Reviewed: December 20, 2006
Released: October 31, 2006
Itís always interesting when developers choose to release a sequel to an established franchise on a different system. You take the chance of alienating the original fans who might not have the second system, and you also take the chance that the people playing the sequel may never have played the original.
Killzone: Liberation is just such a title; a direct sequel to the 2004 original Killzone on the PS2, but while Liberation does pick up the story two months after the events of Killzone, you really wonít be too lost or out of the loop if you never played or finished the original.
The PSP story is fairly straightforward. You return as Templar, and are sent on a mission to undertake a covert operation to save hostages captured by Metrac, while ISA troops continue the fight for liberty. But the story isnít the reason youíll become totally captivated with LiberationÖitís the addictive gameplay.
Liberation takes place over 16 substantial missions divided into four chapters. Youíll play as Templar and work alongside other familiar characters wielding a wide range of weaponry including sniper rifles and explosive-tip crossbow darts. Unlike the FPS perspective of the original, Liberation takes on the top-down action view giving you a tactical perspective of the immediate area. This view lends itself to the new Tactical Command System.
The TCS is a unique command system that, by pressing up on the D-pad, allows you to issue orders to any AI-controlled ISA allies, usually a tough hombre known as Rico. Rico is pretty smart and able to fight just well enough to stay alive, but if you want to use him effectively youíll need to order him to attack, defend, escort, etc. in certain situations. Your allies all have their own health bars so you need to keep tabs on them and keep them alive.
Liberation is a real-time action game so even when you are doing things like ordering your men using the TCS the fight continues, only in slow-motion. Other actions like smashing open crates or reloading at supply depots all takes place in real-time. A slick overlay interface helps to highlight key locations on the map and allows you to easily pick waypoints or targets for Rico.
The command system is fairly robust but the designers managed to keep things simple enough so by the time you are done with the opening level (tutorial) you should be fairly comfortable with the interface. You have single button actions like reload, fire, and grenade while triggers allow you to lock-on, duck, and perform advanced moves like dodge rolls and fire while behind cover.
Doing just about anything in the game is handled with the X button, which is context-sensitive so itís easy to act quickly in any given situation. Even aiming is given some auto-assist, especially when enemies are at different elevations. Just point in the general direction and the game will handle any adjustments to trajectory. This is most useful since the levels and maps are rather complex and multi-tiered.
There is a great selection of weapons including mounted turrets and even vehicles like the tank. Driving and firing the tank is a bit complicated, but the entire process is extremely fun when you play the co-op campaign and one person steers while the other deals with the turret. The same goes for the amphibious hovercraft.
Another new mode of personal travel is the jetpack. While you canít really fly for prolonged periods of time you can use it to access the tops of buildings or jump across streets in urban areas, and itís great for getting around the mountainous areas. The jump jets refill when you land and you can fire your weapons while airborne and even lock on and strafe.
There is a ton of action in Liberation but itís all woven together with a layer of strategy that keeps it from being a frag fest. You actually have to think and plan to play this game successfully, and the command system and visual interface make this easy and enjoyable.
Youíll definitely want to check out the Challenge Games that are unlocked when you complete each of the four chapters. Not only do these games improve your own skills and abilities, you will earn points for completing these challenges and you can spend those points to purchase new and improved abilities like carrying more ammo or improving your body armor. You can assign these abilities into one of three slots per character, so once you have unlocked more than three abilities you have some decisions to make.
There is full multiplayer support for Ad Hoc in a mode called Combat Zone for up to six players. The host creates a game, picks a map choosing from the six available, sets the mode (death match, team death match, assault, and CTF), sets a time limit and choosing the starting weapon for the players. Between games there is a lobby where new players can join in.
One of the best features is the co-op campaign mode where two PSPís hook up wirelessly and play the campaign together. The only downside here is that both players must have a copy of the game and the host player must have already played the game solo and unlocked the levels before they are available in co-op.
Killzone: Liberation even supports Game Share so it shouldnít be too hard to talk your friends into buying their own copy once they sample yours. You can share three special levels with your friends so they can experience the intense combat action for themselves.
There is currently limited online support. You can access the Killzone website and download some content as well as screens and videos and there is a forthcoming patch that will add infrastructure support so you can take your multiplayer gaming online and not rely on having local competition.
Despite a color pallet that favors browns, tans, greens, and other earth tone colors Liberation is a gorgeous game with loads of detail, both in the complicated level designs and the intricate character models and animations complete with rag-doll physics. The PSP continually proves itself worthy to be ranked right up there with the larger home consoles. This game looks nearly Xbox 360 quality.
Textures are sharp and detailed and there is a full battery of special effects like fog, particle effects, fire, smoke, laser sights, and flashing tracer rounds. When the action gets heated the screen lights up with a dazzling display. The HUD gives you all the information while looking stylish and keeping to the edges of the screen. The pop-up TCS icons are a great touch clearly showing all the hot spots in the current view.
Liberation is a bit light in the soundtrack department, but there is a cool opening score to accompany the movie. The rest of the game is pretty much left to the mercy of the sound effects, which are righteously cool. Each weapon has a unique sound and the explosions are powerful. Even the subtle sounds of beeping mines and trip lasers are handled with eloquent precision.
There is some excellent voice work as well, mostly just a lot of shouting and death cries from enemy soldiers and the repetitive taunts of Rico. The entire sound package is one of the best on the PSP and is easily heard over the regular speakers, but it definitely sounds better with a good set of headphones, or even better, jack your PSP into a home theater and rock the house.
The 16-chapter solo campaign is good for at least 12-15 hours of challenging gameplay and then you have all the fantastic multiplayer modes and the promise of Internet play coming soon. The Game Share is a great way to entice your friends into getting their own copies so you can start exploring the excellent Ad Hoc modes.
Killzone: Liberation excels in just about every way a game can. The overall presentation is totally slick and worthy of being on a console. The same can be said for the intense and intuitive gameplay in both the solo campaign and the addictive multiplayer modes.
This is definitely one game you donít want to pass up. Liberation is a perfect example of just how powerful the PSP is, and a great way to experience console action in the palm of your hand. Itís a must buy for anyone who enjoys action, strategy, or a unique and subtle mix of both.