Friday, March 13, 2009
How Killzone makes you earn it
Killzone 2's multiplayer is uncommonly deep and customizable. Players can choose from one of seven classes of combatant, like the standard rifleman, a medic, or the stealthy scout. But those classes aren't so rigidly defined, thanks to the medals system -- you can actually mix and match abilities, or "medals," to create a custom character type. You can form four-man squads on the fly, and even assemble 16-person clans made up of four squads. Plus, you can earn perks that allow you to do things like call in your own personal aerial drone to help out in combat. With massive, team-based multiplayer maps that support up to 32 players, you'll see something new every time.
At least, that's the idea. The reality is a bit different.
When you start playing Killzone 2 online, you can play only as one character, the infantryman. Your loadout consists of an assault rifle with limited ammo, a pistol, and a single grenade. You have no other abilities. By default, the game will match you with other players of equal rank or similar, so unless you decide you want to be killed instantly upon spawning, you play almost exclusively with other riflemen.
Killing opposing players and completing mission objectives earns points toward increasing your rank. You begin as a Private, and can work your way up to General (read an overview of Killzone 2's rank system). Each promotion earns you a new ability. Corporals can form squads on the fly. Sergeants can form clans, which I believe are persistent. These are not things that seem to mesh well with the chaos of a public game, although the option to respawn with your squad leader, no matter where he is on the map, is a good one.
It took me several hours of play to reach my current rank, Sergeant First Class. That's 200 points. My reward? A choice of shotgun or SMG. It'll take another 150 points before I can play as a medic. In fact, I've yet to even encounter a medic on the battlefield, thanks to the default matchmaking. Reaching the top rank, General, requires 2800 points. I can't even imagine how long that'll take.
Let's talk about those medals. You earn them by accumulating ribbons, which are rewards for certain achievements in a single match. For example, if you score at least 20 points in a match and don't kill yourself or a teammate, that's a "Good Conduct" ribbon. Eight Good Conduct ribbons will earn you the "Example Soldier" medal, which increases your starting ammo. That's pretty important, because grunts start with 64 rounds. It's easy to run out, and always, it seems, when you round a corner and come face-to-face with an enemy.
The Good Conduct ribbon is easy to earn. Some aren't so easy. One of the game modes is called "Assassination." In it, a player on one team is randomly designated the target. His teammates must protect him. The opposing team must kill him. If you are the target, and you survive, then you earn a ribbon. Five "Assassination Defend Specialist" ribbons will earn you a medal, which boosts your point total for subsequent successful attempts.
Here's the rub: On a full server, under standard settings, Assassination will be only 1 round of 6. When it starts, you have a 1 in 16 chance of being designated the target. You'll rarely have a chance to be the target, and it's not easy to survive. How long will it take to earn 5 ribbons, and the accompanying medal? Beats me. I've got 1 ribbon so far, thanks to my good friend Lady Luck. (Read an overview of Killzone 2 ribbons and medals.)
My complaint isn't the gameplay difficulty. (It shouldn't be easy to survive as the target.) The problem is the exorbitant commitment Killzone requires to play the multiplayer as advertised. You're promised deep customization and endless gameplay options, and that's not what you get. This isn't the same thing as Rock Band's lockbox. They're different types of games, with different objectives. I'm glad that Killzone's multiplayer gives you something to strive for. Still, there comes a point at which the game's attempt to provide incentives becomes a case of withholding content from the player.
Why aren't a couple of classes available at the outset? Why not a few different weapons? Why is everything that makes Killzone's multiplayer unique padlocked behind one door after another, like the entryway to CONTROL headquarters?
None of this is meant as a verdict on the quality of the multiplayer as I've encountered it so far. The network has been rock-solid, and even without the more advanced features, play has been satisfying and addictive. I can see myself sticking with it even after filing the review. But I have to wonder if people touting these features are speaking from experience or extrapolation. It's probably awesome to be a General, to customize your characters, and to participate in a coordinated clan battle. But I couldn't say for sure. I don't know who could.