade through before the boss level towards the end of Chapter 4. The escort mission wasn’t as tough as the mission with the AI buddy for the fact that you could just tell the AI companion to go and hide somewhere while you took care of business. That over, I was on to the General Metrac boss encounter, which was slightly less contrived than the previous boss. I say less contrived because he wasn’t in a big spider tank, but he did demonstrate a strong ability to dodge both rockets and grenades. It took me a good ten or fifteen attempts to get through it, but once I was done I knew that just one level stood between me and Chapter 5, and that was a formality compared to the boss encounter.
Chapter 5 itself started off really encouragingly, with a mission in the desert where I got to ride a dune buggy through the canyons, which was great fun. By the time I got to the atmospheric sewer level I was applauding the effort made for this free download, such is the attention to detail in both the art and the level design. I would have paid for this kind of quality, if I’d had to, so to get it for nothing had me feeling pretty satisfied. There was yet more goodness to come, with a brilliant mission in a bombed out city with an AI assistant, which was the best example thus far in the game of that particular gameplay mechanic. I really got the feeling that the enemy were on the retreat as I worked my way through the ruins.
Sadly, the whole house of cards was just one level away from a contrived boss encounter, where it all came tumbling down. Seriously, if I’m expected to believe that somebody I’m trying to kill would keep a grenade launching, bionic walking frame in reserve until I’ve almost killed him then you really do think I’m fucking stupid, Guerrilla. And that’s the rub. If I’d happened upon the final boss and he’d ran and jumped into his grenade launching, bionic walking frame then fair play – that’s with the realms of possibility and I take on the challenge with no qualms.
But, like all of the previous reasons I’ve been given over the years to hate contrived boss levels, Killzone Liberation dishes up a plate of frustration that leaves me with mixed feelings about the whole franchise. I never played through the first Killzone on PS2, mainly because TimeSplitters was more my thing and Killzone felt slow in comparison. However, Killzone Liberation on the PSP had been enough of a hook into the universe that I actually started to think good thoughts about Killzone 2.
In the final analysis, I could easily cite a dozen game design nuances that have only served to frustrate and bewilder as I made my way through Killzone Liberation. From “I’m a space marine, but I cant scale a small fence, so you’ll have to take the scenic route” to “I have a sniper rifle, but the game would rather I didn’t use it to shoot the boss from a distance so it just wont let me target him”, I really do feel like I’ve been treated unfairly at times by a game I’ve really enjoyed at others.
While I can recommend Chapter 5 for anyone wanting to extend the life of the game, it pains me to say that what should be one of the PSP’s must-haves ends up being a lesson in how unpleasant game designers can make a title when they really have no need to do so. I’ll keep Killzone Liberation and Chapter 5 on my memory stick for the time being, solely because some of the levels do deserve a replay. However, as far as the Killzone franchise goes, Chapter 5 is most probably where the story ends for me.