A Zone in Which Persons Kill

Tuesday, March 3, 2009
I had a chance to download the Killzone 2 demo the other day. Being a general fan of shooters, I figured, why the hell not. As the 1.2 gig demo dripped slowly onto my console I checked up on some of the reviews online. It seems like every mild mannered game critic out there says it's fan-fucking-tastic, so of course I was all a twitter when I finally got to play it.

Once I was playing I noticed a few things that I think were missed by too many of the reviews, Kotaku excepted. Killzone 2 doesn't do anything differently than other shooters. Throughout the game's singleplayer demo and even the multiplayer (I can only attest to this through heresay as the demo doesn't include multiplayer) no new ground is broken.

The class based multiplayer? Battlefield. The leveling system in multiplayer? Call of Duty 4. The cover system in the campaign? Rainbow Six Vegas. Every little piece of almost every successful shooter is in Killzone 2. The makers of Killzone 2 must have studied and played every shooter in the last 10 years. Oh, did I mention you can have bots in multiplayer? Yeah, my jaw went slack when I heard that.

Some people have been critical of Killzone 2 for exactly that reason. For some, innovation trumps solid gameplay. This is a pressure many shooter's feel in today's market. The genre has become so popular, especially on consoles, that every developer feels that their game must have some kind of distinguishing characteristic. Something that sets it apart from all the other shooters out there.

This isn't something that needs be discouraged, by no means. In fact, many of the best games this last year were innovators in some way. Mirror's Edge tweaked the norms of first person shooters by taking out most of the shooting in favor of more first person. Dead Space (not an FPS, but it counts in this context) drew our cross hairs off the enemies heads. Left 4 Dead forced to REALLY cooperate.

As nice as it may be to have some new mechanic to look forward to, as important it is that we push the medium forward, there is still a lot to be said for a game that does everything right. While Killzone 2 is doing all the things it's predecessors did, there is one thing it can claim as its own. Killzone put all those things in one place. You want to level up, you want character classes, you want active squads, you want a cover system, Killzone 2 has them.

A game need not innovate to excel. As long as it can do all those little borrowed elements as well or better than the original games they appeared in, no one should have any problems with it.

Now don't get me wrong, I believe innovation is key to the future of this industry, but we're bound to plateau a few times along the way. If we can't make a decent game with what we've got at those points, we might as well pack it all up and go home. Why make games at all if the only goal is to give the player they haven't seen before?

Later this week: When innovation attacks!: A brief treatise on the negative effects of innovative policy on games.