Killzone 2; the PS3 Attitude Review
So did Killzone 2 arrive just in time for the PlayStation 3, or has the hype train missed the station?
The events in Killzone 2 take place after the original Killzone and the excellent Killzone: Liberation on the PSP. It is two years since the Helghast attacked the ISA on Vekta and the time has come for direct and incisive action; a retaliatory assault on the planet Helghan itself.
Helghan is an inhospitable place. From the moment you arrive you realise this is going to be no walk in the country park. Indeed, the very way you arrive sets the tone – let’s just say it isn’t a nice touchdown… more of a gatecrasher landing.
Your collective goal seems simple enough – assuming the role of Sergeant Tomas “Sev” Sevchenko and part of the elite Alpha Team, you are ordered to play your part in the capture of the Helghast leader, Emperor Scolar Visari.
There are problems for you and your compatriots from the outset. You soon realise that taking on the Helghast in home territory isn’t going to be quite such an easy task. Indeed, they have even harnessed the power of the constant lightning storms that ravage the land, creating powerful weapons to use against your forces.
Your Alpha Team comrades include the wisecracking Corporal Dante Garza, the explosive Corporal Shawn Natko and veteran Killzone character Sergeant Rico Velasquez – who always likes to shoot now and ask questions later. Killzone fans will also come into contact with Colonel Jan Templar who is commanding the ISA cruiser ‘New Sun’, although Templar doesn’t take part in field action this time around.
After a short introduction where you get to try out a few of the more basic controls, you are literally thrown straight into the action. Those of you who played the demo will be familiar with some of the opening level in Killzone 2. What you won’t be so familiar with is the extra detail, the tightened controls and the difficulty level; all of which had been significantly moved forward from whatever build was used to show Killzone 2 off to the masses pre-launch.
The controls in Killzone 2, for the most part, feel completely natural and comfortable. Almost everything is where you would expect it to be bar a few changes. Instead of having the ‘zoom’ or ‘target’ feature on a shoulder button, you press L3 to zero in on your enemy. The good news is that those of you more used to the control scheme in Call of Duty 4 are able to take a quick hop into the options screen to select ‘Alternate 2’, which will set everything up as you would probably prefer it.
In addition to the standard controls you’ll find that the SixAxis plays a part during your campaign. You’ll use it when you need to open a valve or plant explosives, for example. It never feels hackneyed like some motion controls we’ve seen and it only serves to make you feel more a part of the action.
During the single-player campaign, you will most likely make a lot of use of the cover system which is best described as a ‘lean and peak’ mechanic. Staying in first person view virtually throughout the entire game does help keep the action real, but it also means that sometimes you can’t quite see what you’re doing or who you are going to be aiming at because your own arm is across your direct line of sight. This doesn’t happen often enough to worry too much, and usually you can get around the problem by choosing alternate cover positions.
Other than the almost constant first-person view, there are two other elements to Killzone 2 that will ensure you really feel like a part of the action.
The much-lauded graphics are really way beyond any FPS I’ve ever played on any console, and top almost every other genre of game I’ve seen too – even on massively expensive high-end PC rigs. The attention to detail is astounding, and the lighting is truly awesome.
As we found out the other day, even the lights in the eyes of the Helghast are actual light sources. When you (unfortunately) get close enough to the Helghast you’ll see their eyes cast red light onto themselves and nearby surfaces. We hear that there can be up to 350 light sources going on at any one time, and the effect really ensure you start to suspend disbelief and become part of the story.
Since this is a sci-fi world, immersion is never going to be as easy as it would be if it were based on real world environment and events, so Guerrilla have done an outstanding job of making you feel like you are really there.
The final piece of the immersion puzzle falls into place when you turn up your speakers. The sound throughout Killzone 2 is truly inspired. The effects, the guns, the atmospherics, the ad-lib voiceovers, the acting; everything you hear is top notch and completely believable. In addition to the usual effects associated with FPS titles (guns, explosions etc.) there are hundreds of seemingly throwaway comments that your team and the enemy will make throughout the campaign, all helping to set the scene.
And then behind it all is the most powerful of music scores, changing throughout to accentuate dangerous situations or calming after a hard battle has been fought. Just like a good movie, the music that runs behind all the action helps to raise your heartbeat or allow you to exhale.
These three elements – the almost constant first-person view, the astonishing graphics and the shock-and-awe sound – help you to become properly immersed in Killzone 2 from the start and throughout.
So when Killzone 2 does mix things up with the occasional break by allowing you to control vehicles, I do feel a little mixed about the result. Sure, it is nice to get a break so that the action isn’t entirely the same all the way through the campaign. But because it is these moments that take you away from the first-person view it also reminds you that this is, indeed, a game after all. I’m not saying I don’t enjoy some of these alternate ‘missions’, but I actually would have preferred if they were presented in FPS view also.
The only other very minor glitch in the Killzone Matrix is when, mid-level, you’ll see a ‘loading’ message and there is a small ‘stagger’ as the code is loaded. It is a shame this couldn’t have been made seamless because there are times when you are really ‘into’ the world of Helghan and the minor break that these loading events causes do tend to snap you back into reality.
All this immersion would be a little pointless if the Helghast were mindless thugs that you could pick off at will. Which means I have more good news for you; they’re not. The AI is as good as I have ever played against. The enemy is clever. They take up different positions. They use cover like you do. They don’t run out banzai-style if they are isolated; they will wait for support and then assault your position.
The fact that they are all animated so wonderfully helps too. You’ll see their troops, and your teammates, vaulting objects, sliding for cover and generally moving in the most convincing ways, even when being shot or blown up. In fact, you can manufacture some pretty impressive animations by shooting various body parts and it is good (slightly sadistic) fun doing so.
Headshots don’t always result in a kill either, since the Helghast wear some fairly impressive armour and helmets. Your first shot might take the helmet clean off an opponent’s head before you can follow up with a second shot to the now unprotected area. The first shot might stun him for a while but don’t expect an easy was-just-where-you-were-aiming target; he may have recoiled, taken better cover or you might have picked on a particularly hard one who starts shooting back straight away!
The single-player campaign is similar to that other stalwart of the FPS genre, Call of Duty. It is short-ish – it should take you about six to eight hours to complete – but every moment is wonderful. All killer no filler, you might say.
Personally, I found the final battle a little harder to complete than the rest of the campaign. It did feel like the difficulty had increased a little too much towards the end – a smoother progression would have been nice – but when I did beat it there was a real feeling of accomplishment.
Helghan is a brutish planet and, in contrast to what you may have read, can be quite a colourful place. The story might not be the most original or compelling, but it doesn’t really matter. The action and the immersion will be more than enough for you.
But just like CoD, the real war is going to be fought on the multiplayer maps that have been so carefully created.
Before we talk about multiplayer, Killzone 2 also offers a Skirmish mode where you can fight on the multiplayer maps against AI ‘bots’. Whilst this particular reviewer was waiting for the multiplayer servers to be switched on, it was the only way to get used to the layout and practise against some decent opposition. Skirmish mode is now all but redundant if you are connected to the Internet, but it is a testament to how good Guerrilla is at AI. Playing against Elite Bots is as challenging as playing against a properly organised clan of real opponents, which speaks volumes.
From the main menu you can also access Killzone.com, although at the time of writing there are still things that need sorting out with the website before it can be a useful portal from within the game. When it is all up and running without issue, you’ll be able to access your stats and get news and important information from the entire online Killzone universe.
So, on to where the real war will be fought. I have to tell you, right up front, that multiplayer in Killzone 2 is truly inspired.
Unlike our other favourite online gaming experiences, Killzone 2 MP gaming feels like a proper campaign every time you play it. Instead of a short game and then a long wait in a lobby for the next one, you are treated to a continuous battle where you’ll fight a myriad of game types in succession.
Whether you are instructed to assassinate one particular member of the opposition or lay charges at a key point in the enemy’s stronghold, the action keeps on coming. There are five game types currently – Assassination, Search & Retrieve, Search & Destroy, Bodycount and Capture & Hold – and we would expect that the forthcoming DLC could bring on more.
This means you can be properly immersed in an online battle for a good 25-30 minutes at a time. As each side wins the various little battles that take place, a score is tallied up leading to an ultimate victory for your team or theirs.
Of course, all these options are configurable so if you prefer one or two particular game modes you can set it up to repeat them again and again.
The MP maps are many and varied – eight are included at launch; we already know more are coming – and they offer everything from snipers-dream wide open spaces to tight indoor battles.
Instead of ‘perks’ Killzone includes unlockables that will stay with you once you have made them available. There are also seven classes of soldier in both ISA and Helghast flavours which allows you to specialise in particular areas should you wish, such as becoming a medic. These are easily selectable so you can really play out your multiple personality disorder online.
In conclusion then, Killzone 2 is an out-and-out triumph. A great single-player campaign that has enough variety to keep you playing to the end, despite the fact that the ‘final level’ can be a bit of a challenge to complete, and the immersion is second to none thanks to the incredible graphics, sound, controls and viewpoint.
The multiplayer is outstanding and will offer the kind of long-term commitment seen in other stand-out games such as CoD4. The amount of unlockables, ribbons, medals and trophies available will ensure that you will want to keep coming back to Killzone 2 for a long time to come.
The only superfluous element is the Skirmish mode, but if you don’t have an online connection or when the network is down it is a nice playground for you to go and test your skills.
Brutal, jaw-droppingly gorgeous and truly great to play, Killzone 2 is a complete must-have title for the PlayStation 3, so stop reading this and go buy it already!