When the dust settles on the single player campaign and you put down the controller you realise you have just been part of something very special. Killzone 2 may not be the most innovative title you’ve ever seen, but it is the most polished shooter of this generation, standing heads and shoulders above its competitors in almost every area that matters.
The first epic dropship ride down to the surface of Helghan is just a taste of the visceral thrill ride than Killzone 2 has in store, when things are hectic in Killzone, you’ll find you barely have any time to think, grenades explode around you, your ISA comrades scream for support, the Helghast bear down on you with deadly intent, smoke from countless fires will obscure your vision, debris showers down on you after a stray rocket pounds into the building beside you. This game immerses you in a brutal conflict with no subtlety, Helghan is hellish.
The premise behind the storyline is simple is a simple one, after the Helghast invasion of Vekta has been repelled (in Killzone and Killzone:Liberation) the ISA decide to bring the fight to their enemies. The game plan is to capture the leader of the Helghast, Emperor Visari, and hopefully bring an end to the conflict, but The Helghast aren’t going to give in without a fight, and this is their home turf. From here the battle rages across several locations in and around the Helghan capital city, Pyrrhus, as the battle hangs in the balance, and you advance upon the Palace of Visari.
Ever since the infamous pre-rendered video appeared at E3, there has been an immense weight of expectation laid at the feet of Killzone 2’s graphic prowess. To put it simply this is the best looking at this moment in time, if we avoid arguments about whether grey and brown are aesthetically pleasing colours, the game is technically without rival, the dynamic lighting, the particle effects and textures work to create awe inspiring surroundings despite the austere nature of Helghan. When you set some alight with the flame thrower you’ll be tempted just to stand and watch them burn. Character models are beautifully detailed, your enemies and allies move extremely realistically, and never seem to be caught by the surroundings, despite the amount of time they spend in cover. Through my entire play through of the single player campaign I never saw a noticeable instance of texture popping, nor did I encounter a single glitch, although I’m sure that anyone who is pedantic to look enough will find something. Gurrilla games would deserve strong praise for this achievement regardless of whether the rest of the game had been above average.
Luckily they have also succeeded in creating a gameplay style that works extremely well, and yet feels different to the myriad of Call of Duty copycat games. The main difference comes from Killzone 2’s cover system, simply hold L2 near cover and you stick up close to it. From here you can use the left analogue stick to pop up over the cover and take shots using R1, some people will find the controls difficult to adjust to, but the option to change the controls to the style of CoD is available and you can adjust the x and y axis to be more sensitive. The cover system is well integrated into the gameplay, on higher difficulties, failure to use cover will result in your quick and painful death, and yet you must be clever, moving from place to place, picking off exposed enemies, and then occasionally making a quick charge in order to take down the last few stragglers. Essentially what this results in is a realistic feeling to proceedings, this is helped by the fact that the movements have a real substance to them, your character moves as if he was actually a soldier, and the weapons feel weighty and powerful.
The Helghast provide an enemy that is for me, every bit as characterful and interesting as Star Wars’ Stormtroopers, they flank you, lay down covering fire for each other, target your allies and take them out of action, hug cover and sprint from position to position, making it as difficult as possible to take them down. On hard the basic grunts will dispatch you a good number of times, it only takes a few mistakes and you will find yourself a bullet ridden corpse. The boss battles are a little more stereotypical, but nonetheless enjoyable (although there was one boss battle that was over so quickly I only realised it was a boss because I got a special trophy for killing him), the final battle is a real meat grinder, and was the only frustrating part of the game, which only made completing the thing all the more memorable.
Whilst the enemies are suitably awesome, it’s unfortunate that your allies lean toward the annoying, I don’t mind some swearing, but Killzone 2 must have borrowed some script from South Park the movie, otherwise Vekta must have an extraordinary number of people suffering from Tourette’s. It doesn’t help you to build any real bonds with the characters, and on top of that, the allied A.I. doesn’t seem as proficient as that of the Helghast (maybe that’s the point?), meaning they often get killed. In the case of the main characters this doesn’t mean they die, rather they lie on the floor and shout at you to revive them, when you are busy dodging bullets, this gets irritating fast.
The campaign itself is a good length, it’s action packed, like a Die Hard movie, and the bits in between the fighting are mostly cut scenes. Although the colour palette is hardly inspiring, the street fights feel tough and gritty, and you are not really expecting Helghan to be a lush vibrant planet, everything is held together to feel austere and militaristic, exactly as you would expect the Helghan home world to be. The game contains a number of epic set pieces, the battle aboard the New Sun is inspired, and the cacophony of battle is truly intense in final push toward Visari’s palace, as you inch forward against an opponent who actually seems to be making a desperate last stand. Controlling the mech is fun for different reasons, because you get given such a vast amount of firepower can take a hell of a lot of damage, and are supported by an actual wave of troops, making for a superb set piece. Any section with the lightning gun is excellent, zapping a room full of soldiers with vast arcs of electricity and watching as they jerk and shudder is sadistic pleasure at its finest, the other unusual weapons, the bolt gun and the flamethrower, also make for some memorable kills, but the game ensures that you must change between weapons on a fairly regular basis, making sure that you really savour the moments when you have your favourite weapon and a lot of ammo to spare.
Killzone 2’s multiplayer is as polished and well designed as the rest of the game, and is destined to become a staple part of many player’s gaming diets for a long while. The cover system that is found in the single player is out, instead the tempo is upped to match the sort of pace you might find in something like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’s online offerings. You have the standard options of team deathmatch (Body Count), take and hold, capture the flag (Search and Retrieve), search and destroy, and assassination, which are exactly what you would expect them to be, and then you have the excellent Warzone, which mixes all of the above options into one lovely wholesome package.
So far it doesn’t sound like anything different, and at first it does feel like that, you start as a standard rifleman, with only a basic ISA rifle and a basic Helghast rifle, each having a slightly different feel to it. After a few hours, you’ll unlock a shotgun and a sub-machine gun, meaning you can modify your tactics, and start getting up close and personal, but the real strength of the multiplayer comes through the badges. The first class you unlock is the medic; the primary medic ability allows you to revive downed allies, getting them back into the fight, of course there is a limitation to this ability, in that there is a small recharge time between revivals. The other primary badges are, the engineer, allowing you to build turrets, the tactician, which lets you plant new spawn points, Assault, which gives extra armour and always has its secondary badge unlocked which enables you to sprint extra fast for an extended period of time, saboteur, let’s you disguise as an opponent a la TF2’s spy, and scout, who has a cloaking device. The rifleman class also advances through weapon unlocks, as you gain access to the rocket launcher.
With the various you find yourself having a completely different impact on the outcome of a battle; a well placed spawn point can make it much easier to swamp the target position in a bombing mission, the scout can snipe opponents from afar, and the engineer can make a position virtually unassailable. The variation and balance between the classes is something that a lot of fine tuning went into and you can really see that the effort was worth it, the nature of the classes means that team work becomes essential, as no one class is devastating enough to make up for its shortfalls alone. Perform well in a match and you will be rewarded with ribbons, these aren’t the girly ribbons though, they are war ribbons, and just having one proves you are macho, the reward you for getting over a certain number of kills or headshots, alongside completing mission specific objectives. Each class also has specific ribbons it can achieve in order to unlock it’s secondary badge, for instance reviving five people with the medic gets you the specialist ribbon, if you get eight ribbons your medic can toss health packs. Each class gets their specialist ribbon by utilizing their primary badge 5 times; this is easier for some classes than others (I found it pretty tough to get 5 turret kills in a game). The secondary abilities include, air support for the tactician, and proxy mines for the saboteur. These abilities can be mixed and matched with the primary abilities once you have used them enough times with the core class, this makes for a hell of a lot of customization.
It really helps when a game has both single player and multiplayer options that both work like a dream, Killzone 2 doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but everything it does, it does well. The lack of a co-op feature is probably the only grievance I have with this game, which is highlighted by some strange allied behaviour at points during the campaign, (Rico in the final battle is more of a hindrance than a help). Adding co-op would have alleviated 60% of the issues from single player and considering there weren’t many problems in the first place that would have edged this exceptional game closer to perfection, and really at the end of the day, that’s what this game is, close to perfect.