When the PlayStation Portable first launched, it found itself in a similar position to the PlayStation Vita. It boasted hardware which was touted as being able to go toe-to-toe with the then current PlayStation 2, but in actual fact had limitations which held it back from this lofty goal.
Sony needed big hits for the machine, and developers did their best to deliver. Some of the major hits saw GTA make a big entrance, with Liberty City Stories, whilst Daxter had Naughty Dog’s acclaimed platforming series get a lovely off-shoot from the main story.
Into this stepped Guerrilla Games, fresh off the back of Killzone’s mixed reception. They realised that without dual analogue sticks and fairly limited buttons, controlling first or third person games would have issues on the PSP. So for the second part of Jan Templar’s story the best thing Guerrilla could do was to try something completely different.
Simply put, it’s that the game isn’t a FPS, but rather comes from a top-down isometric view, rather than in first person. It’s possibly the best decision they could have made, and allowed Guerilla to craft a game which didn’t struggle with a control system, and could still deliver good visuals which didn’t need to compete directly with the PS2.
It brought with it a first crack at a cover system, and one which certainly laid the foundations for the first person attempt with Killzone 2. It quite simply let you crouch behind cover on one trigger, before popping your head out and trying to lock onto a target with the left.
Throughout the game, you’ll be pushing through enemy lines, much as though it were an FPS, but you will often do so with a buddy AI, who you can order around. This is usually Rico, who couldn’t hit a barn door with his machine gun in this game either, but you could tell him to move to certain locations, shoot at a particular target, and so on.
Interestingly, it also features a kind of precursor to Killzone: Mercenary’s weapons black market, as you can find briefcases with cash stuffed in them, used to unlock better equipment and weaponry on your way to the next mission.
It’s hard to pick a worst bit, because the game did so much right at the time, and it’s only because of its age that things have come undone. The online servers are dead , with ageing graphics from the old hardware featuring a dull and uninspiring colour palette. Time has taken its toll on the story too, where the 5th chapter came as DLC, but if you want to play it, you’ll need a PSP and a bit of patience, to figure out how to install it. It’s impossible to play this chapter on a Vita.
However, at the time of release, it was the difficulty which was most criticised. Without a recharging health system, it could put you into some incredibly tricky situations, and if you hit a checkpoint with little health you might have found yourself with something near impossible to complete.
Some of the boss battles were particularly tricky under this scheme, and when the game send AI and grenades at you from lots of directions, it gets very difficult. I actually got almost completely stuck at the start of one of the chapters, and it was only through sheer determination that, several months later, I eventually made it through.
Looking back at Killzone: Liberation is quite a fascinating little study. It shows a pleasing degree of adaptability from Guerilla and Sony, to take such a big new franchise and completely transform it, whilst making a canonical entry in the game’s universe.
It’s also quite intriguing to see the elements which have stuck around since then. The second half of the war on Vekta saw Jan Templar foiling another Helghast plot, rescuing Evelyn Batton from kidnap, but also featured the loss of the nuclear warhead which had massive implications on the plot of Killzone 2.
Similarly, it pioneered the cover system which has since become a core tenant of the franchise, and even had a little glimpse at Mercenary’s ability to purchase weapons.
If you have a PSP lying around somewhere, and want a little something to distract you from not playing Killzone: Mercenary, this might be worth a look.