Little things have a habit of either making or breaking a videogame. Whether it’s the remarkable life like reflections cast off of a shimmering pool of water at sunset or the obnoxious technical malfunctions caused by buggy code, minor things often set apart the good games from the great.

Eston Bond
Stop being so sneaky. (Courtesy of SCEA)

In that respect, SCEA’s “Killzone” is a bit of an oddball. Taking place in a war-torn future, the game pits the player and his small squad of fighters against the invading forces of the Helghast, a faction of human colonists that split away from Earth to establish a civilization on a neighboring planet. With its fairly straightforward, first-person-shooter plot, it has a generous amount of room to turn the genre on its ear. Instead “Killzone” focuses on the smaller bits of gameplay, creating an entirely different feel to an overworked genre.

One of the paramount examples is in the weapon-reload system. Even with the default machine gun, reloading requires patience, as it can take nearly five seconds before the gamer’s weapon is once again ready for action. It may seem insignificant, but fans of trigger-happy shooters such as “Unreal Tournament” know that even this slight pause can mean the difference between life and death in the heat of a tense firefight. With this slight modification, the gamer is forced at all times to be conscious of his ammunition supply and seek cover rather than frantically strafe to avoid enemy fire.

The overall atmosphere of the game is a welcome departure as well. Again, the small details come to matter the most in this regard. As the gamer ascends a ladder, he is forced to temporarily put away their weapon as the camera jostles back and forth in rhythm with his climb. It’s that type of interaction that puts players that much further into the action, making them feel less like a camera on a stick moving through these spaces and more like an individual experiencing them. Even exceptional shooters such as “Half-Life” seem to ignore the possibilities of interactivity these small opportunities provide.

The gorgeous environments — especially those that take place outdoors — all have an intricate craft as well. The grainy and smoke-filled urban wasteland of one mission is nicely juxtaposed against the bitterly cold, Siberian-esque surroundings of another. The game is also split in half, offering a single player the opportunity to fight along a story-driven “Campaign” mode or participate in a multi-player “Battlefield” mode. This option can be used against other opponents via a split-screen or online or against computer controlled bots. The action in the “Battlefield” play is similar to that in the “Campaign” — careful and deliberate, as opposed to frenzied and aggressive.

Ironically, the small things that separate “Killzone” from many of the similar games in the genre are also what bring it down. Technical issues, such as graphics “popping” up in the distance long after they should or character models that lack full high-resolution textures, appear far too often. At times, when nonplayer characters are speaking to the gamer, they appear as though they’ve been pulled straight from a badly dubbed Japanese film.

In addition, the “Campaign” levels can be very difficult, which wouldn’t be a problem if checkpoints were more reasonably spaced. A player’s game can only be saved at these points, so much more time is spent replaying parts of a mission than progressing through the game. The game would also benefit from “Battlefield” levels tailored to fit specific modes of play. While a few of the levels are designed to fit the team-based alternatives such as “Assault,” they become much too large for a simple free-for-all deathmatch.

Despite its minor flaws, its minor accomplishments are enough to get “Killzone” noticed and make a welcomed addition to the genre. It certainly can’t compete with some of the more established shooters on the market, but, with what SCEA has developed thus far, “Killzone 2” certainly looks promising for the future.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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