Hey, remember that game Killzone? The one that came out on Playstation 2 and without warning blew the socks off everyone? Yeah, neither do I. That’s because in 2004 when the original Killzone shipped it received little fanfare and garnered average scores from reviewers. The chances are even higher that many gamers never even played it. So, the question is how the sequel to such a forgettable game got shouldered with being one of the biggest titles to come out on the Playstation 3? Well, the hype machine has had its’ way with 'Killzone 2', and fanboys and journalists alike are already touting it as being a potential 2009 'Game of the Year' contender. So, does Killzone 2 meet these lofty expectations or is it another victim of pre-release over hype? The answer is, a little bit of both.
If, like me, you were one of the many people who didn’t play the first 'Killzone', don’t worry about jumping into this one and not following the story. It is definitely not a pre-requisite. You play as Sev, an elite Alpha Team soldier in the ISA army. The ISA is at war with a space people called the Helghan, and your squad is front and center in the invasion of the Helghan home planet, Helghast. The action starts with the initial invasion landings and follows Sev and his squad as they fight their way through waves of enemy troopers en route to capture evil dictator Scolar Visari.
The story claims to be science fiction, but in reality Killzone 2 is a thinly veiled World War II shooter plot line. The Helghan are fundamentally space Nazi’s, Visari is a bald space Hitler, and the ruins of planet Helghast are a stand-in for a Germany transformed by war. Even the mission structures fall victim to this as the game often has you taking out anti-aircraft guns, dodging artillery strikes, and completing various other WWII like tasks. The over-the-top militaristic voice acting can also be grating as all the characters seem to bark at each other and make derogatory mother jokes. All this adds up to a single player campaign that isn’t very original, or even particularly interesting, but that doesn’t matter because Killzone 2 is still a blast to play.
What this game lacks in story, it makes up for in gameplay. This is a first person shooter after all so it is important that its, well, fun to shoot things, and I’m happy to report that it is. The developers at Guerrilla Games have clearly put heaps of time and effort on the actual game mechanics. Pick up any of the standard fare weapons in Killzone 2 and you will notice that they feel like they have substance and sound satisfying. It’s hard you put your finger on it, but all the weapons (except for maybe the flamethrower) feel realistic and powerful. Your enemies also react to being shot as if they were taking real bullets. Blast a Helghan in the chest and he will be launched backwards like he has been tackled; shoot him in the legs and he will he will crumple like paper bag. All this makes shooting it out with the enemy shock-troopers all the more pleasing.
Though they are a joy to shoot, the Helghast don’t exactly stand around and wait for you to do so, instead making you fight for every inch of their home world. The A.I. is by and large capable. Enemies take cover well, use grenades to flush you out, will attempt to flank you, and if all else fails they even will fall back to safer ground. Close quarters combat throws them off however, and ends up with the both of you running in circles in a frantic attempt to melee one another.
Your squad mates, though generally reliable and effective combatants, will also occasionally suffer from a moment of idiocy as they get stuck behind invisible walls or block your path through a door. Ultimately the A.I. in Killzone 2`s single player campaign, even if not exactly outstanding, is serviceable. The good news is its` pretty hard to notice middling A.I. while you are swooning over the stunning visuals here.
Yes, that’s right; Killzone 2 is arguably the prettiest FPS on a console. While waging war on the battlefield you will be treated to swirling smoke, realistic particle effects, gorgeous lighting, and the best looking gun models seen in a shooter by far. The developers have really strived to coax the best out of the PS3 and it shows, as the game is a visual spectacle to behold. There is an incredibly dirty, gritty, lived in feel to everything that only attention to detail can provide. Unfortunately Killzone 2’s technical prowess is undermined by its tiresome art direction, the problem being that the battlegrounds of planet Helghast are not very inspired. In fact we have seen this all before, lots and lots of times before. There is a very prominent 'Blade Runner' meets 'Aliens', meets 'Dune' feel throughout the entire game which is neither interesting too look at or pleasant to be in. Unoriginal setting aside, Killzone 2 is still a technical achievement that raises the bar for impressive visuals on a console to date.
After playing through the entire campaign it becomes clear that all Guerrilla Games did with Killzone 2 was take the typical space-marine shooter and give it a fresh coat of paint and a few new features. There isn’t much new here, it’s largely retreading old ground. What does elevate the game over the competition is the impressive multiplayer component. ‘Warzone’ is Killzone 2’s online hybrid of 'Team Fortress 2' team based combat, and 'Call of Duty 4' ranking system. It works surprisingly well. Players start out with just an assault rifle and must earn XP in order to acquire new weapons and new abilities, such as medic (reviving downed teammates) or engineer (building turrets). Game types include team deathmatch, search and destroy, assassination, and capture the flag. Again, as with the single player, these are all multiplayer components you’ve seen in other games, but Killzone 2 manages to feel fresh by being well balanced and heavily polished. Even more impressive is the 32 player servers and the fact that the game looks just as good in multiplayer as it does in single player.
One glaring issue that detracts from the online experience, and it really is no fault of the game, is the lack of in game chat going on. Why Sony doesn’t take a hint from Microsoft and include a cheap headset with PS3? I have no idea. Still, the multiplayer here is a gem, and should prove as engaging and addictive as any 'Call of Duty' or 'Halo' online action.
The end result here is a bit of mixed bag. What Killzone 2 does well, it does very well. It is pure eye candy with a silky smooth frame rate and graphics that truly push the PS3 boundaries, and combat that is overall enjoyable and varied enough to keep you interested. However, those of you concerned with innovative game play and original storylines need not apply. Multiplayer is the deal breaker here. If you’ve ventured onto Playstation Network and are in search of the next big online shooter then Killzone 2 is made for you. It will bring a smile to your face and may take over you life. Go and buy it now. If the single player is all you are interested in, then your mileage may vary. Give it a rent before you buy.
Gameplay:8.5, Graphics:10, Sound:9, Innovation:7.5, Mojo:8.5 Final: 8.7 / 10