Itâ€™s easy to be jaded by the alarming number of sequels these days. Thereâ€™s an obvious trend towards the comfortable familiarity, and consequential mega bucks spent by consumers, on a â€˜safe betâ€™. Of course, this means developers of successful original titles could sit back, relax, give their baby a superficial lick of paint, throw in a couple of new guns, call it a sequel and watch the money roll in.
Luckily for us â€“ perhaps because Killzone was never that successful a system-mover in the first place - Guerilla Games has steered away from such a cynical vision. Killzone 2 does not so much revolutionize its genre, or, vitally, overhaul the spirit of the original, but does such a damn fine job at working within traditional FPS boundaries that it will no doubt be the most satisfying, if not inspired, shooter youâ€™ll play all year. The formula has not inherently changed, but Killzone 2 finally feels like the product the original always wanted to be â€“ a visceral shooter that plays like a dream, and looks even better. Guerilla has delivered on that promise, this time round, of a Sony exclusive FPS that absolutely kills. Pun intended.
Obviously, this has much to do with tapping into the grunt of the PlayStation 3, and Guerillaâ€™s working well within the top-tier of itâ€™s potential. The first thing youâ€™ll notice when stepping into the shoes of Alpha Squad leader Tomas â€˜Sevâ€™ Sevchenko, sent to Planet Helghast to eliminate the Helghast war machine, is how alarmingly real his wash basin looks â€“ meticulously detailed in all its inconsequentiality.
Itâ€™s true then, as universally reported, that the visuals are indeed Killzone 2â€™s masterstroke, probably better than anything thatâ€™s been seen so far on a console, and without a doubt the PS3â€™s showcase game of 2009. Killzone 2 has set an almost frightening benchmark for developers, for itâ€™s surely put the pressure on; from release date onward expect to hear â€˜Killzone 2 graphicsâ€™ as a term of reference.
Itâ€™s the little details that astound, scattered throughout every grand, grimy set piece, down to the most insignificant yet beautifully rendered dead plant tucked away in a corner. Given weâ€™re playing in the neglected, war-torn Planet Helghan, the gameâ€™s colour scheme leans towards the dark and grimy â€“ very much scheme du jour - but Killzone 2 shows us what vibrancy can be produced with these depressing hues.
For each of Killzone 2â€™s 10 different landscapes (there are 10 missions in all), thereâ€™s an individual palette to make the area a master-class in art direction, a perfectly orchestrated promo-shot whichever way you turn. Case in point, while playing on the Salamun Bridge, everything sits in an eerie green haze, as if lit by a struggling sunset, when the boom of a grenade plunges it all into sickly yellow clarity. You spin to your left and the proximity of your enemy is suddenly immediate, the hollow faces and spilt blood of your comrades jarring and vital. All the while, bullets fly, the wind howls and a break in the cloud casts shafts of white across the barricades. It sounds amazing. It looks amazing. You could not ask for a more immediate tug at your most primitive instinct to survive.
With such harsh light shed upon its nuts and bolts, Killzone 2â€™s physics engine needs to stand up to the scrutiny, and thankfully it all works. Enemies fall depending on their injury. Flammable materials catch on fire. Stonework will crumble if disturbed by a grenade, injuring any poor sod positioned beneath it. Smoke will impair your vision, and my God, you can almost feel the sting.
Sev, too, works as a fully three-dimensional character within his environment, and moves with a startling kinetic weight; every action feels as if it has 250 pounds of soldier behind it. This kind of immersion into a living, breathing body takes a bit of getting used to, but itâ€™s vital to grasp â€“ if Sev turns around too slowly, or doesnâ€™t build up enough speed to reach his next point of cover, heâ€™s dead. Itâ€™s as tactile an experience you can have as a virtual character.
Guns feel equally well implemented, weighty with appropriate response and recoil, enduringly satisfying to use. Itâ€™s all standard shooter fare (aside from a couple of fantastical doozies that can surely be spoiled for you elsewhere), but blissfully responsive to your reflex and instinct. One can see the influences of a million other games in these weapons, and they play like an amalgamation of the very best - the definitive assault rifle, the final word on the plain old shotgun. A note - Guerilla has added a slight deviation to gunplay, the â€˜Sixaxis snipeâ€™: line up your shot with the tilt of the controller. Itâ€™s not entirely necessary, but it adds an extra element of immersion to that headshot.
Killzone 2â€™s only real nuance from otherwise standard FPS gameplay is its cover system, which on the whole works very well: hold down L2 near an object of cover and Sev will hug the wall of it. From this position he can pop up, shoot, pop down again, and is fairly invulnerable to distant fire. The system is vital in Killzone 2, and boy, youâ€™d struggle without it - in some of the heavier onslaughts, even a few seconds of visibility guarantees a swift and brutal demise. You must learn to advance slowly and shoot carefully, for bullets are scarce and the Helghast are out for blood.
In all their red-eyed anonymity the Helghast are indeed an odd bunch, discernable from one another in only the most superficial ways â€“ archaic class-based British vocals and small variations in armor for example - but however many you encounter on the battlefield, they never act with a pack mentality. They may look the same, but fight like individuals who are imbued with extremely human fight-or-flight instincts. It is far too often we see enemies in modern shooters who seem ignorant to their own vulnerability, running into wide open spaces waving their guns as if to say â€˜pop my head off! I donâ€™t really need it!â€™
The Helghast are no such idiots. They will duck behind bunkers if shot at, retreat if overwhelmed, and remember your position with deadly aggression. They will use every tactic in the book to force you to reveal yourself, and once you do, theyâ€™ll swarm. If you try a new approach, theyâ€™ll react accordingly, and move across the maps with no invisible orchestration. There are certainly times in the single player campaign where battles are as liberating and unpredictable as playing a multiplayer match. Itâ€™s exciting, progressive stuff, and one gets the feeling that after Killzone 2, pre-programmed puppets simply wonâ€™t suffice.
With such creativity on display elsewhere, it is unusual then that Killzone 2 sticks so vehemently to other FPS traditions. Objectives are strictly uninspired â€“ destroy three towers, defend the bridge type stuff â€“ and as you move from one stage to the next, youâ€™ll realize variances in these objectives are inconsequential to your mission as a whole, which is essentially forward momentum. Gureilla does its best to offer you breaks from the slog â€“ think a mec suit and a couple of paint-by-numbers boss battles â€“ but at its heart this is a single minded shooter that rarely steps outside the square. Of course, the intricacies within the gameplay and variances in locale keep things fresh and entertaining, but the lack of any real deviation from the Kill All Baddies directive feels like a missed opportunity.
The plot, too, can be mentioned in the same breath. Hackneyed to the nth degree, Killzone 2 is rife with the recognizable video game caricatures and predictable narrative clichÃ©s that have frustratingly become the norm in shooters of late. The title of the game, essentially, could be Americans Kick Alien Arse (with the tagline War Is Hell And We Can Only Express Our Emotions By Punching Things.) The members of Alpha Squad are all a bunch of quip-spouting, gum-chewing bullies who communicate through insults and the occasional, oddly placed man-hug, each one a cardboard cut-out representative of a single emotion. Watching these po-faced characters spout rubbish like â€˜we got some dead good guys down here, Rico!â€™ in such gorgeously realized surroundings is akin to watching a school play being performed in Carnegie Hall.
It is this majesty that makes these irritants in Killzone 2 worth mentioning, however. Itâ€™s a shame to see areas of neglect in a game that is otherwise so accomplished. That being said, Killzone 2 is so involving on the whole that that these complaints more often than not fade into background quibbling. If you do notice the dodgy script and paint-by-numbers plotting, youâ€™re usually too busy on the edge of your seat - swept away by the brain-blowing urgency of it all - to care. Killzone 2 only shows its soft underbelly in its downtime; for the most part itâ€™s got you by the throat and doesnâ€™t let go.
Of course, with such solid gameplay and graphical prowess at its core, Killzone 2â€™s longevity ticket lies within its online multiplayer. After the Campaign is done and dusted, you can immerse yourself in some less forgiving action courtesy of the Warzone mode, hosting up to a solid 32 players. Multiplayer in Killzone 2 is a fantastically creative and involving affair with a number of customization options (which we covered in some depth in our hands-on preview), catering to every taste and level of ability.
The multiplayer hub lets you choose your faction â€“ goodies and baddies are both on offer here - character and squad, with the option to tailor settings to your liking. Once youâ€™ve joined a game (or created one yourself) you have the choice of one of seven classes: Assault, Engineer, Medic, Scout, Infantry, Tactician and Saboteur. Each has itâ€™s own strengths, and ultimately, weaknesses, but you can create a well-balanced character by combining class badges, earned as you play. Badges are an addictive incentive, particularly as you start off as a default rifleman, limited in skill and weaponry, hooked in with the potential to become harder, better, stronger, faster.
The beauty of the online Warzone can be found in its dynamic objectives, which shift at quick speed within any game. Instead of the predictability of a single traditional objective (capture the flag, for example), you never know what youâ€™ll be doing next â€“ a successful capture the flag will turn into search and destroy, which in turn could become an assassination mission. Across one of eight sprawling maps, it keeps everyone on their toes, and crucially for a newbie, encourages a great deal of teamwork to keep the game moving. These quick shifts give multiplayer endless variation, new ways to play, new stories to tell your buddies. Combined with a class system that can be uniquely mish-mashed, Guerillaâ€™s essentially got it in the bag. For those intimidated by online play - indeed it can be brutal - thereâ€™s also an offline Skirmish mode, which offers the same maps and missions with the inclusion of bots. Itâ€™s a great place to build up your confidence, become familiar with intricacies of the environments, and, even for the kings of the board, hone up on skill.
Thereâ€™s much to celebrate in Killzone 2. A solid campaign, an ever-mutating multiplayer and a graphical leap for mankind. It is important however, to understand that underneath the veneer what we have is also very recognizable: this is still a game that includes token â€˜red barrelsâ€™. For all its guts and glory, for all its taxing, gritty fortitude, Killzone 2 adheres too strictly to the rules of its genre to send itself into the stratosphere. What will stand the test of time is its pitch perfect grasp of said genre, its wonderfully taxing, take-no-prisoners assault on your senses and your trigger finger. It is the ultimate conservative First-Person-Shooter, whether it wants to be or not. And this is why itâ€™s worth your bucks.