Why is this dust so damn pretty?
Before we get started, let’s set the record straight. The original Killzone was a disappointment. Not only was it not a “Halo Killer”, it wasn’t even a “Make Halo Feel Somewhat Bad About Itself-er". Ultimately, Guerrilla Games’ original entry in the franchise was at best a mediocre shooter that was remembered more for its failed hype than any major gameplay innovations. This time, though, Sony and Guerrilla are striking back, and Killzone 2 looks to be strapped and ready for a showdown with Master Chief.
[image1]Now the normal thing to do in reviews is kick off with a bit about the story, but since there really isn’t one here, there’s not a lot to say. The ISA, tired of Helghast invasions, have decided they’d like to be the invading force for once, basically because they have all these neat invasion ships that are just collecting mothballs, sitting around in hangars with no one to man them. So the Federation decides to ride out and strike at the Helghast home world of Helghan, named such because putting “Hel” on the front of words helps the player know that the bad guys are evil. I’m sure they eat Helsandwiches and have Helsex, which once you think about it sounds a bit kickass. Maybe these bad guys are onto something after all.
Players take control of Sgt. Sev, a member of Alpha Squad. Joining your crew are your stereotypical mix of shooter characters; including “black guy who is boisterous” and “smartass teammate who will come through for you in a pinch”. One member of the team even sports a dew rag, further reinforcing the truth that Gears of War taught us; a thin piece of cloth covering one’s head is much more useful than a fully encased helmet specially designed to stop bullets. Regardless of fashion accessory choices, it is the role of Alpha Squad to carry out your standard generic shooter missions and single-handedly win the war. Sewer level, train level, obligatory turret and mech sections, they’re all here to give you that comfortable feeling that in no way challenges your preconceived notions of what a shooter is supposed to be.
While Killzone 2 doesn’t really do anything to break the mold, it succeeds at perfecting the standard conventions. Weapons are extremely balanced so players never feel completely outgunned or overpowered; there is one mission where gamers are given an “ultimate weapon” for a while, but it is immediately stripped away once you start the next stage. In a way, it is brilliant, as the taste of power is a bit of a dig at other shooters that allow you to obtain some equivalent of Doom’s BFG and mow through the enemy swarms with reckless abandon. Unfortunately for you, that’s not how this game works, so it’s back to your standard assault rifles and shotguns. Yeah, you’re going to have to win this war the hard way.
Winning the hard way means tactics play a big role and the A.I. governing the Helghast is a damn fine tactician. Enemies work very well in groups, spreading out and laying down cover fire as their buddies try to dislodge you from cover with grenades or allow their friends to sneak around and flank you. While the action is often frantic and harried, players are tasked with keeping a cool head at all times since running in guns blazing means a quick trip home in a rather cramped box. What you are left with is a shooter that combines the ferocity of Gears of War with the strategic acumen of Ghost Recon. It’s an interesting hybrid, and one that works very, very well.
[image2]Of course for those tired of shooting wave after wave of computer-controlled baddies, there’s multiplayer, which is the reason many play FPS games in the first place. Here again, Killzone 2 doesn’t innovate, but rather improves what already exists. First off is match structure, which features all the standards you’ve come to expect in capture the flag, team deathmatch, and so on.
However, this is where things get interesting, as the game doesn’t simply have you play one match, kick you back to the menu, and ask you to set up the next, but rather each session consists of several different rounds in a row, making for a continuous, unbroken session. So you may start off a game playing capture the flag, but once one team scores and earns a point for the round, the game suddenly switches over to assassination for the next bout. Suddenly, all those enemies who were chasing your flag carrier turn into easy fodder, and if one of them happens to be the assassination target then congrats, an easy point for your team. This goes on for five rounds, each match being different than the last and ultimately offering a very satisfying experience.
It’s also quite en vogue to copy the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare experience model, so Killzone 2 does that as well because it really, desperately wants to be one of the cool kids. As with most other games you start off as a lowly soldier and earning experience points in combat allows you to unlock new classes and weapons. Here again, though, things get crazy because the game never locks you into a single class, and impressive performances allow you to transfer abilities from one class to another.
If you’re playing as a medic, there may be a special optional requirement that you revive five downed soldiers in a round. Doing so grants you a service ribbon, and earning eight of these ribbons nets you a medic badge. Now, you can take that badge over to any other class and retain the ability to revive teammates even if you aren’t specifically playing as a medic. This concept stretches across all classes so you can easily create a saboteur who is invisible or a sniper who can deploy sentry guns to watch his back.
[image3]Now players can mix and match skills to create their very own Ultimate Warrior minus the face paint and bicep streamers. Overall, it’s an amazing multiplayer setup that will likely keep PS3 owners coming back again and again the same way Halo has managed to hold the attention of the Xbox crowd after all these years.
On audio-visual qualities, this title is, bar none, the best-looking game I have seen on the current generation of consoles. Everything, from the environment to the enemy soldiers, has a visual clarity that will easily floor most gamers; this is honestly the first game where I spent a good amount of time watching dust waft in the breeze, because the visuals are just that impressive.
Complementing the graphics is audio which simply must be heard to be believed for its sheer inspiration of awe. The entire game is recorded in 7.1 surround sound, creating quite the treat for those with a nice home theater system. If you’re playing the game on a big screen TV with a thunderous speaker setup, then I recommend you grab a diaper, because from the first moments you land on Helghan, this game is going to wow the poop right out of you.
Truly, Killzone 2 is the sort of game no PS3 owner should be without, and if you were on the fence for some reason, then hop off on whatever side leads you to a local store to pick this up (if just to prevent the fence from crushing your balls). Even though there are a few minor hiccups (ally A.I. wandering into the path of machine gun nests, and some incredibly difficult sections), everything else about the game is pitch perfect. Hold your heads high, PS3 owners, you now have another shooter you can be proud of; just don’t hold your heads too high... headshots are worth more points.