It’s time to pour one out for the “Killzone” franchise.
Series creator Guerilla Games announced this week that the official “Killzone” website was being “retired,” and all traffic is now being directed to the official PlayStation website. While this move is more symbolic than impactful, it now prevents players from forming or editing clans for the PlayStation 4 launch title, “Killzone Shadow Fall,” the last game to release in the franchise. Nearly nine years after a disappointing launch, I can’t imagine too many people are still playing it. But this move definitely signifies that Guerilla and Sony have moved on after the resounding success of “Horizon: Zero Dawn.”
The first game in the “Killzone” franchise was originally announced in 2003. At the time, it was seen as Sony’s response to “Halo: Combat Evolved,” which helped Microsoft’s Xbox carve out its own legitimacy in the video game industry. Sony’s focus was more on 3D platformers and adventure games, so “Killzone” was positioned to be its premier first-person shooter in an industry quickly pivoting toward FPS games.
The media bought into the “Killzone” hype ahead of its 2004 release. Many dubbed it the “‘Halo’ killer” with its impressive graphics and promised deeper gameplay mechanics. That the game would release two weeks after “Halo 2” was only more incentive to stoke the flames of rivalry. It worked — until it didn’t when the game released to scalding reviews and negative impressions across the board.
The original “Killzone” just lacked originality in almost every facet of its design and vision. The storyline was rote and unimpressive despite a promising setting. The idea of human corporations and governments forcing the colonization of a world that was toxic to humans — ultimately leading to a new line of humanity created through mutation — was interesting. But instead of doing anything with its setting, “Killzone” settled for a black-and-white science-fiction military campaign that portrayed the mutated humans, the Helghast, as just short of Nazis — all the way from their iconography and appearance to their actions.
Despite the weak launch, a second game was commissioned and its first trailer debuted during Sony’s infamous 2005 Electronic Entertainment Expo conference. The original “Killzone 2” trailer was marketed as in-game footage, but looked so much more impressive than anything that was capable on the hardware. It turned out that the trailer was faked, despite Sony’s insistence for months that it was not. The “Killzone” franchise was again trying to start off on the wrong foot.
Four years later, “Killzone 2” finally released, and it was actually very impressive. Its graphics, while not as good as the trailer, were still among the best the PlayStation 3 had to offer. Its storyline — focusing on an invasion of the Helghast homeworld — was better, even if it was populated with extremely banal and downright annoying characters. The weightier feel of the gameplay was a welcome change compared to the World War II and modern military shooters that were dominating the charts. It seemed that Sony finally had its FPS crown jewel.
Even with an well-featured and thoroughly fun multiplayer suite, “Killzone 2” never managed to take off as well as it should have. Perhaps, it was due to the dominance of “Call of Duty” at the time. A third “Killzone” title would release two years later, but would fail to reach even the limited success of its predecessor.
The franchise’s last best hope was “Shadow Fall,” a more colorful launch title that was positioned as the graphical showcase of the PS4 launch window. Taking advantage of the new hardware, “Shadow Fall” abandoned the narrow corridors for wide open vistas in large expanses — not all that dissimilar to “Halo.” This newfound freedom gave players multiple avenues for which to accomplish objectives and tackle combat encounters.
But while the idea was solid and the intention was there, “Shadow Fall” never quite came together as it should have. It ended up being the lowest selling “Killzone” title in the series, and the franchise has been on ice ever since. This week’s announcement seems to have finally put the final nail in the coffin of the Helghast.
It’s hard to blame Guerilla Games for wanting to move on. Four titles in a row in the same franchise can be draining — creatively and mentally. The studio had been working on “Killzone” for more than a decade at that point. So when the studio finally decided to move on and turn its sights toward what would become “Horizon: Zero Dawn,” it was a welcome respite for both developers and consumers. It also seems like it was a sound financial decision, as “Horizon” has sold more copies than any game in the “Killzone” franchise. Plus the hype for “Horizon: The Forbidden West,” set to release some time this year for the PS4 and PlayStation 5, is palpable — building more hype than any “Killzone” title since perhaps “Killzone 2,” thanks to the faked trailer.
Alas, “Killzone” did have its fans, and it never really felt like the series’ potential was ever realized. It would have been nice to see Sony commission another shooter, since its PS4 portfolio was dominated almost entirely by third-person action games. But looking through the publisher’s catalog, it’s hard to argue that its other PS3-era shooter, “Resistance,” doesn’t deserve that chance just a bit more.
Josh Rouse lives in Lawton.