Summer 2003 and the internet is awash with rumours of a PS2 game that is supposedly Sony's answer to Halo. By mid-July, a , while Sony and developers Guerrilla remain resolutely schtum.
Come the end of that month, the of the title is finally made and we learn that the near-future FPS will be squad-based (although players only control one character at a time), that the game will be structured around a number of set pieces and that the title takes major twentieth century theatres of war as its inspiration, from the trenches of the Somme to the street fighting of Stalingrad to the guerrilla warfare of Vietnam. Almost 14 months later and we've got our itchy trigger fingers on playable code and, if nothing else, those early descriptions of Killzone prove to still be accurate today.
Of the four characters - each of whom boasts their own unique weapons and abilities, natch - you can only play as all-rounder Templar to begin with. But, as you progress through the game, you have the option to undertake each level as either Templar, stealth specialist Lugar (who's equipped with a dagger and a silencer), the assault cannon-toting Rico or the silent-but-deadly Hakha.
The idea is that you can actually replay levels that you've already completed with the other characters, which supposedly offers an alternative gameplay experience. When you play as Rico, for example, the enemy AI won't be as sophisticated as when you play as Hakha but, conversely, there will be loads more of the gas mask-wearing swine. Whether this is designed to somewhat compensate for the rather paltry total of just 11 main sections (each of which are split into three or four missions) remains to be seen.
Proceedings kick off in a trench-based scenario which essentially is little more than a training level that gives you the chance to pick up the basics of the interface. Although anything that saves you from having to read a manual sounds good to us. You'll soon make it on to city streets where a sniper rifle allows you to pick off enemies from pleasingly lengthy distances (simply click R3 to zoom in and out). Later levels include a lush park that is crawling as much with Helghast as it is with cherry blossom (Lugar's silencer comes in very handy here, allowing you to pick off enemy soldiers one by one) and the remains of an enormous shopping mall, that also doubles up as a convenient location for an enemy gunship to dispatch abseiling troops.
By this point in the game, you'll have garnered a feel for its gratifyingly bleak aesthetic. It's grey, burnt-out and war-torn, sure. But with its plethora of recognisable locales (semi-ruined subway stations, abandoned office blocks) it's far from the over-the-top post-apocalyptic hellscape that many futuristic shooters go for. Instead, Killzone offers a far grittier and, frankly, realistic-feeling experience. The overt lack of sci-fi laser guns or aliens helps, too. Instead, you're faced with seemingly endless hordes of Helghast soldiers, identifiable by (a) their glowing orange goggles and (b) the fact that your reticule turns red every time you aim at them.
So you've no excuse for shooting members of your own party, unless you decide that their attempts at covering fire are so cack-handed that you're better off slaying them and nicking their ammo instead. Indeed, even though you always begin missions accompanied by the rest of your troupe, they're fairly reticent and, if you try to encourage them to edge in front of you, they'll instead just hover behind you like sulking teenagers after telling you to feel free to go ahead. Cheers.
Back on the visual side of things, there are some lovely effects. Chuck a grenade down a corridor, for instance, and you'll see windows shatter and water coolers explode. What is worrisome, though, is the pop-up and clipping. While it's occasionally apparent in some early missions, during the level set in the park it's absolutely chronic. We can only hope that developers Guerrilla will address this prior to release.
Also frustrating is the balancing (or lack thereof) as regards to executing adversaries. Put simply, they just don't die quickly enough. While it's possible to take them out with a single head shot when using the sniper rifle, most of the time you have to pump them full of lead before they even flinch. We even managed to shoot one member of the Helghast in the face at point-blank range and he still didn't die straight away. Which, if nothing else, is a good party trick.
Aside from the single-player experience, much of the game's focus will be on multiplayer modes, which offer both two-player offline gameplay and 16-player online shooting shenanigans. There's a selection of exclusive multiplayer maps along with an assortment that will be familiar from the main single-player game.
Based on the early levels that we've played, Killzone may not revolutionise PlayStation first-person shooting in the same way that Halo did for Xbox. Indeed, Sony themselves are at pains not to compare the game to Halo and instead say that it's actually more akin to the likes of Call of Duty. Either way, once the hyperbole has been forgotten and the game finally has to prove itself in front of a paying audience, there's little doubt that this will establish itself as a superior, grown-up console shooter.
Killzone will be released for PS2 in early to mid November