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Killing Zone

Eileene was gone over the weekend, and I borrowed one of Stan’s console games to keep me company. It explains a lot about why the highly celebrated console games I’ve seen so far are so highly celebrated, despite glaring errors in gameplay, narrative, or both. Killzone 2 isn’t bad, exactly, it’s just…shallow. And short. And trite. And devoid of choices, apart from “how low do I need to get on ammunition before I go looking for a different gun?”

You receive continual instructions from your squadmates. “Sev! Get that tank! Sev! Climb into the tower! Sev! Look for some kind of control box! Sev! Look at how high I am! Sev! Sev! Sev!” You can also ride the “up” button to get a flashing target on screen, indicating where you should walk next, in roughly five-foot intervals. This is good, because your teammates’ advice is distinctly questionable, even contradictory.

“Sev! Run across that open field! I’ll cover you!”
“What, that open field that twelve enemies are spraying with a murderous crossfire? That field?”
“Sev! We’re getting murdered! You have to get across that field!”
“How ’bout I just sit here and pick off a few bad guys first?”
“Sev! Hurry up!”
Blam! Blam! Blam!
“Sev! Get some cover, goddamn it!”
“Hey, asshole! I thought you said you’d cover me. See, ‘cover’ means firing to keep the enemy’s head down so he can’t shoot at me while I’m running. You weren’t even shooting!”
“Sev! We’re getting murdered! You have to get across that field!”

All this advice and map-marking is vital, because your objective is often unclear, and the conditions under which you are meant to achieve it are always unclear. You encounter an enemy squad, and a firefight erupts. Maybe the best choice is to kill them all before strolling safely to the next checkpoint. Or maybe you can’t kill them all; maybe an entire division is hiding in the closet, replenishing the squad man by man. Or maybe you can kill them all, but only after reaching an invisible point on the battlefield to prove you tried a little heroism, and then the reinforcements are cut off. There’s no way to find out but trial and error.

The bad guys wear thinly veiled Nazi SS uniforms, right down to the square collars and zigzag patches, which explains why you’re still using WWII-era weapons and tactics in a spacefaring future.

No. No, I suppose it doesn’t. But it does let you know that these are Bad Guys who deserve to have their fight for freedom crushed, right?

The AI is, with one exception, fairly good, choosing a degree of cover appropriate to the fire they’re enduring at the moment. The exception is that the bots have a magical ability to know when you’re aiming at them, and know to take cover from your shots, even as they ignore fire from the rest of your squad.

But it hardly matters whether the enemies are intelligent, since you rapidly heal any damage you take simply by ducking out of sight for five seconds. Not exactly battlefield realism, for all the hectic verisimilitude of the firefights.

It all works, to a basic minimum, but the game feels very slapdash, like they just put different faces on an engine designed for a different game, and stapled on some “these violent maniacs must be stopped” exposition, without bothering with too much detail. So if, as I am given to understand, Killzone 2 is a medium-good console game, then that explains why the best-sellers get so much praise: the bar for videogames as either simulation or as narrative is still painfully low.

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