It's a daunting prospect for any game to be compared to Halo, not only in regards to quality, but in terms of cultural significance. Halo single-handedly rescued the Xbox, ushered in a new era of online console gaming, and continues to shatter sales-records. So for Killzone 2 to be burdened with such an unfortunate title, "The Halo Killer", is a daunting prospect, indeed. But when you consider the PS3's current state of health, lagging behind both the Wii and the 360, the release of Killzone 2, long in protracted and expensive development, is expected to reignite the ailing console and return Sony to pole position.
So is Killzone 2 Sony's saviour? Or is it yet another game to fall foul of "The Halo Killer" curse...
Welcome To Helghan
Set in the distant future, Killzone 2 focuses on the bitter conflict between the Interplanetary Strategic Alliance and their gas-masked enemies, the Helghast. Sergeant Tomas 'Sev' Sevchenko, along with the rest of Alpha Team, join in a surprise assault on Helghan, the enemies' home-world. Such a reckless move has consequences, however, as the ISA didn't bet on the Helghast being organised, motivated and well-adapted to their harsh surroundings. Led by their charismatic general, Scholar Visari, the Helghast continue to hold the ISA, despite their superior weaponry and numbers, as Sev and the rest of Alpha Team, stranded in enemy territory, struggle to stay alive and prevent Visari from achieving his goals.
On the surface, it's a fairly standard story of good versus evil, with the noble ISA leading the charge against the villainous Helghast, but dig deeper, and the Killzone universe reveals itself to be a fairly grey place, with very little moral room to cast judgment. The Helghast's motivations are understandable. Once part of the ISA, their ancestors were forced into what was essentially slave-labour on the newly discovered planet of Helghan. They adapted to the unforgiving conditions, and waged war on the ISA to usurp them from their totalitarian throne.
It's an impressive back-story, so it's a pity all the hard work on building this universe is instantly rendered redundant when the characters begin to speak. The dialogue is, frankly, awful, with Sev's commander Rico the culprit of lines so bad they're bound to become an internet meme in no time. It's enough to make a Sylvester Stallone film sound nigh Shakespearean in comparison.
It's impossible to review Killzone 2 without mentioning the infamous E3 2005 trailer. Sony claimed it was real-time, showcasing a graphical fidelity heretofore unseen. It was obviously a lie, but Killzone 2 is by no means ugly. Quite the opposite, it's a visually arresting title, the monochrome colour-pallet offset by remarkable lighting, lifelike animation and spectacular particle-effects. Storming a bridge littered with debris, as dozens of ISA and Helghast soldiers do battle, explosions rocking the scene, the sky trembling with thunder and burst of lightning, is as close to true Hollywood-style quality the industry has yet achieved.
It's a staggering achievement, and the effect of being engaged in an actual firefight is only heightened by the control-scheme. Unlike most shooters, where your reticule is firmly placed in the middle of the screen, Killzone 2's guns tend to sway and shake, the reticule trembling on the screen as you struggle to control your aim and limit recoil as you rattle a clip into a Helghast's red-eyed visage.
The controls may prove divisive. If you're expecting the smooth, pick-up-and-play quality of Call of Duty, you'll struggle. But to the developer's credit, Killzone 2 is its own game, an entirely different beast to its competitors. What is disappointing, however, is how uninspired the entire game feels. The first few firefights are intense, hectic affairs, but once you've been ambushed by the hundredth Helghast patrol, clicking to cover and playing Whack-a-Mole with their heads, it becomes an entirely predictable experience. Vehicle segments sprinkle some much-needed variety, but they're either turgid affairs, like the Tank sections, or all-too-brief forays into a mech-suit.
It's online where Killzone 2 proves itself as a worthy competitor for the multiplayer throne. Up to 32 players can wage war on one another, opting for ISA or Helghast factions, although its purely a cosmetic choice. Multiplayer in Killzone 2 is a class-based affair, where you must complete requirements to unlock further abilities for your class, eventually allowing you to mix and match skills to create a custom set.
The control-scheme rears its ugly head in multiplayer, but is perhaps the reason why Killzone 2 may gather a loyal crowd of followers. Call of Duty and Halo controls are constantly criticised for how unrealistic they are, and whilst it's an entirely unnecessary criticism, difficult to master controls may be exactly what such detractors have been clamouring for. You can't simply wade into battle, spraying from the hip and expect points to rack up. You must be cautious, aware of your surroundings and in supreme control of your weapons, which range from bog-standard rifles to powerful bolt-action snipers and hefty rocket-launchers.
A range of modes is available, from the standard Bodycount mode, where the objective is to simply amass more kills than the enemy, to objective-based affairs like Search and Destroy and Assassination. Battles are often brutal and relentless, as invisibility-clad snipers drop far-off enemies from discreet pockets of cover, their stronger but slower brethren charging forward, helped by benevolent medics reviving fallen comrades with a zap from their health-bestowing guns.
In the end, Killzone 2 should be judged on its own merits, not for a title it's had the unfortunate luck of being burdened with. It's a competent shooter with exceptional visuals and a brave control-scheme, bolstered by a deep and rewarding multiplayer experience. It can lack variety and the dialogue and general storytelling is awful, but it has a well-conceived universe to help atone for such flaws.
Personally, I feel Killzone 2 isn't comparable to Halo. While both series feature military warfare in futuristic universes that ultimately boil down to shooting things in the face, their respective styles are so different the only similarity they share is their genre. They're both great games with huge significance to their respective platforms, and deserve success.
- Amazing visuals
- Difficult to master but realistic controls
- Deep universe
- Awful dialogue
- Lack of variety, in both missions and visuals
- Controls may prove divisive
The Short Version: Killzone 2 is a staggering technical achievement, melding great visuals with an overall sense of brutal realism, drilling an urgency and fear into the game unlike other shooters. But it often drowns in a lack of variety and its own monochromatic colours. It's single greatest achievement are its exceptional multiplayer offerings, which are sure to attract a loyal following of fans.