Reviewed: March 9, 2009
Released: February 27, 2009
The original Killzone for the PS2 remains today as one of my favorite console FPS games, at least for that particular system. A few years later Guerilla Games brought the franchise to the PSP in a brilliant third-person tactical shooter. And now we have the third installment, on a new next-gen system and ready to rock your world. Killzone 2 has finally arrived for the PS3 and its time to take the fight off-world and back to the home planet of the invading Helghast forces.
Is Killzone 2 the Halo-killer everyone wants it to be? Perhaps, but everybody had the same hopes for Resistance and Resistance 2. Only time will tell if Killzone 2 can develop a following and ongoing community that games like Halo and Call of Duty have found on the PC and Xbox 360.
Itís pretty obvious out of the box that this game was developed with online gaming in mind. While the story mode (aka single player) is impressive, both in narrative and gameplay, it is one of those modes that many gamers probably wonít even consider until their Internet connection fails them. I had already been playing the multiplayer beta so I decided to jump into the story for three days of play and about 10 hours.
The story is serviceable and keeps you pumped for the 8-12 hours of intense combat. Two years after the Helghast assault on Vekta, the ISA is taking the fight to the enemyís home world of Helghan. The ISA goal is direct: capture the Helghast leader, Emperor Visari, and bring the Helghast war machine to a halt. Assuming the role of Sev, a battle-hardened veteran and a member of the special forces unit known as the Legion, you will lead a group of highly trained soldiers on a mission to take out the Helghast threat.
For Sev and his squad, the invasion of Helghan is just the beginning. Tasked with securing Pyrrhus, the Capital City, you and your team quickly discover that the Helghast are a formidable enemy on their home planet. Not only have they adjusted to the planetís hostile conditions, they have also harnessed a rare source of power they can now use against the ISA. You arenít just fighting enemy forces - your fiercest opponent may be the planet itself.
The opening movie is mighty impressive with one of those awesome camera pull-backs that starts inside a TV monitor, pulling out, then down a hall and outside to where massive invasion ships are launching. We follow the fleet and our group of soldiers as they orbit Helghan, plummet in dropships and launch a Normandy-style beach invasion. Pretty exciting stuff for first-timers to the series and seasoned veterans.
The first thing youíll have to overcome are some control issues. Iím not going to fuel the flame wars that are already burning out of control on the various forums. To put it simply, the controls are limited, despite having six presets. Itís my personal belief that in this day and age there is NO REASON you should not be allowed to map any command to any button. There are dozens of other FPS games out there that all share similar commands and Killzone 2 insists on alienating gamers already used to that certain style. In my case, I kept repeatedly throwing grenades when I instinctively wanted to aim down the barrel. Thatís not to say you wonít overcome and adapt, but you shouldnít have to. And itís particularly awkward if you are bouncing between Killzone 2 and any other FPS like Call of Duty or Resistance. Hopefully Guerrilla Games will patch this issue.
There is some interesting use of the SIXAXIS motion controls. First, you will occasionally have to turn a valve by squeezing R1 and L1 and making a turning motion like you are gripping the wheel. A similar two-rotation move is used to arm C4 charges. And finally, when you zoom in with the sniper rifle you can make subtle microscopic adjustments to your aim my carefully moving the DualShock 3. This is the most accurate sniping system yet assuming you have the time to make the shot. There is also great use of the rumble/vibration feature and an excellent cover system that allows you to stick to walls and objects then peek around with the analog stick.
There is a great mix of complex level design and intricate mission objectives. Youíll fight on the beach, in the city, out in the desert, underground, and even on a speeding cargo train. Youíll drive a tank, capture a bridge, and suit up in some awesome mech-style armor with rockets and machine guns. Youíll even fight onboard your hovering battleship, man a bubble turret defense system, and ultimately storm the palace in the capital.
The game does a fantastic job of mixing up the objectives and the gameplay to keep things fresh. Sometimes you work with a partner, sometimes as part of a squad, and other times you are going in solo. The one area where I really think they missed out on was a co-op campaign. Even in the opening level you see your men working together, boosting each other to ledges and offering cover fire. The AI in the game is pretty awesome, but it still would have been cool to share the story with one or more friends in online co-op.
There is a nice selection of weapons, some youíll remember from the first game and others, entirely new. You are limited in what you can carry, one side arm and one large weapon, and a few grenades, so you often have to make some tough choices on when to ditch the missile launcher for a machine gun with more available ammo.
The multiplayer is where Killzone 2 really shines with support for up to 32 players in 16 vs. 16 battles and a flawless framerate throughout. You can choose between Warzone and Skirmish modes with the latter being an offline practice arena of sorts where you can play against up to 15 bots of various degrees of difficulty. You can choose from any of the game types which include; Body Count (Team DM), Search and Retrieve (CTF), and Capture and Hold (Domination). Search and Destroy picks a location on the map that you must destroy with explosives while protecting your own target zone, killing the enemy and defusing any bombs they manage to place. And then you have Assassination, perhaps my favorite mode, where one person is selected one team at a time, and you either try to kill or protect that person. Itís an exhilarating feeling when you are the target and you have a bunch of guys all huddled around you willing to die to protect you. This must be what the President feels like.
When you are comfortable with the maps and the rules of the various games you can head online into the Warzone where the bots are replaced with very real and very skilled opponents. Borrowing loosely on Call of Dutyís skills and perks system you will earn skill points the more you play and these will have you leveling up through the various military ranks, gaining access to new weapons and abilities along the way. Youíll need to become a Corporal to assemble a Squad and youíll need to become a Sergeant to setup a clan.
In addition to skills and abilities you also have five additional classes like the medic, scout, engineer, and rifleman that can be unlocked. The more you play as these classes, the more you will rank up in specific abilities and earn medals/ribbons and enhanced abilities. Itís a deep system even for one class and for those who want to experiment and mix classes, there is enough online material to keep you busy for at least a year.
There are 8 multiplayer maps that are scalable and perfectly balanced for up to 32 players. With so many people on the battlefield you will certainly want to take advantage of the squad-based gameplay and appoint somebody squad leader which sets up a dedicated voice chat channel allowing you to strategize. Being part of a squad also allows you to spawn back to your leader rather than one of the pre-set spawn points on the map saving valuable time.
Visually, Killzone 2 is probably one of the most impressive games Iíve seen on the PS3 to date. The detail in the very first frame of the opening movie reminded me of the character design in Heavenly Sword with the intricate facial mapping and animation. And even when you pull out through the monitor and see the soldiers walking around the hall you get details and textures that far exceed Resistance 2 or Call of Duty. With full screen anti-aliasing, motion blur, internal lens reflections, and depth-based color grading, players will experience a picture that is sharp, smooth, and full of detail, and all at consistently smooth framerates.
Things only get more impressive when you are thrust into the explosive gameplay. The levels are huge and intricately complex. I found myself getting lost a few times and in one level I played for nearly 30-40 minutes fighting my way through buildings and rooftops only to find I had looped back on my starting location, only much higher up in this vastly vertical city. While there isnít much in the way of destructible environments, you will certainly see the ravages of war as the city and landscapes of this alien world slowly crumble under the might of your forces.
The animations for the soldiers are excellent as are the subtle details like equipment and weapons. The weapon models are exceptional, both in detail and the way they shift focus during the reload animations. Special effects like smoke, fire, water, and dust are amazing. There is one level out in the desert with dust swirling around and you feel compelled to cover your mouth.
Killzone 2 totally immerses you in this alien world and this epic battle with stunning 7.1 surround sound (if you have the system to support it). This means location-specific audio with wave tracing so players will not only notice the difference between indoor and outdoor environments, but also experience sound and music that are dynamic and contextual to the events on screen.
Killzone 2 supports trophies and it will take you at least two or more passes through the story mode to extract them, although I seriously doubt anyone could win the game without dying, even on the easiest setting, and finishing the game on Elite (the mode you unlock after winning the game once) would seem quite impossible. On Trooper level I spent nearly four hours on the final stage and boss fight. But most of the trophies and the replay value is securely rooted in the excellent multiplayer modes.
Killzone 2 appears to have it all starting with an interesting and challenging single-player story mode, a great off-line skirmish mode with incredible AI-driven bots that will allow you to hone your skills until you are ready to go online and enter the Warzone Ė a mode that will keep you glued to your PS3 for months to come. Time will tell if Guerrilla will indulge us with new map packs and future content, but even if this is all we get, I believe the PS3 has their first great FPS game for the system. Itís still not the Halo killer everybody wanted, but nobody is playing Halo on the PS3 anyway.
Get your copy of Killzone 2 now and enlist in the eternal battle that awaits every new recruit. This is easily the most immersive FPS game you can play now, or anytime in the near future.