February 2, 2009 It's no secret that the PS3 needs a Halo/Gears of War to call it's own. Haze and Resistance 1/2 have tried to take the crown, but ultimately failed. Sony and Guerilla Games certainly have a lot to live up to with Killzone 2, having turned the hype up to 11 way back in 2005 with their now-infamous pre-rendered trailer at E3. So is this the system-selling franchise Sony need? Read on for our full review.
The story continues the events of Killzone: Liberation, the second, PSP-based game in the series. After the Helghast invaded an ISA colony, the ISA have taken the fight to the Helghast's home planet, Helghan. You'll take the role of Sev, a sergeant in a four-strong team of ISA soldiers known as Alpha Squad. But enough about the story...
Well-paced, decent-length campaign
You'll blow through the campaign in 8-10 hours, which is standard for a AAA-quality game, but the difference with Killzone 2 is that you'll actually want to play through it multiple times, unlike Resistance 2 - and that's one major tick for a system-selling game.
Truly amazing graphics
While the game is rendered in 720p and locked at 30 frames per second, Killzone 2 proves that there's far more to the equation than just raw technical specifications. Guerilla Games' proprietary "deferred rendering engine" allows them to create some truly stunning lighting effects. It's firmly entrenched in the current-generation color palette of greys and browns, but it's pulled off in style. GG's mastery of particle effects lead to some benchmark-setting dust, smoke and fire, and the game is gorgeous right down to the minute details like fabric flapping in the wind, finished with grain filters and resulting in an incredibly visceral look and feel which stands in a league of its own. Cutscenes are rendered with the in-game engine and there's more than a few Keanu Reeves "Whoa..." moments when you're dropped into the action seamlessly after a jaw-dropping introduction to a firefight. This is definitely one for the graphical-capabilities-make-the-game crowd.
Some of the best AI in a console shooter yet
At times I wished the enemy wasn't so smart. They'll take cover, evade your grenades and know just how to get you to break your cover. On higher difficulty levels, you'll need to think like a soldier to survive - you'll get distracted, flanked and taken out by a rifle butt to the back of the head if you give them half a chance. And for once, the AI of your teammates is nearly up to scratch with the enemy.
The best implementation of Sixaxis motion controls we've seen
Arming demolition charges and turning valves by holding down L1 and R1 and rotating the controller feels right, and enhances the immersion rather than shattering it with a sledgehammer. Best of all is the sniper rifle, which forces you to hold the controller still to steady your aim rather than just hitting a button to do so.
Awesome vehicle and fixed weapon sections
By the time you've come near the endgame, you'll have used a couple of machine gun turrets and an anti-air turret in a space ship. In the lead up to the final assault, you'll get behind the controls of a mech, which manages to convey a sense of mass without becoming a pain to control. My only complaint here is that these sections are over far too quickly.
Realistic hit reactions
Enemies do what you'd expect them to do after being shot with a particular weapon in a particular area of the body, so every kill is unique and there's not an embarassing ragdoll moment to be seen (I'm looking at you, Gears of War 2).
Awesome weaponry grounded in reality
If you prefer your first-person shooters with a distinct lack of laser weaponry, Killzone 2 won't disappoint. There's all the favorites like pistols, assault rifles, machine guns, sniper rifles, rocket launchers, grenade launchers, a flamethrower and a shotgun. There's also a really cool bolt gun which can literally nail your enemies to the wall. The only sci-fi weapon you'll see is the electricity gun, which is cool enough to get a pass from us.
Destructable environments that look "right"
Hiding behind a stone pillar that's being smashed up by a heavy machine gun while pieces of stone splinter off around you is just awesome. It's not just a toggle between a wall or object being "intact" and "broken" like Battlefield: Bad Company.
Forgiving difficulty and save/continue mechanism
There's no platformer-esque insta-kill moments (*ahem* Resistance 2) and if you set the difficulty to the lowest setting, there's only one section I can think of that you might have difficulty with - the ATAC boss. The final battle is tough, but there's four "chapters" with save points that mean you won't be sent back to the start of the battle if you mess up towards the end.
No installation required
...and while the gameplay will sometimes pause for a second to save or load as a result, I'd much prefer this than waiting 15-30 minutes for the game to install, or every time you want to play a certain chapter like Metal Gear Solid 4. Your milage may vary, but it's a tradeoff we can expect to see both sides of until the PS4 arrives, or much later in the PS3's lifecycle.
What didn't work
No keyboard & mouse support
While I can understand this would have required either alienating controller users with a disadvantage, or fragmenting the player base into two distinct groups in multiplayer modes, I'm not entirely sure what would have been the issue with allowing it in the campaign only while they sorted that out. After all, Sony allows it (unlike Microsoft), and Epic proved it could be pulled off with Unreal Tournament 3. Shame really, as this could have been the game that convinced fanatical keyboard-and-mouse PC gamers that the PS3 was a viable platform for gaming.
No co-operative mode
Apparently co-operative will be added to the game post-launch via a patch, but its absense is sorely missed - especially given how perfectly suited a majority of the missions are. If they could do it in Gears of War 2 on the Xbox 360 at launch, they could do it for Killzone 2.
Only one primary weapon at a time
I understand that the 10+ weapons in the backpack of yesteryear are over, but one weapon and a pistol is just too little for an elite soldier who is near singlehandedly taking down an entire army of scary bastards. This does force you to get a grip on all the weapons and use them to their fullest, but I really enjoyed the sniper rifle and wanted to have one with me all the time. I think Gears of War nailed the weapon selection with two primary weapons and a pistol, and enhanced it in Gears of War 2 by adding the option of carrying an additional heavy weapon that has to be dropped to access the two primary weapons again. The bolt gun, flamethrower and electricity gun could have served as these heavy weapons.
Unwieldy controls/cover system
By default, the aim button toggles aim on and off, rather than being held down to aim. I found this counter-intuitive to what I've learned from every single console shooter I can remember - luckily there was an option to change it to a hold rather than a toggle. Unfortunately, the cover button has no such option. That means to stay in cover, lean out, and aim, I was holding two buttons and a direction on the left stick. It got more manageable with time, but ultimately left a lot to be desired compared to the polish of Gears of War 2, where cover is toggled and holding aim makes you pop/lean out automatically.
Occasionally sub-par voice acting
While things are peachy for the majority of the time, and Brian Cox does an undeniably excellent job in his return to the role of Emperor Visari, there's certain lines that just don't work - but it's hard to tell whether this is the fault of the script or the actors themselves. There's no shortage of profanity, which doesn't bother me, and can add to the hectic experience, but sometimes I think it would've been better for the character to say nothing at all.
Finally, we have another PS3 exclusive that can stand alongside Metal Gear Solid 4 as a damn good reason to own the console that isn't just playing Blu-ray discs. If you have a PS3, you owe it to yourself to experience this game.
(Yes, I haven't mentioned the multiplayer aspect of the game. Rest assured, it's there, I just didn't get a chance to even scratch the surface of what's there, and don't want to just fudge an opinion of it to meet a deadline - keep an eye out for our multiplayer review in the next week or two.)