Killzone 2 Beta Impressions

When I was getting ready to play the Killzone 2 beta, I will admit I had high expectations. How couldn’t I? All recent impressions have been positive. With each new preview I have generally just been reading a list of all the fine qualities that the game has been cooking up for eager gamers to take on. Having spent some time with the game, I can affirm that indeed, it  is rather solid. (At least the portion I got to play.) But sadly, that is probably the biggest compliment I can give it.

Multiplayer modes have, like it or not, become the most important part of most first person shooters. Single-player campaigns end, but a good online multiplayer mode can keep you occupied almost endlessly. There have been no shortage of such games recently, and I fear this will be Killzone 2’s downfall. It has some nifty features, but overall it just takes what many other games brought into the mix and does them again. It’s most certainly a fun game to play, but there are many other games out there which have more to offer. Leveling up, and the classes and ability sets that player’s can use to customize their character, are quickly becoming a norm for shooters. The weapons are about as generic as they come, featuring the expected array of pistols, assault rifles, shotguns, sniper rifles and explosives that most any game with a military theme is expected to boast. Even the player cap, set at 32, falls into the fine, yet unremarkable range. It’s large enough to offer some well sized engagements — of which I had a few — but it is too small to compete with games like Resistance 2.

Using that game as a reference point, I think I can sum up how I feel about Killzone 2 after spending some time with the beta. I had some good fun, but throughout I found myself constantly thinking, "I’d rather be playing Resistance." The only part of the multiplayer that really felt unique to me was the nice way you could customize matches with miniature missions that would shift and change as the battle progressed. You could start the game as a straightforward deathmatch and then a few moments later have it transform into a search and destroy, or escort mission. My favorite was easily the assassination mission wherein depending which team you’re on, you have to protect a randomly selected member of your faction who has been made into the opposing faction’s target. Hunting down or protecting a target is great fun, and you can never tell when you’ll be the next target.

Something else that surprised me to no small degree was how unimpressed I was by the visuals. I in no way mean to say they were bad; they just weren’t what I had been led to believe they would be by the countless screenshots floating around the web. To be sure, there are some definite strengths in the visuals department. The character models are excellent; they look smooth and move with an organic touch that is quite nice. They do seem to glide across the maps at times rather than run, but overall they have a fluidity about them that impressed me. More so, I don’t think I’ve ever played a game with better lighting in my life. The shadow and light effects feel real. I recall one moment in particular where I turned a corner into a dark alley and walked right into a Helghast soldier. The eerie glow of his eyes, coupled with the brilliantly realistic muzzle flash of his rifle as he gunned me down had me literally saying “wow” aloud. Other fine touches, such as the way explosions toss around smoke and debris, make you feel like you are really in a full scale war.

Those nice things said, however, I can’t help but feel the environments themselves were lacking. I know it’s a beta and by no means the final roster, but of all the maps I played there was only one that I found even remotely appealing, and its visual attractiveness I can immediately attribute again to the way the developers used lighting effects to paint the cityscape. The overall color palette is incredibly drab, featuring a predominant focus on shades of gray. (Remember when PS3 gamers made fun of "Greys of War" for the same reason?) The game looks like a space marine version of Saving Private Ryan, but not in a good way. Worse, in my opinion, are the lackluster textures I consistently came across. I was impressed recently, playing Resistance 2, by the way some of the textures seemed to pop out of the screen. Killzone 2’s textures seemed flat, and drawn on in comparison. From a distance the game certainly looks nice, and maintains some level of appealing grit, but when you get up close to things they tend too look generic. The game tries to hide much of this with its lustrous lighting, but shadows and darkness can only do so much. Killzone 2 is by no means an ugly game, and in some ways is deserving of its reputation as a graphical powerhouse — but not to the extent that the hype would have you believe.

Just based on my experience with the multiplayer beta, I can honestly say that Killzone 2 multi is shaping up to be all-around very solid. It does a lot of things good enough, but in today’s gaming industry, and most especially in the FPS genre, doing something "good enough" isn’t enough. Killzone 2 isn’t looking to me like it will stand out enough to earn the status its hype has been demanding. Unless the rest of the game is utterly fantastic, at this point with all of the other fantastic FPS games on the market I can’t see it being a title I would go out of my way to buy on day one.

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