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Killzone 2

Killzone

Killzone 2 has a lot to prove; more so than any game should reasonably have to. The one key genre the PlayStation family has always been lacking in has been the first-person shooter, and ever since Killzone was first unveiled in 2003 as a major first-party production, it has always been unfairly labelled as a ‘Halo killer’. However, it was not to be, since the finished game was an enjoyable but unpolished and unrefined effort which required another handful of months in development to smooth out all the creases. The following year, Sony wowed us at E3 with that pre-rendered Killzone 2 trailer and the industry exploded with talk of the power of the PS3 and the potential for the future of the series. And so, Killzone 2 comes with excess baggage in the form of roughly half a decade’s hype and expectation, not to mention thousands of fanboys’ hopes and the chance for Sony to really make a stamp on a genre which has until now largely eluded them.

The most immediately noticeable gameplay element is how slow and leaden your character Sev feels compared to other FPSs. Movement is slow and deliberate (although you can sprint with a press of L3, much like in the first game), jumps are shallow and realistic, and generally you feel like an encumbered, heavy, battle-ready soldier. Further, like the first game the feeling of inertia pervades throughout, with the sense of motion and heft more pronounced than any other FPSs. You sway to the left as you throw grenades; reloads are slow, deliberate and realistic; taking cover down behind walls brings your gun to your chest and sees you peeking over the top; explosions shake the screen, beams of light blind you at times – it all creates something which feels much more tangible and cohesive than just about any other game in the genre.

screenshotIf you don’t find cover you’ll be dead in about two seconds

“The enemies’ AI is strong enough to make each encounter feel unique and organic.”And because of this, gameplay is slower than most FPSs – requiring you to stick to cover, chose your targets carefully and flank your enemies. In gameplay terms it’s probably closer to Rainbox Six Vegas or even Gears of War than most other FPSs, as progress can be slow and very deliberate, and firefights more often than not take place from behind cover. Running and gunning will rarely be of much use, serving only to make you a bullet sponge – particularly since the Helghast are clever, aggressive bastards who use cover, flush you out with grenades and perform their own flanking manoeuvres, and on the harder difficulty levels really test your abilities. In this regard the Helghast are a superb enemy who provide one of the toughest and most enjoyable challenges since F.E.A.R.‘s relentless clone army back in 2005.

Level design is generally of very high quality, with a mixture of wide-open spaces and more intimate enclosed areas. Cover is scattered around, although sometimes the game is cruelly stingy with it, requiring you to take different approaches to the game – perhaps hanging back and taking pot shots with the iron sights, or making liberal use of grenades before rushing across exposed areas. The planet Helghan is predominantly a mass of concrete and steel, although you are taken through various other locales on your travels, including windswept desert outposts and a beautiful and deadly training academy. Areas are well designed, with a mixture of corridors and stairways meaning there’s often more than one vantage point from which you can attack your foes. There is heavy reliance on scripting but it never feels too artificial because the enemies’ AI is strong enough to make each encounter feel unique and organic.

screenshotAllies tend to stick to cover and can sometimes be useful, although it’s normally down to you to lead the attack

The weapons are magnificent; looking and sounding like brutal tools of death. Detail on them is tremendously high, showing all manner of intricate functions as the light reflects from polished chrome. Like the first game, they have been designed to make sense and (theoretically) work for real, which leaves the weapons line-up feeling realistic, plausible and genuinely dangerous – these weapons spit lead, not lasers or plasma. However, this is sci-fi after all, so a few small liberties have been taken with some of the later weapons, but for the most part the arsenal feels surprisingly grounded and evokes memories of Criterion’s 2006 release, Black.

“The weapons are magnificent; looking and sounding like brutal tools of death.”Of course, the subject of much if not most of the speculation over the last few years has concerned the graphics, and whether they can match the 2005 trailer. The jury is still out in this regard, but nonetheless they are incredible, and almost certainly the most attractive graphics ever seen in any console game. Crysis‘ visuals probably outstrip these in reality, but then the graphics capabilities of consoles vs. PCs is a continuously-growing chasm so it’s a bit of a moot point. It’s not just the sheer weight of polygons in which Killzone 2 succeeds either; it’s the little touches and effects. Dust clouds, water and lens flares have never looked better than here, and explosions are viciously glorious. Character models are superb; in particular the increasingly iconic look of the Helghast and their trademark glowing red eyes. Thankfully there are more variations on enemies this time around, with clear differences and differing uniforms between the various Helghan ranks, such as standard troopers, snipers and officers.

screenshotYou’ll notice from the lack of glowing red eyes that these soldiers are on your side

Adding to the visual appeal and solid feel of the gameworld, developers Guerrilla Games have created arguably the finest character physics engine ever seen. You may have seen the ‘Ballet of Death’ marketing video (which can be found on Gametrailers or helpfully stapled on the back of the demo on PSN), which perfectly exemplifies how accomplished the physics are: shoot an enemy in the legs and they will swing out behind him as he falls forward, shoot someone on a rooftop and they’ll fall on the edge and teeter before gravity takes hold and pulls them down, if a falling foe strikes a piece of scenery it is accompanied by a satisfyingly brutal thud. Watch the video, marvel at it in-game, and relish in what is undoubtedly one of the finest physics engines ever created.

Complimenting the visuals perfectly is an accomplished soundtrack and superb audio effects, which really help create the feel of a large-scale battle. Friends and foes shout and scream, bullets ping and impact all around and explosions happen on both sides of the field almost continuously; all of which help the firefights feel that much more immersive and involving. The soundtrack is a sweeping orchestral score with a choir in place, but nonetheless it is a very strong soundtrack and sets the scene nicely for the coming conflict. Unfortunately the script and voice work is considerably less accomplished. The four principal characters are all typical military grunts whose personalities don’t extend beyond shouting “look out” and various profanities every few seconds, and it’s a shame a bit more effort wasn’t put into developing them a little more – in particular squad leader (and returning character) Rico is despicable and foul-mouthed, and frankly you wouldn’t mind seeing him meet an unsavoury end. The first game wasn’t very good at making you empathise with the characters and this game is unfortunately no better in this regard. Likewise, the plot is potentially interesting but it’s never examined in any kind of depth – we never find out why the Helghast invaded Vekta, why they hate the rest of humanity or where this interstellar racial tension came from. It’s a shame as the premise is pretty unique – mankind fighting a bitter, dark version of itself – but background on the potentially interesting plot is never explained, requiring you to dig into information outside of the game to get to the more interesting story points.

screenshotCharacter detail and animation is of incredibly high quality

The sound of the HelghastBrian Cox (X-Men 2, Troy) returns as the genocidal, Hitler-esque Helghan emperor, Scolar Visari, and Sean Pertwee (Equilibrium, Dog Soldiers) makes an appearance again, although this time he voices a Helghan commander, Radec, rather than repirising the role of Hakha from the first game. Both do a superb job and feel perfectly suited to their roles as cold, calculating leaders. What is odd and at times almost comical is how all the other Helghans seem to have originated from East London.The multiplayer is obviously a very focal point of the game, and it has turned out really well. There are five match types to be played (which range from team deathmatch to VIP), with up to 32 players per match. The levels vary from small, intense corridor-based arenas to massive-scale outdoor areas, catering for all manner of weapons across the field. Clearly a lot of ideas have been borrowed from Call of Duty 4, as you rank up in a similar fashion at the end of each match, and you unlock new weapons and abilities as you go. There is a selection of balancing options, such as only playing against those of the same rank and auto-selecting your side to ensure balanced team numbers. The games are generally fast and furious, and excepting a few problems in the first couple of days, they are lag-free and tremendously enjoyable. The cover system does not feature in the multiplayer, however, as Guerrilla said they wanted to keep things fast-paced, and in all honesty its absence never feels like a problem.

“If the refinement and polish of existing ideas to create something spectacular is more your ideal, then this delivers in abundance.”Criticisms have been levelled at Killzone 2 with regard to its lack of originality, which is a fair point. However, how serious you regard this particular factor depends on your stance; if you consider originality extremely important then perhaps Killzone 2 won’t be for you; however if the refinement and polish of existing ideas to create something spectacular (but admittedly at times generic) is more your ideal, then this delivers in abundance. The game’s greatest shortcoming is probably its lack of any kind of co-op modes. While it’s not an essential part of FPSs and many excellent titles have been purely single-player story-driven experiences, the fact you are always with at least one AI buddy and many of the tasks revolve around the aspect of more than one person, it feels like it was almost designed for online co-op, but it was dropped part way through development for whatever reason. It often doesn’t help when your team mates get shot and spend ages lying on the floor crying out for help while you have to clean up the enemy and/or rescue them. It’s a shame Guerrilla didn’t implement co-op, but hopefully they’ll take this suggestion on board for the next game in the series.

Killzone 2 is a tremendously solid game. It doesn’t re-invent the wheel, but Hell; round ones work just fine anyway. Guerrilla Games have actually lived up to the massive potential and delivered one of the best FPSs of the last couple of years, which can happily sit next to and perfectly compliment Resistance 2 in any PS3 owner’s collection. It’s not perfect and there are a few things which could do with a bit more care for the next game – largely the lack of co-op and fairly dull story and characters – but nonetheless, this is one of the most beautiful, explosive and entertaining shooters of the console generation so far. Bring on Killzone 3.

8 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in April 2007.

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