Killzone 3 & First-Person Shooters – Weekly Recommendations 28/02 – 06/03
Every week I give three gaming recommendations (very) loosely tied to something topical. These recommendations span platform, generation and genre and are all games that I have played, enjoyed and highly recommend. As always, comments are very welcome so please do chime in with any recommendations of your own. Check back each Monday for a new set, and click here for past entries.
Last week saw the release of another entry in the Killzone series, Sony's much ballyhooed first-person shooter. This best-selling franchise has never been short on hype and despite being consistently very good, has always fallen short of being great, not quite making good on its substantial promise. Killzone 3 has been met with positive reviews, but by all accounts has once again not quite lived up to its significant hype.
It's easy to appreciate why Sony pour so much money into the series, being that the FPS genre is as lucrative as it has ever been, and having provided a number of killer apps, console movers and best-sellers in the past. What follow are three varied examples of some of the best that the genre has to offer, each pick representing a very different part of the FPS landscape.
1. Timesplitters 2 – GameCube, PS2, Xbox (2002)
I’m opting for Timesplitters 2 here, as I already featured Future Perfect (TS3) in a recent installment of weekly recommendations, but it matters little as they are very similar games, both equally deserving of your attention. Unlike many other games that have attempted humour, Timesplitters 2 is genuinely funny, and the level of humour is not detrimental to its FPS pedigree, usually the home of sour-faced brutes and black-op killers.
The main campaign is highly enjoyable whether tackled solo or with a friend. You chase aliens across a number of different time periods, past, present and future, from Neo Tokyo to 19th century Paris. Addictive Arcade and Challenge modes add to the fun, with objectives ranging from decapitating zombies with a shotgun to a shooting gallery of monkeys. Entertaining as these additions are, the competitive multiplayer is where TS really shines, allowing for up to 4 players with a multi-tap, or 16 using a System Link.
Don’t let the menagerie of cartoony multiplayer characters give you the wrong impression (the cast includes a dinosaur, snowman and monkey), as Timesplitters 2 was one of the best multiplayer shooters of its generation. An excellent selection of weaponry, well designed and varied levels, a map editor, deep stat-tracking and the ability to add very capable bots to any match make for a multiplayer experience as deep as it is unique.
2. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 – PS3, Xbox 360, Windows (2009)
Say what you will about Activison, but when it comes to churning out highly polished blockbuster shooters they can’t be faulted. With the collective expertise of Infinity Ward and Treyarch their Call of Duty series has been a market leader for years, with the high-water mark thus far being Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.
The nonsensical single player campaign is an all-out assault on the senses, a brutal mish-mash of different stories that just about come together. Although it doesn’t have the cohesion of COD4, nor the more memorable characters of Treyarch’s efforts, it succeeds in keeping you transfixed with a roller coaster ride of OTT set-pieces and brutality. Although the infamous “No Russian” level does its best to spoil things – controversy aside, it was ill-thought out, clumsy, strangely paced and ultimately dull – the single player campaign alone is a worthy investment for any FPS fan. But for most gamers, the true appeal of Call of Duty lies in the multiplayer.
The multiplayer is the culmination of gradual improvements from game to game, claiming god knows how many man-hours worldwide since November 2009. Bigger and better, it offers impressive levels of customization without being overwhelming and the ability to prestige is a constant motivation to keep on shooting.
Although the campaign does not offer co-operative play, there is an excellent off-shoot called Special Ops which allows you to plough through a number of increasingly tough objectives with a friend. Taking away the narrative and thrusting you into a collection of bite-sized, heart-pounding situations, it is the ideal medium between the campaign and multiplayer. I found myself revisiting it long after I had grown tired of the rest of the game.
3. Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood - PS3, Xbox 360, Windows (2009)
With the notable exception of the outstanding Red Dead Redemption, Western themed video games have been few and far between. Those that have emerged have mostly been greeted with lukewarm reviews and consumer indifference. Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood makes you wonder why more shooters don’t utilize the old west, as the beautifully realized setting, tight combat, outstanding story and lead characters make it a game that is easy to recommend.
The story, usually not a strong point in most shooters, is very engaging thanks to strong characters and carefully crafted atmosphere. The McCall brothers are the violent stars, and you can choose which of the two playable brothers you want to control at the outset of most levels, each having different skills and load-outs. This adds a degree of variation missing from most first-person shooters. The gritty narrative doesn’t shy away from the grizzly truths of the lives and times of men like these, with talk of massacres, rape, slavery and the prevalent racist attitudes of the era all very apparent.
Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood is a refreshing break from your standard FPS, and an excellent take on a genre that has so much untapped potential. Graphically, it’s highly polished and the combat is smooth and offers a well-balanced challenge, but it’s the characters, their struggles and interactions which make it stand out from the crowd.