This post will not contain significant spoilers.
Over the last 2 weeks I set out to beat all of the mainline Killzone games. This included the original trilogy (Killzone 1-3) and Shadow Fall, but not the portable twin-stick shooters. I haven't seen much discussion here around Killzone here so I'm interested to hear other perspectives.
I've been playing FPS games on the PC and Xbox consoles for around 25 years, but never owned a Sony console until relatively recently. I never played or even saw any of the Killzones played when they were new. I've never met anyone who really liked them, and despite the numerous contemporary accolades, few of the PlayStation fanboy friends I polled had even played them, much less had anything positive to say about them.
Without further ado, here are a few of my thoughts on each game I played
Killzone 1 (2004, PS2)
Contemporaries: Halo 2, Half-Life 2, UT 2004, Far Cry, Call of Duty
Time to beat: 8 hours
Recommendation: If you've got the stomache for '90s graphics and early console shooters with wonky controls, it's worth your while.
This is a game with great ideas, stifled by its target console, and killed by its advertising. The PS2 made this game look 5 years older than its competition, and the monochromatic graphical style only made it worse. The world was interesting and the settings in the game are varied and unique, the cutscenes were mediocre, and the story was overwhelmingly bland (space nazis). The wild controls can be rebound to somewhat resemble modern shooters, but they still took some getting used to. Movement felt sluggish at first and unresponsive at first, but by the end I'd gotten used to it. Overall this is the most interesting of the Killzone games, and there were certainly long stretches where I was "in the zone" with it and having a blast.
I say most interesting because before each of the 10 levels you get to select a character, and each character has different abilities that change the way you play the level dramatically. One character can ignore automated defenses and walk through trip mines, while another can sneak through ducts to avoid situations, etc. In fact, after I beat the game I went back and played the final mission as the 3 other characters, which I think is high praise.
I mentioned that advertising killed this game, and I think most folks familiar with it will know what I'm talking about. This game was advertised as a Halo killer, and it frankly didn't even come close. Maybe if you'd never played Halo and only owned a PS2 you'd think it was pretty good?
Killzone 2 (2009, PS3)
Contemporaries: F.E.A.R. 2, Borderlands, CoD: MW2, Halo 3: ODST, Uncharted 2
Time to beat: 6.5 hours
Recommendation: Worth playing given its length and significance for the PS3. If you're only gonna play one, play this one.
Widely acclaimed at its release, and generally regarded as the best Killzone, this game doesn't live up to the hype in my opinion, but ends up being an adequately fun enough adventure. The story is a rehash of the first one with more fleshed out characters, better writing, and better cutscenes. This probably didn't bother anyone because nobody played Killzone 1. I did find parts of the story frustrating when certain characters made obviously bad decisions repeatedly.
The graphics are definitely better, but the world is still super monochromatic and generally ugly. Everything is dark and hard to see, and taking damage just makes things darker. The FOV is super narrow for my taste on my tv (65" at 8 feet), the controls are again sluggish, and the cover system is so frustrating I actively avoided getting stuck in cover. The vehicle sections were a blast though, especially the Mech felt like a proto-titanfall.
You can only carry one primary weapon at a time which is immesurably frustrating. There's a great variety of interesting weapons in the game, but due to the restriction you end up using one of the assault rifles for 99% of the game. Any time you need to use a special weapon, you pick it up, use it, then put it right back down. This stifles a lot of the creativity of other games where you can carry rocket launchers or sniper rifles into other fights.
Killzone 3 (2011, PS3)
Contemporaries: Battlefield 3, Homefront, Crysis 3, Payday, Hard Reset
Time to beat: 7 hours
Recommendation: My favorite of the franchise, I would recommend it as the "if you're only gonna play one" game, but it really needs Killzone 2's story to set it up. So if you're only gonna play two of them…
They invented colors! Blue! Green! Orange! Amazing! This game looks leagues better than the previous two. Tons of additional variety in both the appearance and approachability of the levels compared to 2. The movement still feels sluggish, jumping is awful, but the cover system is much improved. They introduced semi-optional stealth, where if you break stealth you can still fight your way through an area, which was a welcome addition and provided some pretty fun sections.
This game still has to be "different" with its weapon carrying system. Here you can hold a sidearm, a primary weapon, and a special weapon, and only one of each. So you could have a pistol, smg, and sniper, or pistol, shotgun, and rocket launcher, but not an smg and shotgun, and not a LMG and sniper. I found this limiting in a few places as I typically like to carry a mid-range rifle and a shotgun in shooter games, but overall it was much better than the options in 2.
The story in this one was pretty good, and was a good followup to 2 and a great endcap to the trilogy. Unfortunately a lot of the missions start with the exact same back and forth between characters: "we can't do this it's too dangerous; ok well I want to so I'm going; ok well I'm coming with you" which got bland and predictable fast. The character from the last game I was frustrated with I outright hated in this one.
Killzone Shadow Fall (2013, PS4)
Contemporaries: Bioshock Infinite, Battlefield 4, Metro: Last Light, CoD: Ghosts
Time to beat: 7 Hours
Recommendation: Not recommended.
The latest, but far from the greatest game. I don't have a ton to say about this game because I feel like the last few things that made Killzone unique were eliminated from this game, it plays just like any of it's contemporaries. The graphics are great though, the missions are beautiful and varied but include tedious boss type battles against boring fixed mechs.
I liked the characters in this game, but the missions felt disjointed. Most of the mission briefings were delivered "out of world" in a weird briefing room that seemed to be in space? I never understood if they were suppoed to be real or not. At one point you're in enemy territory, then being briefed in space, then you're back in enemy territory but your mission is to get to friendly territory. Couldn't you have just stayed in space? I'm not sure. It felt like they realized they didn't explain any of their missions, so they added this briefing room as a place to dump all the exposition to explain why you were there.
Also this game added mandatory stealth sections, but without a lot of the quality of life features other games with these sections have. No awareness indicator, no way to reestablish stealth, occasionally it would save a checkpoint immediately after breaking stealth which is incredibly frustrating. Silenced weapons are incredibly rare in this game also, so you basically just had takedowns in these sections.
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