Review: Killzone 2

Killzone2.jpg The original Killzone suffered from a serious lack of polish, but aside from the technical quirks it was (and still is) a very solid PS2 FPS, no matter what all the haters said. So Guerrilla Games’ astonishing leap up to Killzone 2 comes as no surprise to me. Killzone (and Killzone: Liberation on the PSP) showed that the studio had loads of talent, and with more experience and investment was on track to creating a gaming experience for the ages. And frankly, that’s just what the Guerrilla team has accomplished with Killzone 2.

Killzone 2 does not reinvent the wheel here, folks. Let me just get that out of the way right off the bat. It’s a pretty standard FPS at the core with many of the clichéd action moments you’d expect from the genre in this day and age – mech and tank vehicle missions, “man the turret and defend against waves of enemies” missions, “plant explosive charges on enemy installations” missions, and well…you get the idea.

But what Killzone 2 does do is polish and refine every aspect of modern FPS game design in such an unprecedentedly high quality that the game’s predictable moments feel fresh and exciting. Oh, and of course it also helps that the game’s technical makeup is so far superior to anything ever seen in a console game before. Seriously, anyone who thought Sony was overselling Killzone 2 with that infamous E3 2005 target trailer needs to be eating some serious crow right about now. Not only do the graphics match that trailer, they’re even better. A lot better, actually. I’ve gone back and watched that trailer, and while the camerawork and some of the character interactions are certainly more dynamic than what can be done in a playable game, the graphical quality has most definitely been surpassed by the finished product.

The massive scale of the environments and sheer detail in all the texturing and lighting effects certainly stand out at first glance, but it’s the little details like subtle motion blur, realistic death animations and blood splatters, and the way smoke wafts over the battlefield and chunks of concrete cover break off from gunfire, that give Killzone 2’s visuals a sense of depth and realism richer than any game before it.

But Killzone 2 is more than just a technical powerhouse. As I was saying before, the gameplay is so expertly refined, and that is far more important than high polygon counts and fancy effects. The level designs seem fairly linear and straightforward at first, but upon multiple plays prove to be quite dynamic and open to different strategies – the many set-piece battles are particularly impressive in this regard. Coupled with the aggressive and often unpredictable enemy AI, missions play out differently every time. But best of all is the gunplay. Killzone 2’s shooting model just feels “right”. I know that’s vague, but if you’ve played an FPS before you should know what I mean. All the subtle details that make firing virtual weapons satisfying have been mastered here. Weapons have a tangible heft and momentum as they move on the screen (as opposed to a game like Resistance 2 where the guns all feel kind of floaty), the firing animations and sound effects deliver a satisfying punchy feedback with each and every round you unload, and simply the way in which the guns are positioned in the viewing space is right on target. While occasionally inconsistent, the latchable cover system functions very well and adds a tactical note to the action so you don’t get caught stuck in the “run and gun” routine.

As a whole, the solo campaign is as tightly paced as any FPS I’ve played. At around 8-10 hours, it hits the sweet spot in terms of length — trophies, an unlockable Elite difficulty and hidden collectibles extend the replay value even further too. The storyline is also much better than I’ve seen many critics giving it credit for. While it’s true that there really aren’t any memorable characters to latch onto, I actually thought that was kind of refreshing. Sev serves his role as the protagonist, but isn’t portrayed as some super hero soldier out to save the day all by himself, and I appreciated that. Killzone 2 is more of an ensemble piece about the morality and brutality of war, and I found it to be a cinematic and engrossing work of videogame narrative.

Going against the grain of what’s expected in modern shooters, Sony and Guerrilla decided not to give us co-op play — which is surprising considering how you are fighting side by side with other soldiers pretty much the entire campaign – but instead focused solely on creating a robust competitive multiplayer experience. And it’s hard to argue with the results. Killzone 2’s all-around offering of well-crafted maps, lag-free performance, clan and community options, in-depth reward and unlock systems, and a unique badge system enabling you to mix and match different “class” abilities to tailor your soldier to your play style comes in neck and neck with Call of Duty 4 as the deepest, most rewarding online FPS experience going right now. Unlocking badges and weapons does require more time and effort than many other shooters, and that may turn some players off. But personally, I think that makes the experience all the more rewarding, as when you unlock something new you really feel like you earned it.

Killzone 2 isn’t flawless (no game is, right?), but you really have to nitpick to find anything wrong with it. I can tell you that one time I shot a Helghast soldier off a ledge and his dead body got stuck in the environment while falling; or on one occasion how I saw a Helghast soldier stuck in an AI glitch running in place in a tight corner; or how friendly AI occasionally impeded my ability to find cover. But in the grand scheme of things, these rare blips simply didn’t leave any negative impact on my view of the game.

Guerrilla Games sure has come a long way since the first Killzone (and the mess that was Shellshock: Nam ’67 before it). To go from developing one of the buggiest games all of last generation to crafting the most visually impressive and technically polished game to ever grace a home gaming console says a great deal about just how determined everyone involved was to learn from past mistakes and produce under the shoulder-crushing pressure of sky-high expectations and numerous naysayers predicting failure.

Killzone 2 lives up to and even exceeds every last bit of hype it has generated over the past four years and is without question the defining exclusive experience Sony so desperately needed to turn the tide in favor of the PS3. I can’t wait to see where things go from here!

BuyIt.jpg

Pros:
+ Unparalleled graphical quality
+ Superbly paced solo campaign
+ Incredibly deep and rewarding online multiplayer experience
+ Sublime shooting model — weapons feel and sound extremely powerful
+ Nuanced level designs
+ Smart enemy AI puts up a tough fight

Cons:
– Uses many cliched FPS mission objectives
– No co-op play
– Writing and acting could’ve been better

Game Info:
Platform: PS3
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Guerrilla Games
Release Date: 2/27/09
Genre: FPS
ESRB Rating: Mature
Players: 1-32
Source: Review copy provided by publisher







About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!