Space Nazi Ahoy!
When Guerrilla Games dropped Killzone on us for the PS2 it was a bit of a letdown, especially after being touted as the definitive game to topple Halo off its perch as best FPS for home consoles. Then came the announcement that a sequel was in the process of being made and hopes were raised once again, but after the pre-rendered footage fiasco many were dubious as to what Killzone 2 would actually look and play like. Could it actually do the impossible and look as brilliant as the CG footage, and cement itself as the powerhouse of PS3 gaming, or would it end up being a bit of a turkey, much like its predecessor?
Taking place after Killzone, and Killzone Liberation, the ISA has finally decided to launch an all out strike against the invasive and Nazi inspired Helghast, whom are determined for domination. Taking the fight to Helghan, the ISA have enlisted you as Sev, a new character to the series and a departure from the established Templar who has now joined the ranks as a commanding officer. Rico is now the leader of Alpha squad, a 4 man team who you will be a part of during the main campaign and you are tasked to take control of Helghan by conquering the harsh leader, Emperor Visari. In a nutshell, it will be you killing space Nazi’s for 10 levels, what’s not to like about that?
After popping the disc in for the first time we are met with a stirring speech from Visari, instructing that his soldiers will never back down to the ‘oppressive’ nature of the ISA and it is immediately proven that Guerrilla games have certainly put the effort in for presenting this game in the best possible way, as it looks simply jaw dropping. But this was only an opening cinematic, surely the rest of the game can’t look as good as this?
Happily to say, then yes the in game visuals are simply as gorgeous as the opening cinematic. Everything, from the rich, detailed character models, the gun that you hold in your hands, the explosions, the lighting and particle effects, and the clever little tricks used all sum up to produce a scene that is simply stunning to look at. It’s a shame then when we take control of Sev and get into the nitty gritty of the game that everything isn’t as brilliant as it could be.
The controls for instance, while very sharp and responsive have a tendency to feel far too sluggish as it takes far too long to spin Sev around 180, or even 90 degrees and with the Helghast being as ruthless as they are it can become an exercise in frustration when simply trying to spin around quick enough to take out a flanking opponent. Movement speed is fine however, and having the sprint function makes all the difference in the world but in trying to deliver a ‘realistic’ approach to aiming speed it is simply too much of a schlep and hinders the enjoyment of the game. Surprisingly enough the sixaxxis controller is used to quite a clever effect. During loading screens tilting it around will move a sort of semi 2D/3D holographic image, and controls the turning of valves and arming of bombs. It is only a small inclusion but to a rather subtle and well defined use. Brilliantly however is the removal of an auto targeting system, which puts us as the player in a position to rely on skill rather than computer aided controls and adds a more challenging and rewarding feel to the action, of which there is plenty.
This brings me to Killzone 2’s quiet achiever, the incredible AI system. Most FPS games for example feature enemy AI that will ‘try’ to flank your position to get the upper hand, but often resorts to the developer throwing more enemies at you in annoying and numerous positions that are incredibly unfashionable and believable. Killzone 2 however does things with a bit more class, as all of the enemies in the game will take full control of the environment and use it to its full potential. Squads of Helghast will rarely take the suicide approach to combat end instead use cover, and remain in cover until they can develop a position to attack you with minimal casualties. They will blind fire, often, and move quickly from point to point giving each other covering fire along the way. It’s absolutely brilliant and brings the enemy to life. But everything they can do, you can do better, as holding down L2 gives Sev has the ability to take cover behind walls, barricades and obstructions to do some blind firing of his own, and with a squadron behind you doing the same thing, it becomes clear that this is no ordinary AI construct.
Coach will totally ream me if I don’t file this report
Stop That. It’s Silly.
Same can’t be said for the level design. Although on the surface it is brilliant, multi-tiered layouts, open and closed battle fields, filled with wonderful toys like tanks and mechs to take control of, getting through some of these segments is painfully archaic. For instance, holding a position in an open field, against tanks and dozens of Helghast while one of the support characters runs around the back of a building to open a flimsy door, just feels like it is forcing the player to play the game a certain way, when in reality, using one of the available RPG’s to blast open said door would be the smarter approach. I mean, an RPG can destroy a tank, but not a common door? In another instance, you get your hands on a weapon with unlimited ammunition, automatically targets enemies and electrocutes them without any degree of difficulty, yet the next mission you start off with nothing but the standard pistol. If you have a weapon of unimaginable destructive power, that never runs out, why would you ever get rid of it?
The linearity of the level design, funnily enough does wonders for the pacing of the game and allows for more set piece oriented battles to take place, the highlight being the crossing of a bridge, swollen with Helghan troops furiously halting your progress. You must push forward, dodging grenadiers, riflemen and machine gunners as you try to stop them raising the bridge, blocking off your access to the next part of the level. It’s intense, noisy, violent and a true highlight of the game and reminds you that most sections of the game are littered with these little set pieces.
The worst aspect of Killzone 2 however is the character development. Being part of a military squad will never open the doors to brilliant dialogue, but two of the three characters are stereotypical and annoying as they come and the one you get closest to doesn’t seem to feature enough in the story. One of the guys takes every opportunity to crack a mamma joke and Rico, the leader of Alpha squad will go down in history as being one of the most annoying characters ever to be put into a videogame. Time and time again his dialogue is plagued with nothing but swearing, aggression towards his own men and by the end of the game you are hoping that he gets a bullet in the head just to stop the train wreck that is his involvement in the campaign against the Helghast. For the record, relentless swearing does not make a toughened character, it only makes them look like a ponce.
So will you be in the front of the horse costume or shall I?
Smells Like Napalm
As I stated before Killzone 2 looks absolutely brilliant, not as good as the pre-rendered stuff shown at E3 of years past, but it is certainly is the highlight of the PS3 lineup. While Helghan is a world of many shades of browns and greys the special effects do wonders to add life to everything. The depth of field, when taking cover gives focus to all the right areas, the dust and particles that are kicked up whilst running and firing weapons adds enough disruption to cement the fact that you are in a war zone and the graphic nature of each Helghast’s death is believable enough make you step back for a second, and to remind yourself that you are killing other human beings, not just the fascist, violent faceless creatures that they initially seem to be. Somehow, even during the most intense action sequences it never skips a beat and never slows down. The load times are very respectably short and the auto save feature only stopped the flow of the game on a few rare occasions, but otherwise it is a seamless experience and makes you wonder how it is possible for a game to look this good without stuttering.
The audio however is a real treat. Blasting through with 7.1 mixing means that every bullet, every war cry, every bomb, blast, scream, reload comes through with enough clarity and force to knock your socks off. The voice acting alone has been done rather well, as the opening speech is worthy of any high budget cinematic masterpiece, but the twisted vocals of the Helghast and the unique sound of each character certainly do justice for the proceedings. Pity then the dialogue itself is virtually devoid of any nuance or grace.
What we have here with Killzone 2 is a stunning technical achievement, a real testament to what the PS3 can do graphically. Unfortunately there are a few too many bits and pieces that hold it back from being a truly knockout, one for the ages type of game and elevate it from the rather choking sea of first person shooters. But do these issues that the game has stop the game from being enjoyable? Definitely not, during the 5.5 hour first run through you will have an absolute blast, and with rather good multiplayer with bot support on board there is enough to keep you coming back for more action. The issues that are present however do remind us that the first person shooter is crying out for something original which isn’t afraid to throw the old rule book aside and do its own thing. Killzone 2 does not do this, but the high production values certainly add a layer of finesse that many other titles can only dream to strive for.
Visuals – 97
Audio – 90
Gameplay – 85
Overall – 90
A great achievement, if only a little stale at times.