Expectation is a cruel burden. Like a dead weight, it accompanies most games whose pre-release hype outpaces rational and patience. Killzone 2, developed by Dutchmen Guerrilla and possibly Sony’s most significant release of ’09, found itself caught in the public eye following several infamous moments during its laboured development.
It began with a trailer at E3 2005, presented as gameplay but eventually admitted to be computer-generated. Then, it vanished. For almost two years, Killzone 2 was omitted from media events, press releases, and barely acknowledged by Sony, who knew a mountain must be climbed before showing their premier title to the dubious masses.
It’s difficult to judge a game by its visual appeal, as I fondly remember simply playing games as a child, on a television most mobile phones render obsolete, with graphics about as detailed as a drunk man’s self-portrait. But Sony promised a visual tour-de-force and, believe me, they delivered. Killzone 2’s beauty is unequivocal and staggering.
In Killzone 2, the ISA forces venture to Helghan, their enemy’s home-planet. Helghan is far from a holiday resort, with perpetual storms and cities of scaffolding, Nazi-esque banners whipping about in the simulated wind. Arms of lightning often scar the sky, painting the ruined streets and buildings in harsh blues and whites. Smoke from explosions linger, dust drifting in the exchange of gunfire, as you peer down the barrel of Sergeant Tomas ‘Sev’ Sevchenko’s ISA-issued rifle.
The A.I. Team
As far as stories go, Killzone 2’s sways from intriguing to downright awful. On the one hand, you have the war between the ISA and the Helghast. Forced to live on Helghan, the Helghast adapted to their cruel environment and decided to wage war against the totalitarian ISA. Much of the conflict can be gleaned from the Helghan overseer and prophet, Scholar Visari, whose inspiring monologues are transmitted through speakers dotted across Helghan.
So far, so good. Only once you step into Sev’s boots, and hear the forced, overly crude banter be exchanged amongst your squad-mates, all the political and cultural intrigue of the plot collapses, as you find yourself cringing from yet another awful Rico one-liner.
It’s a pity, as the production values for the cut-scenes are tremendous, with highly detailed and well-animated characters, only for the dialogue itself to render any technical achievements moot in the face of simply bad writing and characterisation.
Fast and Furious
Combat in Killzone 2 is intense and visceral. Considerable time and effort has been invested in Sev’s animations, and the sense of actually holding, firing and running with a rifle is brilliantly realised. Battles are tense, tactical affairs between ISA squads and Helghast forces, with Guerrilla updating the enemy’s ranks to include specialised troops.
The basic infantry fodder is present, along with larger, stronger brutes hefting bigger weapons. Snipers feature, with only their lit-up goggles alluding to their presence before the crack of gunfire and an exploded cranium confirms suspicions. Overall, the Helghast are ruthless, cunning enemies, so you must make use of the game’s cover-system in order to survive.
Warning! Highly Addictive
Online multiplayer is a prerequisite for any half-decent shooter nowadays. Halo and Call of Duty currently rein supreme, and their vice-like grip on the top-spot is unwavering, despite the competition. However, Killzone 2 is probably the closest any game has come to shaking them from their lofty perches, with deep and rewarding multiplayer.
Killzone 2’s online multiplayer has several classes for you to unlock and enjoy. You begin with the basic Infantryman, with only a rifle and a handful of grenades at your disposal. Eventually, you unlock the other classes, such as the health-dealing Medic and shotgun-toting Engineer, who have inherent class abilities. Soon, you’ll be able to mix and match these abilities, creating, for example, an Engineer who can build autonomous turrets and also throw remote explosives.
Be warned, Killzone 2’s online isn’t the shallow end of the pool. It’s a brutal, unforgiving realm where a few bullets to the chest often result in death. If you’re alone, stealth and cunning is essential, whereas with others, team play is vital. Medics must heal their fallen comrades, and Snipers must focus on potential saboteurs.
A Flawed Gem
So far, this review has been very positive. However, Killzone 2 isn’t perfect. The aiming, for instance, feels inaccurate and tends to float, perhaps due to Guerrilla’s focus on realism above enjoyment. The campaign is also repetitive, with hordes of replenishing Helghast unless you trigger an invisible plughole. Forays into vehicles are clumsily executed, and the climactic boss-battle is unfair and not especially fun. The story’s schizophrenic, too.
But the game’s technical merits cannot be ignored, and the sheer aesthetic power Killzone 2 wields is unparalleled, on consoles at least. The multiplayer is easily its strongest feature, and promises months, if not years, of fun.