The purpose of this series of blogs is simply to share my experience with games that I feel like playing at random. I'll be honest and say that basically it is a review, but without any numberical score. Also, unlike reviews I go really in depth with what I though on specific story aspects or levels. I came up with this idea because I just feel like playing random stuff. I never keep up with the recent hype anyway, so it's not like I'm not losing possible time with new games. Actually, this is pretty much how I have always approached gaming. Playing any new games makes me feel pressured to finish them quickly, so that I can move on to the next one, so I decided to find entertainment elsewhere. Anyhow, the games I will write about will range from obscure, to classics, to maybe even something relatively new. Sometimes I'll take a pick from my backlog and sometimes I'll sort through the used game bins to find something that interests me. Due to lack of free time, I can only do this monthly, unfortunately. Yes I know you are all disappointed, but you'll just have to deal with it.

For this month I decided to play an old PSP gem: Killzone Liberation. This is actually my second time playing Killzone Liberation. The first time, though, I didn't finish. From what I recall, the controls furstrated me deeply. While this holds true, somewhat, I enjoyed myself much more than I would have thought. You might know, based off my Killzone HD review, that I am a fan of the series. However, this is the only game in the franchise that has not disappointed me, but, in fact, exceeded my expectations (even though they were low to start with). Unlike predecessors and sequels, Liberation never promises to be anything other than what it is. Killzone 1, 2, and 3 had me thinking that ethical conflicts would be central elements of the narrative. I waited paitently for such conflicts to arise and did not give up until the credits rolled. Only then did I resigned myself to the fact that all three games told some average, mostly dull, military shooter story. However, Liberation's premise is evidently simple from the outset: after the events of the first game, the same characters now have to fend off the remaining Helghast from Vekta. A mere clean-up job, basically, and it is presented as such. For once, I allowed myself to turn my brain off, enjoy the cheesy dialgue, and engross myself in the intense firefights.

I found that Guerrilla Games' work is praisable in many aspects, but I'll start with what I think was the boldest decision they took. It probably is the boldest design decision they have ever taken: the game is a top-down, isometric shooter. That in itself is enough to make me admire the game. Everyone, I'm sure, expected Guerrilla Games to make a portable version of the first-person shooter that they got on console. Then, this public was treated with something that defied expectations in many ways. It was both not an FPS, and actually good. If anything, the fact that it is not an FPS has made it an even more noteworthy game. Especially now, with the oversaturation of Call of Duty and Battlefield. Liberation is perhaps the most noteworthy game of the Killzone franchise. It is both a must-play for any PSP owner and completely different in terms of gameply to the rest of the series. Many people told me that they only did this because, being early adopters of the technology, Guerrila could not yet efficiently use every bit of the PSP's power unlike, say, Ghost of Sparta or MGS: Peace Walker. Regardless of the purpose, I was overjoyed to get such a distinct experience from playing Liberation. Based off the developers' current projects, it saddens me to say that it was the last time Guerrilla will explore such ideas. Or at least for many years to come.

I sure hope this isn't the last top-down shooter like this Guerrilla makes

The whole first chapter was mostly a breeze, and I could not recall why the controls had frustrated me so. You start off in a mission fighting against a Helghan attack on the ISA base. This first mission looks the most nitty gritty out of the whole game, to empasize the setting of war. The character feels somewhat clunky, but this, plus the fact that Templar is slow, provides the series' trademark sluggish and realistic feel. All gamers know how it feels to play a game completely unbeknownst to you, and that is how I felt relearning everything about Liberation. One of my first observations was that the top down view and the slow pace served for some strategic thinking. It let me analyze the field and choose how to approach a situation. I constantly had to decide whether to flank the enemy, use the precious few grenades I had, rush them, or simply shoot pop up from cover and shoot in the rigth moment. As the game introduced new mechanics in the first chapter (e.g. throwing bombs, different weapons, controlling squadmates, using tanks, etc.), I became ecstatic to try them out in all sorts of situations.

Another aspect that made Liberation hard to put down was the incredible sense of progression. By this I do not mean that there are RPG-like elements, though. In every mission there are hidden cases of money (cleverly labelled 'Vektan). If you bother to collect these hidden collectibles, you are handsomely rewarded in the form of new weapons. Also, once you complete a chapter, you unlock small challenges called 'challenge games'. Basically, they are mini-games that exploit an individual game mechanic. In one you just have to defend a base, in another you have to lead spider mines (mines that look like spiders and follow anything that moves) into boxes to trap them. The challenge comes from the time limit that all of them have. They are addictive little diversions, believe it or not. And not only do they cause the players to refine their skills, it unlocks abilities (usable in campaign), characters (usable in multiplayer), and secrets like concept art. Mostly, I did them for the abilities, which give you more granades, health, and even unlimited ammo. To me, it felt like no matter what mode I played, I was constantly improving my character.

The rocket launcher is usually one of the more useful weapons...

So, back in the campaign, the second chapter also focuses on introducing some new enemies at first, and the story starts to get interesting with a direct confrontation from Colonel Cobar in a cinematic. Also some ethical turmoil is presented. There are important Vektan hostage, who are threatened to be killed unless a peace is maintained. Of course, you wipe your arse off these threats and try to save them anyway. Then, the game slowly starts to increase the difficulty. But only to let you get a taste of what's to come. Once you get past this chapter, then you really know what ball-biting hard means. It becomes hard up to a point were it sometimes is more frustrating than fun, and the weakness of the controlls starts to be more apparent. Overwhelming number of enemies start to appear, many of which happen to be faster, and better defended or equipped than in previous chapters. With less time to think, it becomes more a question of reflex and skill than strategy and preparation. It's either that or memorizing enemy spawn points so that, upon death, you have the advantage, but this method is obviously quite tedious. You know, since you'd have to die. Unfortunately, the same clunkiness that I praised becomes a hindrance in these harder levels as well. For example, when faced with enemies in two directions, trying to simply turn around can be a pain in the ass since the only way to turn is to move in that direction. Cover is crucial, so displacing yourself even an inch can get you killed. You can crouch and turn in place, but this is a much slower process.

As the game got gradually harder, I started to notice all fo the its flaws until I finally reached the boss battle at the end of chapter 3, the freaking culmination of all said flaws, and I remembered why I had quit before. This battle had single-handedly managed to make me shun the game for years. Seriously, I think that the reason this game has a 77 on metacritic and not a well rounded 80 or higher is this this individual battle. It is long, unfair, and not enjoyable in the least. The main problem here is that you can't really aim exactly were you want to. Since Liberation is an isometric, third-person, top down shooter, the game automatically adjusts your target so slightly that at first you don't notice. However, in Liberation's most infamously hated battle against Colonel Cobar and his freaking Metal Gear-y tank, there are many areas of the robot to aim at, and which of those you hit first matters. Cobar has to of course make this task a living nightmare by throwing granades, spider mines, rockets, and shooting the player. Let me reitarate that it's hard, if I haven't been clear enough. But that's enough of that. Let me tell you about the rest of the game. As much as Cobar's fight aggravated me (to the point that I was cursing out loud), Liberation is still fun.

Someone here has an unfair advantage

I found it much easier to appreciate the minutiae, like the visuals and environment design, once the game's difficulty recedes to where the player can keep his sanity. It's all uphill from the battle I just described. Environments are as lovely as you would expect from a Killzone game. In other words, everything is gray and bleak. This didn't strike me as a surprise. What did surprise me was that although the engine is admittedly not as impressive as it was in 2006, the game does its job at conveying the action and mood exactly how it was supposed to. I was struck by how detailed the environments look. Of course, I then realized that it is so because the camera is always in far off in third person. You can't really look at the models and textures in close detail. Still, this just makes the decision to use that camera angle all the more wise; it has prevented Liberation from aging. The multitude of explosions and neverending waves of enemies constantly encroaching upon you, while intimidating and a pain to push on through, help make the player witness the havoc that ensues in a battlefield. Stellar sound effects only help deepen this immersion. Then, great animations and attention to detail seal the deal. This is still a bad-ass looking game on PSP. I'm not a fan of the music and I really don't pay attention to the voice actors because the story is so cliched, and partially I don't want to be disappointed again. However, I'll give credit to the voice actors. They deliver their lines with enthusiasm and skill.

Anyhow, Liberation is surprisingly not built for length. It has little content, with only four chapters (and it a pain in the ass to download the missing DLC, which includes a whole new chapter and a multiplayer component). This surprises me because the gameplay is reminescent of arcade shooters, which can be potentially played forever. However, Liberation's campaign lasts only eight to nine hours. Even with the challenge games (very fun diversion) and possible replay value you would be done in less than twenty hours. However, this is also due to the fact that I could find nobody who could play the co-op mode with me, since it is only playable via Ad-hoc. Also, try as I might, I could also not get into multplayer. Since the Killzone website was updated, downloading the free DLC has become a clunky procedure. Chapter 5 worked; I loved it despite the fact that it brought an expected and less-than satisfying finale to the story, but I could not connect to the mutliplayer. Based off videos I found of online matches, and off the fact that Guerrila knows damn well how to handle multiplayer games, this is a significant loss. Not playing the multiplayer of a Killzone game is like going to McDonald's and asking for a salad. Damn, I'm sorley disappointed.

To finish off, let me say that I love the game. If you have any way to play this, I highly recommend it. The only issue is with the difficulty, as I've said, but once you master the controls (something that the situation kind of demands), the game just gets all that more satisfying. I was even eager to replay the game again. On hard! However, Because I had the benefit of owning all the upgrades and unlockables, this playthrough turned out to be one of the best rewards I have received in gaming. Everything, in contrast with how it was before, seemed easy! Finally, I could just practically steam- roll through the dying waves of enmies while laughing manically. The enemy that had once instilled such fear into my heart was effectively reduced to a bunch of wimpering ninnies. Except for Cobar. ***, that Cobar.