You know you're onto something when you're taking screenshots of a game and you begin imagining how great it's going to look on the page. When you're pressing the 'grab' button on the 'grabber' and every frame it lifts and tucks away on the hard-drive is a work of art. Killzone is one of those games. We have, in the past, spent hours trying to make some games look anything other than s**t, but with Killzone we just press the button... Perfect. Press again. Perfect. It's impossible to make this game look anything but brilliant.
There are two reasons why. Firstly, it does look great. Obvious really. Behind the scenes the Killzone engine is swap-changing detail models, overlaying textures on top of each other and doing all it can into fooling your PS2 (and your eye) into displaying (and perceiving) more detail than any game before. Study the folds of the enemy uniforms. Study the creases of the in-game character's faces as they chat to you - detail that just a couple of short years ago would have been phenomenal in a pre-rendered intro sequence.
Secondly Killzone looks so good because it knows how to fill a frame. Stand still for a moment and count the buildings/grassy hillocks/muddy trenches/shops/windows/corpses/advertisments/ruins etc. Etc. ETC!... Most games labour long and hard on lining your avenue of action with some decent scenery (a smashable box here, a flickering monitor screen there) but Killzone just heaps it on. Wherever you turn there's detail bimbling off to the horizon. In the distance cannons fire off at unseen invaders and smoke rises from wrecked vehicles you couldn't possibly reach or would ever want to. We tried sooo hard to catch it out. Find the boundary where the artists said 'Sod it, they'll never notice'. But we couldn't. Even on the level's edge you're deflected back onto the desired course by believable obstructions that gently nudge you forwards. We've played games that rely on idiot proof flashing arrows and we've played games that let you blunder around blinkered, lost in a maze of grey and brown mush. Killzone keeps you on track simply by offering something actually interesting and inviting just ahead - constantly. It's a game you'll begin playing and want to complete just to know what amazement lies around the next corner.
The action takes place on Vector - a Dutch-looking planet (perhaps due to the locale of Amsterdam-based developers Guerilla? Perhaps?) where the resident (evil) Helghast rebels have broken away from the Earth's ISA forces and must be put back in their box. You play not as one but your choice of four ISA troops as you meander through a mission that features rescues, escapes, plot-twists and even a little romance.
So, it's a game that has got the lot. And perhaps that's its undoing. Consulting our notes after days of play reads like a petty whinge-list of minor niggles - all of which were brought on by the game's big ideas. The four-characters are a great idea but why can't you switch between them mid-level? Thanks to the diversity of action on offer (frantic massed battles interspersed with sniping and creeping) you're frequently equipped with the wrong man (or lady) for the job. And are you supposed to play through the whole game as one character then play through again trying another? Or should you keep replaying missions as each of the characters on offer to better notice the clever changes in routes through the levels each is treated to? And anyway, how are you to choose who to play as when you haven't played the level yet?