Killzone 2

Let me start by saying that Killzone 2 is one of the best games I have ever played and is up there with the Halo franchise in terms of fast-paced First Person Shooter action. It continues the struggle of the I.S.A (in other words, the human race) against the Helghast (human descendants who were forced to mutate to survive in the harsh environment of the planet that they colonised). The Helghast characterisation is very reminiscent of a dictatorship; they are portrayed as being relentless to their cause and will stop at nothing for the destruction of humanity.

In the, somewhat mediocre original, Killzone, the Helghast attacked the colony planet of Vekta but were repelled by the I.S.A forces present. This time round the human race is taking the fight to the Helghast home-world in an attempt to stop further attacks.

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You begin on the “New Sun”, hovering at high altitude above the planet, shortly after which the first assault on the planets surface begins. This doesn’t go completely to plan. I won’t ruin the story, but the action moves from urban warfare to desert scenery on the way of futuristic spaceship interiors, as you try to find the illusive Scolar Visari, the leader of the Helghast. You play the character of Sev, a rather quiet character in distinct contrast to the over-the-top macho-ism of Marcus Fenix, the protagonist of the Gears of War franchise. And although he does speak throughout the cut-scenes, you never really get to know the character. In fact character development throughout Killzone 2 is rather shallow; you won’t be crying due to your emotional attachment at any point. As with a lot of these high profile games, the story in general is rather generic but it does have some good moments, with slight emotional meaning, and it does move forward with propose. It’s also understandable and easy to follow; in other games, of this calibre, it’s sometimes not very clear exactly what you’re doing.

Killzone 2 is a shooter, if it doesn’t get that right then this review might as well stop here. It’s safe to say that Killzone ticks all the boxes; I am still writing after all. There is a good choice of weapons; there’s the standard I.S.A and Helghast assault rifles, a Helghast SMG, heavy-assault rifles, sniper rifle, flame-thrower (which is rather satisfying to use) and there’s also a lightening gun, which pretty much makes you invincible; luckily you don’t get to keep it for long. Each has a distinct feel with very realistic re-coil, really giving the weapons the weight they need. It’s been a long time since a console FPS has got this so right and Killzone 2 nails it, it’s very fun shooting people. In terms of what weapons you can carry, this isn’t Doom. You can’t carry around the equivalent of a small arsenal, only one primary weapon and a pistol, which has infinite ammo but is pretty ineffective. There’s also the addition of grenades which, although two types are found in the game, is mostly dominated by the standard issue frag grenade. These are definitely worth using; they cause the expected amount of damage but don’t really have the corresponding visual impact they should. In later levels, you also find a number of “lightening” grenades hanging about; these electrocute all enemies in the area of the initial blast and, although harder to use than the frags, can also be instrumental in your survival.

Killzone 2 also implements a simple cover system which although necessary for survival in many portions of the game, can be rather annoying in terms of it’s execution. By holding the L2 trigger, you will either crouch ,if in the open, or stick to the nearest cover. This means that if you’re behind a barrier you’ll crouch down behind it, if you’re next to a wall you’ll simply flatten up against it. Once in cover you can pop out, either up or to the sides, to aim at your enemies. The entire system is very reminiscent of that found in Gears of War but it not executed nearly as well and can lead to a few annoying situations. This isn’t t say it’s not useful. Taking cover is vital in order to survive many of the missions, especially in the latter half of the game, and can be used as a bit of a time out when you need to regenerate your health.

In general, Killzone 2 is a very standard shooter: it doesn’t do anything new; it doesn’t have an incredible story and it definitely doesn’t redefine the genre. What Killzone 2 does have is polish, and this is what make it stand out above the rest. An example of this is the multiple animations present relating to the interaction with weapons, lifts and other in-game objects. The game gives you a distinct sense of presence, as if your character is actually there in the game world and you’re not just some floating camera, which a lot of games do not. When climbing in and out of turrets, the animations look very natural, really adding to the experience and overall, everything feels much more realistic because of these additions. Another point to mention is the quality of the physics used when shooting the enemy; when a Helghast soldier is impacted in one of their shoulders, they will get blow back from the actual point of impact, rather than just dying by way of a generic death sequence. Like I said, these are only little observations but they are what makes the game special.

An addition that surprised me when playing Killzone 2 was the inclusion of vehicle segments, although it shouldn’t really have been a surprise as it seems you can’t have a modern shooter without something to disrupt the monotony that is killing hordes of enemies. Killzone has a few of these segments and, although successful at breaking up the pace a little, they do come across as sequences solely included for visual substance rather than any real significance in terms of gameplay. There is one section about half way through the game that really does look impressive and is drenched in atmosphere, however it is over too quickly and rather repetitive in terms of what you’re doing. Don’t get me wrong these sections aren’t bad, they control well and the vehicles have weight, it just begs the question, with core game mechanics that are so good, does the consumer really want these generic vehicle components?

When Killzone 2 was originally announced, there was considerable controversy over its graphical presentation. The press were told that the CGI movie shown was in fact the in-game graphics, and that movie looked fantastic. Later it was discovered that the footage was indeed pre-render, making a lot of people think the actual game would never reach the quality of visuals that were shown. I can tell you today that although not 100% as good as that infamous trailer, Killzone 2 gets very, very close. It is probably the best looking console game I have ever seen, blowing even Gears of War 2 out of the water when it comes to atmosphere. It’s the extra layer of small details that really makes it stand out: dust, debris floating around and a multitude of small lightening effects make Killzone appear near photo-realistic. Throughout the first few levels the visual tone is very urban, greyed out buildings, overcast sky, that sort of thing. Luckily – I’m looking at you Gears of War – this isn’t the case throughout. There are desert and spaceship locals, that really have their own distinct style; the desert setting has loads of warm colours with a beautiful skyline while the spaceship is very clean cut, reminding me of Mirror’s Edge’s visual presentation. This variation really keeps the game interesting to look at, combined with multiple set-pieces throughout, Killzone 2 really immerses you in the world that the developers have created.

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The sound design is also very impressive although it does have some negatives. Starting with the good: the weapons sound fantastic, making head-shotting a little too realistic, and the ambient and background sounds effects are good. There’s no doubt that Killzone 2 has loads of sounds effects you don’t really notice but would definitely miss if they weren’t there. What does let the game down is the voice work; it isn’t bad by any means, it’s just simply not on the same par as the rest of the game and not very believably. Voice work seems to be the Achilles heel of most high profile games, such as Halo and Gears, there’s no reason way these games can’t hold the emotional depth that blockbuster films have, however something always stops this from occuring, most notable to me is the voice work.

Killzone 2 also contains a lot of rewards for playing it. Upon collecting Helghast intel documents in the campaign, you can redeem “gifts” on the official Killzone website. Gifts such as paper-craft and high quality print version of posters. Something like this really hasn’t been done before; it nice to see the developer thinking outside of the box. There’s also the addition of Playstation Trophies, similar to the Achievements found on the Xbox 360. Although by no means the first PS3 game to include trophies, Killzone’s are the first to feel in line with that found on the 360. They reward you for completing not so obvious tasks, such as killing a boss type enemy in a certain time. Considering I find it hard to play a game now without Achievements, it’s excellent that Trophies are finally starting to hold the same value.

Up until now I’ve only talked about the single-player campaign which is only a small part of the package that is Killzone 2. There is a substantial multiplayer component both on and offline which has a lot to offer, as well as having many unusual (but good) features. Offline you can battle it out against computer controlled bots across all of the available maps and game types, which isn’t very entertaining but could be useful to train your skills for the online mode. Having bots is pretty unusual but a nice addition as they can also be used online if you don’t have enough friends. And you’ll need a lot of friends as the online mode supports up to 32 players. Since the game isn’t actually released yet, the servers for online play aren’t up and running meaning I haven’t been able to try it out; the service could be terrible and extremely laggy. However, from what I have heard it preforms well and is a lot of fun. There is a points system, similar to that found in Call of Duty 4, in which you can rise ranks through playing well. Rising through these ranks unlocks more classes and weapons giving reason to wasting hours of your life online. What’s also very impressive is a rolling game type option, which I have not seen before. This is where, on the same map, once a game type has been completed another one begins; for example, you could be playing deathmatch, once that’s finished a capture the flag game could start without going to a lobby. This seems like a really good feature and it’s surprising it hasn’t made it into more games. Throughout the single player campaign you are joined by multiple squad members so it’s strange that you can’t play the campaign cooperatively online; this seems like a pretty large omission.

Killzone 2 contains a very striking experience; there’s fantastic set pieces and incredible gameplay, all of which is drench in atmosphere. There are a few small issues but nothing that really drags the game down. It appears that the Killzone franchise may have finally lived up to the title bestowed to it all those years ago; Halo-killer. Buy it now.

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