After a very long wait and anticipation of colossal proportions, Kilzone 2 finally leaps and bounds on to our shiny black console. Looking back I feel sorry for its developers, Guerrilla Games, because since the first tech demo, shown at Sony’s E3 press conference in 2005, they have pretty much cast this game’s expectations in stone. “This is what it will be like”, they said, and today, four long development years on, I bet they would happy take that claim back. Personally I don’t think they should though, as without those promises Killzone 2 could have easily been an average shooter, that would easily blend in with all the other shooters appearing on consoles today. Sure it has taken this long to get to a level that meets our expectations, but I promise you, it really is worth the wait.
The single player campaign puts you in the shoes of Thomas ‘Sev’ Sevchenko,who is part of the Alpha squad, who play a key role in the assault against the Helghast. Two years on, the battle between the Interplanetary Strategic Alliance (ISA) and the Helghast are still strong, and as a final blow to stop it the ISA has decided to take the battle to the Helghast’s front door; on their cold, barren and unforgiving world of Helghan. Without spoiling the story too much you’ll find Sev and his crew of crazy, eager-to-kill squad mates on the front lines of the assault and you do your very best in destroying the Helghast leader, Emperor Scolar Visari and his army of grunts. Of course your mission is never straightforward and you’ll face many challenges across many locations around the war torn planet, not only on the surface, but also above and below it too.
My first encounter with Killzone 2 was in the recent public demo. Playing through the first mission I had reservations of Killzone 2’s controls, they were pretty uncomfortable after playing most console FPS’s on the Xbox 360, so getting used to the PS3 pad took a little readjusting. Sadly you cannot assign individual controls yourself, you do however have a set selection of setups available to you. I found the ‘Alternate 2’ button layout the most comfortable, and more in line with Call of Duty’s layout, which was something I felt more at home with. Although I was still not 100% satisfied, I decided that it was best of the bunch and begun the single player campaign.
The game begins with a fantastic, and epic, CGI intro, with visuals and sounds that will please any lover of intergalactic warfare. Once you take control of your lead character, Sev, you find yourself landing on Helghan soil, just like in the demo. After playing through the first few chapters you soon realize that the team of level designers, artists and sound engineers have put together a jaw dropping game of epic proportions. I know I have been saying the word ‘epic’ quite a few times now, but the game really feels and plays just that, it’s an experience I’ve not felt in a game for quite some time. The same feeling when playing Half-Life for the first time or Call of Duty 4 springs to mind too, but the bar has truly been raised over the heads of these classic titles, and then some!
From the game’s gritty graphics and lighting, through to the level design and enemy AI, you feel that you are really ‘there’, the feeling that you are part of the war as it plays out all around you and in front of your very eyes. The beautifully constructed levels don’t feel like they were created by a level designer using the game’s engine, instead they appear like they’ve been built from the ground up, brick by brick, and have been there, all weathered and beaten, for many years. Every wall, window, passage and stairway feels like it has been naturally put there, rather than having a reason for being there only to lead you along a path or grant you access to sections of the level. Although the game does have a liner path, there are enough routes through the levels to make you feel you are not forced down a set path of corridors, halls and walkways. Instead, you feel that the direction you have taken is a naturally made decision to go in that direction, rather than the feeling you get in other games of being ushered down a set path.
The enemy AI, although they can be a little dumb at times, are pretty good, they push forward towards you if you hide too much, they flank you when you’re in more open environments or they pin themselves down, taking cover from your attacks whilst in small corridors and pathways. There are times where some levels can prove to be quite a challenge and its not long until you realize that you have to play Killzone 2 in a more aggressive manner. On some situations when you are under heavy attack you are encouraged to make that John Rambo-esque push forward, because if you don’t you’ll be there for the whole day picking of an unlimited amount of spawning enemies until you DO realize you have to push forward. Once you do make a move your team-mates move up with you, pushing the enemy back in tow. It all makes for an intense warfare experience, at a level I’ve not experienced in a shooter for some time, Call of Duty 4 comes close to the same experience. With the stunning visuals and environments, the noise from the explosions and the thrill of being forced to push forward into a sea of gunfire and rocket explosions, it’s an intense journey through and through.
No FPS is without its armoury of available weapons, and Killzone 2 is no exception. From the attention to detail in the models, the sound they make when fired, through to the tiny effects of the empty bullets shells hitting the floor; everything ads to the feeling of being in the heat of the action. You can only carry two types of weapons on you, a pistol class and a heavy weapon class; the latter can be filled by your choice between such weapons like shotguns, automatic machine guns, sniper rifles or rocket/grenade launchers. Electric and explosive grenades are your secondary attacks and can make light work against a close bunch of enemies exiting an APC, dropping in from a dropship or huddled together in a tight corridor. Planting C4 bombs make good used of the PS3’s Sixaxis controller, although it can look a little robotic looking on screen, it’s a nice alternative to just holding down a face button.
If you are tired of walking there are a number of vehicles you can jump into within the single player campaign. These kick off very early on with tanks and then in later missions you soon get to control the awesome mech and fighting off nearby gunships with gun emplacements aboard your mothership – as it sits in low orbit above the planets surface of Helghan.
From the pictures and videos you’ve no doubt seen, you’ll already know the level that the developers have gone to in order to meet our expectations from ‘that’ E3 video. Although not exactly spot-on it does come very close to their early promises, which is no mean feet when you think this is all being rendered in real-time. From the realistic and beautifully lit environments, the guns and vehicles, to even your characters themselves – everything has been faithfully crafted with a realistic and natural feel to them. Environments and buildings are weathered and torn into pieces of rubble from the acts of war. Guns and vehicles are scratched and beaten by prolonged use, bullet damage or rocket fire. Even Sev and his squad look like they have been dragged through war torn hell and back. It all converges to create Killzone 2’s ability in engulfing you within its world and story.
Just like its graphics the sound in Killzone 2 is a pleasure to your ears too, that is if you take the pleasure in hearing mortar shells land at your feet, bullets ricochet off near by walls to the sweet sound of gunfire as you pump lead into your oncoming foes. With the 5.1 sound cranked up you can easily feel totally immersed in the action. Vocal talent throughout the game is of a high standard too – Sean Pertwee returns to the game, this time providing the gravely, yet menacing voice of Colonel Radec. Another British Hollywood actor, Brian Cox, also lends his compelling vocal talents as the Emperor Scolar Visari. And even your nearby squadies all show character and personality in their performances that fit together very well within the game to help tell the game’s story.
So you can get the impression that Killzone 2 has already left a positive mark with its single player campaign, so now that the Killzone servers have been switched on we can dive into some multiplayer carnage. On entering the multiplayer Warzone area of the game you can join or create a game, access your friends list, view received messages, view your online statistics or create and view online clans. Once online you can find yourself battling in a possible five mission types. All of them are pretty straightforward but what is different is that switching to each type after every round is seamless. You’ll play for the standard 5mins on one mission type, say Assassination, and then once either team has won in that time the game will announced the next mission type – Search and Retrieve – and the game will continue under the new objectives and rules for that new game mode. There are no waiting about in lobbies until you exhaust the entire set of missions in that session, which will no doubt keep gamers playing for longer. With the addition of clans, tournament modes and the seamlessly progressive mission types, there will be plenty to keep you occupied once you are done with the single player campaign.
Overall, Killzone 2 is a gorgeous piece of gaming art, with a great story and a compelling and sometimes challenging single player campaign. It has truly raised the bar pretty high in the console FPS genre and will no doubt become a killer app for Sony’s console this year. If you already have the console and you are the kind of person that likes to engulf themselves in intergalactic warfare then you cannot go wrong in picking up a copy of the game to join in with your growing library of (ok one for the road), epic, PlayStation 3 titles.