Already one of 2006's most anticipated games, Killzone: Liberation demonstrates just how keen Sony is to try and prove that the PSP is bigger, better and more grown-up than the competition.
Sony has had 40 developers working for over a year on the game. And considering the quality of Liberation's graphics, its scale, and the huge number of modes (of which more later), it's no surprise that playing it feels more like getting your hands on a PlayStation 2 game, as we found out with a prolonged session at E3.
Based in the same universe as the PlayStation 2 first-person shooter Killzone – once again, you assume the role of ISA squad leader Jan Templar, fighting the fascistic Helghast Empire – in Liberation, the action takes place from more of a topdown viewpoint.
The decision to switch to a dynamic topdown view seems a good one, given that no first-person games have worked particularly well on PSP so far – perhaps due to it only having one analogue stick. The camera position is automatically controlled though, so you can't move it around as you want, although thanks to the PSP's widescreen this didn't cause us too many headaches.
Something that did take some getting used to in Liberation however was the automatic aiming system. This gives you a rough idea of where your gun is pointing thanks to a line red line, which works as if you had a laser sight attached to your gun barrel. (You can also cycle through target locks using the PSP's shoulder buttons together.) But we had problems trying to target enemies standing on top of containers, say; we'd have to move directly into their line of fire before the auto aiming system could pick them up.
Another move with a learning curve was the grenade throw, as the aiming arc that showed where the grenade would land wasn't always the most helpful when it came to provide feedback on how much power to use.
But according to the guys from gamemaker Guerilla, these sort of issues will be tweaked before the game is released. Certainly, playing through the E3 levels was generally great fun.
The main area in the demo was a container port, which you had to fight and sneak through in order to release hostages. The levels were incredibly detailed, with plenty of crates to hide behind. The guards moved around on fixed patrol paths, so it was important to time your attacks when their backs were turned. Environmental items such as oil barrels could also be targetted to cause explosions to take out anything nearby. Overall, the gameplay was an interesting mixture of stealth versus action.
For certain parts of the mission, we got a computer-controlled buddy to assist us. Using an intuitive command system, which overlaid pre-set markers onto the positions that we could order the buddy to move to, it worked a treat. Alternatively, he could just be set to assume a simple follow-and-fire mode.
In the final game, you'll also be able to play through the 16 single-player missions (four chapters with four missions in each), in a co-operative mode with a mate, using the PSP's adhoc wi-fi networking (as well as two copies of the game, of course).
This co-op option extends to the in-game vehicles such as the tank. Available in single-player in our hands-on session, it proved pretty difficult to control the direction the tank was supposed to be moving in while simultaneously rotating the turret and firing all the guns, but it seems tailor made for one player to be the driver and another the gunner.
Indeed, a major part of Killzone: Liberation are the multiplayer modes. Up to six players can play through six special maps, in either team-based or individual deathmatches. The multiplayer level available at E3 was the Trenches map, which contained plenty of hiding places, shields, barrels and walkaways to fight your way around. Interestingly though, because everyone has the same viewpoint of the action, the multiplayer games tended to be very fast-moving affairs, with loads of grenades exploding everywhere, frags-a-plenty and not a lot of tactical thinking in evidence.
Secure in the hands of the evil Helghast invasion force, Killzone awaits Liberation sometime in November. Click 'Track It!' to be alerted to our review.