Since its debut as a tech demo at E3 2005 (and then again at E3 2007) Killzone 2 has been a shining ray of hope in the Playstation 3’s list of upcoming exclusive titles. With its jaw-dropping graphics, and Guerrilla Games’ promise to actually give gamers the “Halo killer” that Sony hyped Killzone 2’s mediocre predecessor to be in 2004, expectations for Killzone 2 are understandably quite high. After all, in the wake of the Free Radicals’ embarrassingly bad Haze, the Playstation 3’s library of quality, exclusive first person shooters as of late has consisted of Resistance 2. And that’s about it.
But does Killzone 2 finally deliver to gamers a revolutionary, next-generation first person shooter that can rival the likes of Halo 3, or is it another disappointment doomed to obscurity like Haze?
Killzone 2’s plot picks up after the events of the first Killzone. After repelling the Helghast invaders from the colony planet Vetka, the Interplanetary Strategic Alliance (ISA) has decided to return the favor by launching a full scale attack on the Helghast home planet Helgha. You play as Tomas “Sev” Sevchenko, a Sergeant in the ISA military, who is tasked with leading a unit behind enemy lines to fight the Helghast and eventually square off against their charismatic leader, Emperor Visari. The story is pretty weak over all, plagued with predictable plot turns and some genuinely terrible writing. All it really does is give you an excuse to venture to a new location and kill more enemies, but I suppose that’s all a story really is supposed to do in a sci-fi first person shooter starring space marines.
The single player campaign is nothing special, electing to adhere to the conventional norms of the first person shooter genre instead of daring to explore uncharted territories. Armed with the standard armaments of your average sci-fi shooter (including machine guns, sniper rifles, and a few weapons unique to Killzone 2) you go from one objective to the next, killing anything that happens to get in your way. Things are mixed up a bit with scattered opportunities to commandeer gun turrets or robot suits, but the campaign never really brings anything to the genre that we have not already played a dozen times before in different games.
Fortunately, what Killzone 2’s campaign does feature it executes extremely well largely due to its impressive enemy AI. The Helghast are vicious and smart. They won’t just stand in the open waiting for you to shoot them. Instead, they will take cover, flush you out with grenades, and pin you with covering fire while their comrades attempt to flank you. Killzone 2 does not encourage tactical thinking under enemy fire -it mandates it. Charging your enemies, guns blazing, may work in other shooters, but not in Killzone 2.
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The combat itself is viscerally violent, laden with gory blood splotches and tons of explosions. It also strikes an interesting balance between intensity and methodic strategy. Despite the bullets flying around and the grenades detonating left and right, Killzone 2’s combat is decidedly slower paced in comparison to recent war games like Call of Duty 4. Your character moves slower, turns slower, and reloads his weapons slower. You may be a space marine, but the combat is a lot more realistic than the game’s science fiction background would normally suggest. As opposed to a game like Halo where you play as a badass super soldier capable of tackling an entire army, Killzone 2 does a great job of making you feel like you’re just another soldier lost in the chaos of war.
To help you cope with Killzone 2’s savage enemy AI, Guerrilla gives gamers a cover system which is sort of new to the world of first person shooters. Though Rainbow Six Vegas featured a cover system that would pan the camera out and let you fight in third person, Killzone 2’s cover system functions continuously in first person. It will lock you into place behind a wall, debris, etc. and you can pop out to snipe enemies, throw grenades, or sprint to a new hiding place. In theory this would work brilliant, but actually using it is a bit cumbersome and takes practice before you can utilize it with any real degree of efficiency. The game demands that you input an awkward combination of buttons on the Playstation 3 controller in order to lean out, aim, and shoot, and the end result hardly feels fluid. After a few hours of destroying the Helghast with accurate rifle fire bursts, you will probably get the hang of using Killzone 2’s cover system. Unfortunately, it never really felt as second nature as it needed to.
Despite a few other hiccups in Killzone 2’s campaign mode (enemy variety is a bit on the sparse side and boss encounters drag a bit) it’s still genuinely loads of fun. Stricken with a plethora of glaring flaws, it may be one of the game’s weaker aspects, but regardless, it’s well worth playing. It would have been nice to have the option to play through the campaign cooperatively though. Its absence is as noticeable as it is disappointing, especially since a cooperative mode is pretty standard in shooters these days. The campaign mode screams to be played with a buddy. You command a squad of AI controlled marines -why can’t your friend pick up a controller and play as one of them?
Though Killzone 2’s single player mode may have its ups and downs, you would be hard pressed to find anything worth faulting in its multiplayer. I absolutely adore multiplayer modes in first person shooters, and I have to say that even amongst the myriad of top tier shooters on the market, what Killzone 2 offers is amazing. A creative hybrid of games like Team Fortress 2 and Call of Duty 4, you assume the role of a variety of different classes (sniper, medic, saboteur etc) and then head off to war in a number of modes ranging from typical team death match to capture the flag to assassination.
The class based system works wonderfully. Each class may play differently, but they are all a blast to use. And if for some reason you don’t like a class, you can always customize its abilities to fit your fragging preferences. As you work your way through the multiplayer, you earn experience points which allows you to unlock new skills and new weapons. If the sheer awesomeness of the 32-man multiplayer was not enough to keep you playing, the incentive of unlockables will definitely keep you glued to your controller.
The class balance is not quite as well implemented as Team Fortress 2 despite Killzone 2 borrowing heavily from it. Most of the time, even during team oriented gameplay modes, the matches usually degenerate into a wild free-for-all. In Team Fortress 2, team work and balances is demanded in order for one team to triumph over the other. In Killzone 2, team work translates into merely not shooting your allies in the face. Of course, a well balanced and coordinated team will always dominate over a team that is unorganized, but it’s rare to encounter a game where you feel like a part of an army instead of a bunch of a lone wolves on the same team. It is worth noting that this problem is endemic to almost every first person shooter (and can easily be overcome by playing with friends or utilizing the clan feature which Killzone 2 supports) but it is more noticeable given Killzone 2’s heavy emphasis on classes.
Though not perfect, I really can not emphasize enough how much fun Killzone 2’s multiplayer is. It is easily the best multiplayer experience available on the Playstation 3, and probably one of the best multiplayer games I have played, period. It may borrow extensively from other games, but it blends them all together to create one hell of an incredibly fun, intense, and addicting experience that you will not want to miss. If Killzone 2 shipped with a sixty dollar price tag, and only its multiplayer component, it would still definitely be well worth the purchase.
In terms of graphics and sound, nothing I can say can really do justice to Killzone 2’s amazing presentation. Simply watch a few videos of the game in action and you will get a pretty good idea of what it offers. The graphics fully utilize the power of the Playstation 3 and are nothing short of astonishing. From amazing textures to insane effects, graphically, Killzone 2 more than lives up to the hype set by the tech demo in 2005 and easily establishes itself as one of the best looking games ever made. Sound effects are spot on with gunfire sounding crisp and powerful, and the character voice work is also pretty good. Brian Cox fits the role of Emperor Visari perfectly, but there are a couple of characters in the game whose voices are grating and annoying after a while.
Killzone 2 may not be perfect, but its hard to concentrate on what it does wrong when there is so much that it does right. It is true that Killzone 2 does not necessarily add anything new to the first person shooter genre, and it is also true that the campaign mode is light on creativity, while heavy on terrible writing. Regardless, there is absolutely no denying how awesome Killzone 2 is. From the stunning graphics to the exceptionally awesome multiplayer, Killzone 2 is a rare gem that completely demolishes its predecessor in every aspect. Buyers should expect to keep this disc in their Playstation 3 for quite some time; Killzone 2 is here to stay.