Killzone 2 Review - April 20th 2009

Despite stretching the PS2 to its limits and gathering an army of loyal fans, the original Killzone was met with a muted reaction from many critics. We couldn’t get enough of the first game, which left us awaiting Killzone 2 with breath as baited as can be.

After a stunning announcement trailer at E3 2005, many began to question whether Killzone 2 was a project too ambitious for its own good. Could the next generation Playstation 3 platform really produce such a visually stunning game? That question wouldn’t be answered until two years later, marking E3 2007 as the year where Killzone 2 really started to come together. As Sony quickly realised they had a system-selling exclusive on their hands, the game was delayed throughout 2008 before finally being pushed back to a February 2009 release. So as you can see, it’s been a long road getting from there to here, and developer Guerrilla knows it. The end product is a game surrounded in the kind of hype that most titles can only dream of. One question still remains: Does it deliver the goods?

Right from the beginning, Killzone 2 was advertised as a graphical tour de force. Judging from the visuals of the final game, you’re not going to be disappointed. A lot of attention has been placed on creating atmosphere. Visual elements such as dust, smoke, and dynamic weather conditions are used consistently throughout the game, and to great effect. And although developer Guerrilla rely on pre-rendered cut scenes to guide the player through the story, it’s during these breaks in the action that you realise that the graphics from the actual gameplay look just as good! Everything, from the way characters move within the world to the scale of each level, right down to the tiniest of details, Killzone 2 is absolutely gorgeous. And although the frame rate can be shaky, the visual finesse of the single player is impossible to deny. The fact that the multiplayer also looks every bit as exceptional is nothing short of incredible.

The lighting and particle effects make Killzone 2 a beautiful experience.

And the technological marvels don’t stop there. Killzone 2, like most big budget releases these days, uses an orchestra to provide music composed specifically for the game. What makes the game stand out from the crowd in this department is just how well it uses audio to enhance the experience. In those rare moments where you find yourself able to take a breather, the game marks out these segments and adjusts the music to fit. This can affect everything from the pace of an entire level to the tension of a single moment. The music adjusts itself to best suit the situation. And then of course you have the various environmental and weapon sound effects, which further propel Killzone 2 ahead of its rivals. Every bullet impact, explosion, and line of dialogue gel together seamlessly. From a gameplay standpoint, you really feel as though you’re a part of the action, especially when you take the graphics, first person cover system, and camera effects into account. You’ll be saving up for surround sound/putting your set up through its paces in no time at all. In terms of both graphics and audio, Killzone 2 is the one to beat.

The controls are another matter. They’re weird. I couldn’t get used to the standard configuration, no matter how many times I tried. This could be due to a number of reasons; playing too much Call of Duty, the SIXAXIS controller not being as suited to FPS games, the cover system that is also mapped to crouch etc... The fact is, being asked to hold down L2, push up on the left stick whilst aiming with the right stick to lock into, and shoot from, cover is awkward at best. It’s also difficult to achieve quickly when under fire, as the game encourages you to use cover because the enemy A.I. is so competent. Overcomplicated default controls are not what you need. That being said, Guerrilla were smart enough to offer other presets. After some tweaking, I found “Alternate controls 2” (iron sights on L1, click right thumbstick for melee) to be the best solution. Although you still have to hold L2 to stay in cover, holding L1 at the same time and aiming with the right stick is much easier to pull off, and not nearly as likely to induce hand cramps.

Industrial complexes fill the early part of the game

Something else Killzone 2 doesn’t get quite right is the story. Once again, we are given a Triple-A action title with the same mass market appeal as Halo 3 and Gears of War 2. And just like those games, you are presented with an overcomplicated muddle of a narrative that relies too heavily on its own mythology. The first Killzone came out in 2004, so you’d expect some kind of prologue to at least re-establish characters and significant events. But there’s nothing of the sort. It’s not hard to grasp the overall story of a game like Killzone 2; humans vs. aliens, many years of fighting, they must be stopped at all costs. And although efforts have been made to add depth, you certainly won’t get attached to the characters and their relationships through the bravado, expletive-laced banter on offer. It’s a shame, because with graphics this good, there was an opportunity here to present a really gripping story.

Those nitpicks aside, let’s get down to what makes Killzone 2 so special. Once you’re past the control hiccups, you have a single player campaign that offers a balanced challenge and is well paced from start to finish. It’s a blast. The missions themselves consist of funnelling you through a series of areas, fighting back surprise Helghan attacks whilst balancing the requirements of your current objective. Pretty standard, you might be thinking. But Killzone 2 can easily switch from claustrophobic corridor standoffs, to unscripted vehicle segments, to large scale assaults, to situations that offer stealthy solutions. The fluid nature of the gameplay keeps your attention hooked on the screen at all times. You don’t have time to worry if things are getting stale because everything is moving so fast! The clever enemy A.I. is countered by a firm but forgiving health system. The weapons are nicely constructed and offer unique tactical opportunities. Everything has been balanced to perfection.

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Guerrilla Games