How Killzone Put Guerrilla Games On the Map
It’s an unmistakable fact that the release of the original Halo: Combat Evolved drove the gaming industry a little crazy for a while. The sheer success of the sci-fi shooter prompted developers all over to try their hand at capturing the same kind of success. Many of these products had mixed results, but perhaps the most high profile product to come out of this craze was Sony’s official attempt at an answer to Microsoft and Bungie’s sci-fi behemoth. It was on this day in 2004 that Sony and Guerrilla Games released the original Killzone, coming a little closer to matching Halo in style and marketing than most others ever have.
In 2003, the studio that would eventually create the Killzone series was still a subsidiary of Dutch media company Lost Boys and worked under the company title on relatively lowkey products. However, a company restructure led to the studio being sold off to a new company known as Media Republic. Rebranded as Guerrilla Games, the studio began work on two titles that year, one being a commission from Sony Computer Entertainment exclusively for the PlayStation 2.
In the wake of Microsoft and Bungie’s success and sales with Halo: Combat Evolved on the original Xbox, Sony was on the hunt for a “Halo killer” and they saw it in the designs of Guerrilla Games and Killzone. The game hit similar beats with wars against an invading force in the far future. However, Killzone’s opposing forces are both human --- two sides of a galaxy-wide corporate war between the brutal forces of the planetary colony Helghan and the United Colonial Nations controlling the rich earth-like colony of Vetka. Where Vetka is lush, Helghan is a barren wasteland that forced the Helghan to mutate into stronger beings that considered regular humans beneath them, valuing despotic military values and survival over all else.
With the stage set, Killzone opens to the Helghan launching a surprise invasion of Vetka. The UCN deploys their military arm, the ISA to attempt to fight back against an enemy set to destroy them on their own soil. Throughout the game, players take on the roles of several different ISA operatives, including ISA foot-soldier Jan Templar, covert Shadow Marshal Luger, half-Helghan spy Hakha, and ISA heavy gunner Ricardo Velasquez. As the soldiers fight their way and events play out, they join up or split apart during the game’s various intense scenarios.
Killzone took on a very different approach of sci-fi warfare from that of Halo. Where Halo was extremely clean with shiny textures throughout the game, Killzone featured an incredibly gritty feel, not unlike games like 2002’s Medal of Honor: Allied Assault with a sci-fi spin. Players run and gun through ruined futuristic cities, tunnels, trenches and various destroyed infrastructure trying to beat back the Helghan forces at every turn. Helping Killzone along and banking on its sci-fi appeal, Sony also launched an enormous marketing campaign for the game that built hype and popularity among the prospective audience in anticipation of the game’s release.
Killzone’s release was met with mixed reviews. Many enjoyed the intense cinematic feel of the game’s combat and scenarios, though perhaps just as many pointed out poor performance, somewhat rough look enemy A.I. and the lack of memorable characters to truly match anything in Bungie’s universe. Nonetheless, Killzone sold immensely well, doing enough for Sony to end up buying Guerrilla Games and bringing about sequels for the series. Though Killzone didn’t quite hit the mark, its following sequels would do quite a bit better, becoming iconic titles for the PlayStation 3. Moreover, in following titles Killzone would develop its own identity, breaking far and away from the Halo style to become its own fantastic product. You have to start somewhere. Killzone may have started as a Halo-clone, but it’s become much more.