I’ve been itching to play Killzone 2 ever since I saw that infamous E3 2005 trailer showing what developers Guerilla Games had in store for the then-announced PlayStation 3. It was a benchmark that was going to be scrutinized for the next few years. The opinions around the first chapter of Killzone on PlayStation 2 were mixed. It never lived up to the billing of “Halo Killer” and instead ended up being a rather generic first-person shooter, though Guerilla was laying down a foundation in terms of gameplay, art direction and multiplayer content. Not to also forget Killzone: Liberation on the PSP was a surprise hit as well. It’s time now for Guerilla Games to pull back the curtain on its long-awaited sequel, and show off how you use the PlayStation 3 to its full potential.
The story of Killzone 2 takes place a few years after the events of Killzone: Liberation. Whereas in the previous games the Helghasts were battling for control of the ISA colony of Vekta, now it’s time for the ISA to take on the Helghasts in their own backyard on their planet of Helghan. Not only is the ISA looking to settle the score, they’re also looking to capture Scolari Visari, dictator of the Helghan empire. Killzone 2 is played through the eyes of Sev, a member of ISA’s elite squad Alpha Team. You’re assisted in combat with AI support from Rico, who appeared in the original Killzone as well as Liberation, and two new comrades in Natko and Garza. Other characters that some people might remember from the previous Killzone storyline are ISA’s Colonel Jan Templar and Dr. Evelyn Batton.
Now with all that explained, get ready to be dropped into the killzone. The introductory cinematic is just phenomenal to take in. It’s something out of a summer blockbuster film. The art style of Killzone has always captured that grayed, bleak, industrialist military tone in the science fiction motif. It was like you were reliving an alternate universe in World War 2. The horsepower of the graphics really shows. Thankfully with some of the pacing of the action, you’re able to soak in the visual highlights that appear in the levels. The lights and shadows on rocky beaches, sandstorms on dusty mining terrain, to dust and smoke kicking off the ground from high impact explosions; Killzone 2 is a freaking real-time weather machine. Also to add to this visual storm are the visual nuances to textured walls that literally crumble to stray bullets. Bullet holes actually stay in the walls. Sparks, bullet casings and other debris litter the battlefield. There is so much care to detail taken in creating the environments. It’s amazing to see this much care was taken for a first-person shooter. Normally I expect to see this in role-playing games or action adventure titles.
Getting into the level design, it’s littered with Helghast propaganda, reinforcing that you’re on the planet Helghan. The level construction, however, is like multiple stacks; you would think they hired a real architect to construct these game stages. With character design, Guerilla’s artists made sure the Helghast troops stood out other than their trademark glowing red eyes. ISA character designs are also good but for the most part, in single player mode, the characters are mostly the same. With all that I’ve described in the visual canvas of Killzone 2, there are very little scratches you’ll notice. For the most part with all the visuals and effects running in real-time, it’s amazing the frame rate stays consistent. For the amount of Helghasts troopers that storm your way, there are no chugging or slow downs in this game. The odd time you’ll find is the transitions between loading when you proceed via checkouts onto the next level. It’s a one-second blip you’ll encounter but you can live with it. Surprisingly there is no installation process required which is so normal with a majority of PlayStation 3 games these days.
Music and ambient sound effects are also ramped up to go with the high quality graphics. Killzone 2 sports a dynamic DTS 7.1 surround sound mix. The orchestral music builds up and calms down depending on the pacing and action sequences you are partaking in during the single player campaign. It’s a nice touch of Hollywood cinema audio tricks that gives you that immersion. Sound effects of bullets zipping by your head from multiple angles are also mapped to the audio. The only issue some people might find frustrating is listening to the characters talking and explaining story elements. Whereas someone might be on your left talking to you and then it switches to a person on the right, you actually have to be in the proximity and facing the character to actually hear what they’re saying. I thought it was an issue with my audio receiver, but after calibrating it a few times the problem persisted. Wishing for an audio downgrade to Dolby 5.1 or Stereo in options was not to be found. Getting back to the dialogue, the performances are pretty good, with the real standout being Brian Cox’s performance of Visari. He really makes this Helghast villain come alive. I also enjoyed listening to another Helghast villain named Colonel Radec, a sub character who is also well acted. I can’t say there are any good ISA performances with the exception of your character Sev. He seems to be the only one spouting something actually coherent to understand, whereas the rest of the AI troops that accompany you are spouting off enough F-bombs and coarse language that you wish you could mute the audio track. Some may say it’s justified because it’s how you would react on a battlefield, and common courtesy is thrown out the door. Another nice touch of ambient sound comes when you’re traveling through the slums; you get to hear more of Brian Cox’s work, in the form of propaganda speeches on PA systems in the streets.
The gripe some people will have with Killzone 2 revolves around its default control scheme, which is a little sluggish. It does offer other button mapping layouts and when the game’s action ramps up, some players might seek that added responsiveness. However moving your character at breakneck speed wasn’t something that the developers were going for. Almost all first-person shooters move at some crazy speed. It’s fair to say Killzone 2 makes you feel this is the speed you would be moving if you were lugging around a large gun like that.
With so many first-person shooters on the market for PlayStation 3 owners to choose from, Killzone 2 makes the decision-making easy with its in-depth multiplayer features. Online play on any given game lobby can support up to 32 players. Good to know that drops and lags are almost non-existent in this game so far. One of the core features involved with Killzone 2 is the cover system, where you literally press up again structures in the environment to take cover from enemy fire. While taking cover you can peak out to the side or pop up to blind fire your opponents. The weapons all have a distinctive characteristic in terms of how they fire. The recoil and firing rate varies on the assault rifles between ISA vs. Helghast weaponry. If you’re looking for out-of-this-world type weapons, the flamethrower, exploding bolt gun, and electric energy beam are your choice. However usage of these weapons are somewhat limiting in later levels. Other spur of the moments in the escalating battles puts you behind vehicles like tanks and a cool EXOskeleton suit. There’s also the inclusion of artillery guns and battleship cannons to plow down enemy vehicles. Almost every shooter game has the inclusion of a sniper rifle. Killzone 2 also has one with a twist. Using SIXAXIS control, you have precise movement and accuracy as if you’re holding the rifle right there. Other SIXXAXIS implementations range from valve turning switches, to remote explosive charges for some missions.
For every first-person shooter on the market, it’s the multiplayer component that sets you apart from the competition. I’m happy to say Killzone 2’s multiplayer doesn’t disappoint. It’s keeps things classic, fresh, and overall addictively fun. In multiplayer you get to choose whether you are ISA or Helghast. You start off as a typical solider, however you are given the chance to rank up and become a different class. This includes medics, mechanics, scouts and saboteurs, among others. To get these classes you are required to accomplish tasks in the multiplayer missions by ranking up on ribbons, which then translates to medals. If you’re familiar with Call of Duty 4’s perk system, it kind of works the same way. From there you are given different maps you can join in the Warzone. As mentioned before, most maps can support up to 32 players. There’s also the Skirmish mode that allows for AI bots to fill up slots to give you practice. In the Warzone you are given game types like Bodycount, Capture and Hold, Seek and Retrieve, Assassination, and Seek and Destroy. Bodycount is typical team deathmatch mechanics, standard on any shooter. Capture and Hold requires you to defend outposts for the duration of a time period. Seek and Retrieve is a play on Capture the Flag, but instead you’re carrying a propaganda speaker to a checkpoint. Seek and Retrive requires you to infiltrate an enemy compound and set C4 charges on the assigned target, while the opposing team stops you by defusing the explosives you had placed. Finally there’s Assassination, where the computer randomly selects a player on the map. Your squad is to defend that player from dying, while the opposing team tries to take them out. The best part of the game is that these modes are set up as a playlist so instead of just ending after one game type, you are thrust into the next match. It keeps the game going without needing to load, and in that time period of refresh it’s a mini team deathmatch. It reminded me of Star Wars Battlefront, mind you that you don’t have to play all five game modes. It’s just a matter of how it’s set up in the lobby. The faction with the most victories out of the five game modes wins and gets double experience points. Multiplayer also supports in-game squad creation for teams of four. This enables closed-off mic support channels so you can chat privately. Killzone 2 also supports clan creation, leaderboard scoring and online tournament management. Clans in tournaments are able to give up and wager Valor points that they have accumulated while online. Kind of reminds me of poker for some reason, but a great perk to add to the game. Of course there are some omissions that the game could have used, like local or online co-op play.
With all that being said, Killzone 2 has a lot to going for it. Replay value is enormous with the in-game collections, trophy support, and online stat tracking. I’m not going to say if Killzone 2 is a “Halo Killer,” it’s more of a unique game that doesn’t need to compare itself to that. It has it’s elements that it shares from Call of Duty, Star Wars Battlefront, Resistance, Halo, and so on. I wouldn’t be surprised to see those titles adopt some of Killzone 2’s mechanics for their next installments. I’m just happy Killzone 2 delivered something astounding. In terms of production and scale, this is the new benchmark in first-person shooters to live up to. I just hope for the next chapter in the Killzone series, I won’t have to wait as long for that release.