Games

Killzone

Azmol Meah

Playing Killzone feels like eating a cake with too many flavors.


Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Genres: First-person shooter
Display Artist: Guerrilla Games/Sony Computer Entertainment Europe
Price: $49.99
Multimedia: Killzone
Platforms: PlayStation 2
Number of players: 1-2 s offline (16 online)
ESRB rating: Mature
Developer: Sony Computer Entertainment Europe
US release date: 2007-07
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When Microsoft launched the Xbox it came bundled with a game called Halo, an original first-person shooter set on an alien planet where human survivors engaged in guerrilla warfare against a group of vicious aliens known only as the Covenant. Amazingly (and beyond my brain's comprehension), Halo became one of the most critically acclaimed titles in the history of the industry, and set a precedent which every FPS has since copied in failed attempts to best Halo at its own game. But truth be told, most, including Killzone, wind up as nothing more than a very stylish mess.

You have to feel sorry for developer Guerrilla. When it announced that they were teaming with Sony to make an original FPS, they opened a Pandora's Box that unleashed a level of hype and hysteria unseen since the last over-hyped game. Instantly the press and Sony fanboys alike began calling Killzone a "Halo killer" (a term used far too often to describe the next FPS that will surly slay the beast that is the Halo franchise), leaving the developers with seriously unattainable expectations to meet. And the misguided hype continued right up to launch day, when finally the press discovered the game to be, well, misguided. Embarrassed and red-faced, media outlets couldn't suddenly bestow a low grade upon a game they previously praised to the heavens. To cover their part in the fiasco, the lackluster game was levied with generous scores that would inevitably fool gamers into purchasing it.

Much like Killzone, Mace Griffin: Bounty Hunter and Medal of Honor: Frontline were given the same "we're gonna hype it 'til we're blue in the face" treatment, and though Guerrilla's game isn't nearly as bad as those two, at times it seems to want to make life as hard as possible for itself -- tripping up at nearly every hurdle.

Now after playing the game as much I have, I can confidently say Killzone was never meant to be a war game like Halo. I seriously doubt that this was Guerrilla's intention. Instead it seems to want to be a more sophisticated FPS like GoldenEye 007, Rainbow Six, or even Far Cry with a light layer of war sprinkled on top. But this is where the game shows it over ambition; playing Killzone feels like eating a cake with too many flavors. Tasty and different at first, but after a few bites you'll be rushing for the washroom as it's just not easy to digest.

The biggest flaw of the game, sadly, is the sluggish controls, which many have blamed on the controller itself. Those who fault the design note that the genre is not meant for controllers but a keyboard and mouse. This, however, is utter nonsense. Anyone who's played TimeSplitters 2 knows that an FPS can be played with ease using any of the three home consoles, so let's put this silly "it's the controller's fault" debate to rest. Nevertheless, Guerrilla's shoddy control scheme is not excused. They are an exclusive PlayStation developer and it's only natural to expect a better, smoother handling experience than this.

While it would be rather easy for me to check off all of Killzone's flaws, I won't. Guerrilla's hard work is obvious (most notably in the score and graphics), and at least the game isn't a blatant cash-in such as GoldenEye: Rogue Agent or any of the resent Medal of Honor titles. But it's a game that wants to be so many different things when the truth of the matter is it accomplish none of them.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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