It’s Been 15 Years of Sony’s ‘Killzone’ Failing (Spectacularly and Ironically) to Kill Off ‘Halo’
Killzone was supposed to take PlayStation’s popularity to new heights. Fifteen years ago, Sony released the video game with the intention of killing one of the biggest franchises in gaming, but it didn’t quite work out that way. From Sony’s perspective, if they could release a shooter that was better than Halo, then they could kill their chief competitor and limit why anyone would want to play on the rival system. The company’s solution? Killzone.
Developed by unproven Dutch studio Guerrilla Games, the Sony-funded shooter was meant to be PlayStation’s answer to Microsoft from day one. Its lofty goal was proudly touted on the cover of magazines. It wasn’t just meant to compete with Microsoft, it was to be a “Halo killer.” Considering Halo Infinite is set to be the marquee title for Microsoft’s next system and we haven’t heard a peep from the Killzone series since 2013, it’s pretty clear how that situation worked out.
Cover Photo: Guerrilla Games
‘Killzone’ was set to fail from the very beginning.
This isn’t to cast the blame entirely at Guerrilla Games, though. They were clearly put in a situation to fail as the expectations were set far too high and too many circumstances made it near-impossible to live up to the hype. The biggest issue was the system itself as the PlayStation 2 released a year prior to the original Xbox and was much less of a technological wonder as a result. Halo, and its successful sequel that launched the same month as Killzone, were both built around the Xbox’s strengths and were technical showcases that looked great and performed flawlessly. Meanwhile, Killzone tried too hard to match Halo in the graphics department and had frame rate issues as a result.
This was a huge deal as a game playing smoothly isn’t only key from an enjoyment standpoint, but there’s no room for a competitive community to form if they don’t feel like the game is fair and skill-based. Halo continues to be a multiplayer standout to this day, but the original Killzone never had a large organic community that formed around it due to these technical issues. When the 2004 title was remastered for a release on PlayStation 3, Sony didn’t even bother to include multiplayer. It was that much of a failure that it wasn’t going to be missed by anyone, let alone boost sales. Killzone's shot at killing Halo went up in smoke.
Photo: Guerrilla Games
‘Halo’ is simply too good to be killed.
The Wire’s Omar Little put it best: “You come at the king, you best not miss.” It was clearly a bad idea to hype up an unproven release as not just being better than Halo but being so good that it’d make the system seller irrelevant going forward. To make matters worse, Killzone was worse than its main competitor in every single aspect. From gameplay to story and graphics, it was a step down. Despite being a solid-enough shooter for the time, it was seen as a failure and that perception tainted the entire brand. This wouldn’t have been the case if it was marketed on its own merits rather than focusing on its competitor.
This forced Guerrilla Games to go back to the drawing board for the inevitable sequel and for them to give plenty of interviews stating that they weren’t trying to kill Halo. Sony had pumped way too much money and time into the franchise for it to die a one-off. The end result was 2009’s Killzone 2, which wound up being a controversial release for many different reasons.
The biggest issue stemmed from the sequel's announcement trailer, which premiered at E3 2005. The Sony Computer Entertainment America vice president at the time lied to the press by saying that what everyone saw was "real gameplay." This is a ridiculous claim in hindsight, as the graphical detail and fluid animation shown is greater than most 2019 releases, let alone an early PS3 game. Once again, Sony shot itself in the foot by setting an impossible bar to reach. Killzone 2 wound up being a much better game than its predecessor, but it was undoubtedly yet another disappointment due to the finished product being a severe graphical downgrade from the initial unveil.
Sony eventually killed something but it wasn't their competitor.
‘Killzone’ has never lived up to its full promise.
The series’ finest moment came in its third main outing as 2011’s Killzone 3 had no asterisks attached to its release. After nearly seven years, the game was finally living up to some of its potential. It didn’t get anyone to stop playing Halo: Reach, but PS3 owners were treated to a solid all-around shooter that had an enjoyable story mode and solid multiplayer. It was also used by Sony to sell consumers on two new gimmicks: 3D gaming and motion-enabled PlayStation Move controllers. It was successful in both endeavors and it looked like Killzone could finally move past its bad first impression.
Sadly, things took a major turn downhill as Guerrilla Games was tasked with creating a launch title for PlayStation 4. This led to the rushed release of Killzone: Shadow Fall, which featured a horrible single-player campaign and forgettable multiplayer. Rather than showing the strengths of the new hardware, it showed the limitations of a compacted development cycle.
Gamers haven’t heard a peep about Killzone since then. Guerrilla Games has since switched to creating third-person action games and found much more success in that avenue with Horizon: Zero Dawn. Going back to Killzone seems more like a step backward rather than returning to a valuable franchise. However, with the PlayStation 5 on the horizon, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Sony tries to revive the series for one final attempt to go head-to-head with Halo: Infinite. Just don’t hold your breath on it actually killing its much more popular competitor.
The series is currently in an awkward limbo with its developer moving on.
Photo: Guerrilla Games