Check out the Video Review.
Since its announcement, Killzone 2 has been touted as the proving point for the necessity of both the PlayStation 3’s powerful Cell Processor and its spacious blu-ray disks. The tech demo shown at E3 in 2005 promised what seemed to be impossible, and suspicions were quickly raised that it wasn’t, in fact, in-game footage. It wasn’t, and all at once eyes turned to Guerilla Games, expecting them to either deliver an experience seemingly impossible on any other platform or die trying. After numerous delays moved it from a launch window to a Winter 2009 release, expectations are through the roof, and there’s little that can describe the burden Killzone 2 carries with it.
Picking up two years after the events of original, Killzone 2 brings the fight to the Helghast's home world of Helghan, in an attempt to end the war by capturing their leader, Emperor Scolar Visari, voiced expertly by Brian Cox. There isn’t much to the narrative, and very little in terms of plot twists and turns that haven’t been overdone in previous shooters. There’s a war, the Helghast are jerks, the ISA hope to end their brutality by invading, and Visari will defend Helghan to its end. Going in expecting something on the level of BioShock is asking far too much, and an experience more akin to Gears of War’s should be anticipated instead.
But, even then, the actual story still falls somewhat short. Much of the game’s plot brings Sergent Tomas “Sev” Sevchenko’s Alpha Squad through Helghan’s city streets and buildings, working their way towards the capitol and destroying the Helghast’s powerful defensive weapons. It’s extremely linear, and the enemy variety is nothing to be proud of, but neither of those are really too much of a problem. The issues with the game are in its supporting characters, which while voiced adequately, aren’t even remotely memorable. While Gears was lambasted for having a minimalist plot and lack of characterization, there was still a good deal of personality in Delta Squad, and most who have played the game can likely name the members and give at least a basic description of their personalities. Killzone 2’s characters are, in comparison, flat, cardboard cutouts of soldiers, who wander on screen, deliver a few uninspired, vulgar lines of dialogue, and shamble off. They aren't all that likeable, they aren't really interesting, and even the more emotional segments fall flat because of a severe lack of characterization.
It wouldn’t be as much of an issue if the game had cooperative play. Its absence isn’t really a mark against it, but remains one of the biggest mysteries behind Killzone 2. It makes sense that games with a focus on single player omit the option to play through the campaign with a friend, and stories focused on one character’s journey also usually get a free pass. Killzone 2 is neither of those, and has a focus on online multiplayer, as well as forcing the player fight alongside AI for nearly the entirety of the single player campaign. There are very few moments where Sev is alone, and it’s never really for any reason other than a change of pace, so the absence of co-op seems strange in a game that would have taken to it seemingly easily.
Luckily, many of these issues aren’t as apparent thanks to the game’s unbelievable graphics, which are easily the best on consoles, and likely better than the toughest competition on PCs. Even when held up against Crysis, the definitive PC shooter, Killzone 2’s graphics are paramount, and Guerilla Games has met their target render with surprising accuracy, delivering something for PlayStation 3 owners to be proud of. Character’s models and animations look almost eerily lifelike, and the textures are extraordinary and photorealistic, setting a new bar for the medium. If Sony wanted to prove to gamers that the PS3 is truly the next-generation of gaming, that sentiment was delivered successfully, and they now have the evidence they’ve been clamoring about for going on three years. As expected, the game's audio is also top notch, with an impressive score and wonderful sound effects across the board. Occasional audio glitches involving player proximity might become annoying at times, but it never undermines the otherwise wonderful auditory experience.
Mechanics of the game aren’t anything unfamiliar. There’s a first-person cover mechanic, which is somewhat awkward in practice. Even when stuck behind an object, enemies seem to have too easy of a time finding places to put their bullets, as if Sev’s body is hanging out too much, despite their ability to essentially disappear behind even small walls. Gunplay feels much slower and more meticulous when compared to its contemporaries, and the control scheme definitely takes some getting used to, but neither is unpleasant, just different. A typical array of weapons are scattered around the battlefield; a variety of machine-guns, shotguns, some powerful grenades and explosives. From time to time, the game will force a different weapon into the hands of the player, and save for a few noticeable exceptions, namely the lightning gun, much of that time will be spent scavenging around for the original starting rifle.
Sixaxis’s motion controls are supported, and forced into the gameplay, exemplifying both what’s ideal and awful about them. Occasionally being forced to twist the controller around to open doors is about as unnatural as can be, especially while under enemy fire, and feels incredibly intuitive. On the other hand, needing to keep a cool hand while sniping shows the motion control’s true potential, and being able to tweak aim with subtle controller movements is a pleasant experience.
The stale singleplayer experience and less-than-perfect gameplay all bow down to Killzone 2’s multiplayer, which is some of the best of the generation. It’s easy to draw comparisons to other games in the genre, from Gears to Call of Duty, but Killzone 2 has several points that set it apart and create a wholly unique experience. Whereas its competition might throw players into a game of Capture Point, Deathmatch, or any of the other typical modes that populate the options menu of a standard shooter, Killzone 2’s warfare is much more diverse. In a way, it’s a gentle, seamless blend of several different modes that cycle through one at a time. The game might throw the players into a team deathmatch for a few minutes before jumping to a different mode, followed by another, followed by another, awarding points to the first team to successfully complete the objective. The result is something incredibly chaotic, yet beautiful; an orchestra of organized play that rewards teamwork while punishing disorder. It’s all framed by a leveling system, unlocking weapons, items and other perks for successful play. With up to 32 players, the game’s online component easily outshines its single player mode, all the while delivering the same wonderful visuals with minimal slowdown. Large, epic battles are staged in any of the game’s many massive multiplayer arenas, and the faults present in the gameplay and controls aren’t as evident when everyone else needs to deal with them as well.
Killzone 2 isn’t the best shooter ever made, but it has done an admirable job at giving Sony the killer title they increase the Playstation 3’s value. Even before release, there were comparisons being drawn to Halo and other popular shooters, with fans hoping that this would be the mainstream shooter to give the system its mascot. Only time will tell if that is the truth, but even without that, it has fulfilled its duty at proving the console’s worth. Without the blu-ray disk drive and its ridiculous storage space, the textures couldn’t be as high-resolution and photorealistic as they are. Without the cell-processor and its amazing power, the game couldn’t support as many light sources as it does at once. Without the PlayStation 3, you cannot get the Killzone experience anywhere else. If that was the game’s goal, to prove that point to gamers, than they’ve done their job, and given PS3 owners one hell of a title in the process. The single player definitely hurts without cooperative play, but the multiplayer and overall stunning presentation should earn Killzone 2 a spot on any gamer’s shelf.