Let me begin…
Killzone 2 is fucking brilliant. Sorry if this sounds like a summary and you need not read further, but it really is. It is like lots of First Person Shooters but it just does everything so well, it sets itself apart. Read on to see specifically why this is the case. Or just trust me and go and buy it now. Actually, read this first – it may not be for you if this isn’t your cup or tea. Because you’re mental or hate fun or something.
Killzone starts off in the mother ship and you are introduced to yourself as Sevchenko or ‘Sev’, a double hard Sergeant in the ISA Special Forces Alpha. You are then transported to the planet Helghast where the shit is really hitting the proverbial fan. You and your squad then proceed to blow the living crap out of everyone you come across. There is a bit more story than this, with some great baddies but the plot isn’t really up to much. Good guys vs psycho bad guys. It doesn’t really matter all that much as the game is so damned exciting you don’t really notice.
You are definitely the good guys. There is little doubt in that. You play on the side that are clearly the American forces of the future. So cue bad tactical planning, friendly fire, and cries of “Kick Ass!” as you charge forward with guns a-blazing and then the bafflement that it’s all gone tits up. The Helghast are a cross between Nazi’s, communists, and nutter fanatics. Their leader Scolar Visari is the first person you see as he gives a Hitleresque rant about how his forces will slaughter the ISA and blood will run in the streets and so on. Also like the Nazis, the Helghast have the better outfits. Just to give you an idea of how cool the enemy is, here’s an example: there is one particular type of enemy trooper you come across who is huge and carries a colossal machine gun. You are informed when you first come across one of these behemoths that it just took out an entire squad. You are also told in a loading screen that these are guys who are sealed in a massive powered suit of bulletproof armor, given a huge gun, are then fed aggressive psychotropic mind-altering drugs, and are then sent out against the enemies while constant propaganda is piped into their ears. Which is pretty cool.
Here’s the fellow:
Graphically, the game is gorgeous. Full of detail. Helghast is a shithole – like a giant run-down oil refinery in an especially shitty reddish desert. Think Planet Harkonnen from Dune but without the colourful characters. It is wind-swept and industrial and bleak. The lighting and sounds and music complement the whole effect and this in turn heightens and differentiates the various settings (spaceship, palace, etc). Most of the action takes place on the planet however and it almost feels like a real place. The details are superb and lifelike. Occasionally you are at some gun turrets or in a walking upright tank thing (like in Aliens but with guns) and as the machine gets hit, more and more cracks appear in the wind-shield. The graphics are extraordinary and one of the best on the PS3.
Now for main bit. What’s it like to play? I played this straight after playing Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Which is also a corker of game, by the way. In that game your character is quick (especially when you are SAS), and as you storm a enemy strongpoint your gun snaps from one bad guy to the next. In Killzone 2, it felt a bit sluggish at first. The guns were heavy and it takes longer to turn and when you jump you just feel a bit slower, as if you have more mass. I then started to get into it and realised that this was a joy. It was just different. You are carrying a heavy load and the guns are bigger and heavier. It then became insane fun.
There are several huge set pieces where you are fighting not just with your squad but with whole divisions. The big guns are rarely sci-fi, just heavy bastard firing machines that are brilliant to shoot with. Chucking grenades can be annoying in some games, but again they got it right. There are just enough guns to keep you interested and the tasks are just varied enough to alleviate any chance of boredom. The AI on both sides is incredibly high and they are rarely passive. Enemy soldiers will hide behind cover until they think you have stopped shooting before popping their heads out somewhere new. They will scatter when you chuck a grenade, which can be frustrating but at least it’s realistic. You have to use grenades intelligently instead – throwing them where several Helghast are hidden behind cover and then you and your squad can shoot them as they run out. Unfortunately they do the same to you. If you hide in one spot for too long you will get flanked, so you have to be alert.
The solo play took me about ten hours to complete, which is pretty respectable and as my heart was pounding for most of it, quite a relief. I then thought I’d give online a go. As I stated before, I had been playing COD 4 before this and there the online game felt difficult. I was always at the bottom of the kill list. Somehow, in Killzone2 I fared a lot better. Maybe it is because the game is newer and you don’t get 90% of players being hardened professionals who have spend 1000s of hours on it. Both games keep the multiplayer interesting by allowing you to level up and proceed through the ranks to general. On the way you win medals for achievements like killing the most people or taking out three guys with one grenade. These medals in Killzone are separate from the ranking system and immensely pleasurable to receive. Also, as you rise you get new weapons, abilities, even new classes. As you get promoted you are only placed in battles with other players of the same rank, so you never feel it is a bit unfair when, (as has happened in other games) you get shat on by players who are generals with better armour and more powerful guns.
The Killzone maps are also well designed and balanced. With up to thirty two players in each one, they always feel right and as they are multi-layered you have to think in several dimensions or an enemy will just drop a grenade on your head. In addition to all this you get the usual multiplayer options of capture the flag and body count and so on. But here they can be played one after the other in the same game. It adds a lot more fun than I thought it would have at first as each team competes to win each section and are awarded points accordingly. You also feel like you are working together a lot more in multiplayer than other games I have played. In one section a single player is picked as an assassination target and their position is broadcast to all the 31 other players. I was picked once and I found a relatively secure room and felt genuinely nervous as my teammates all ran to my location and stood guard as the enemy converged on us. As they neared I saw my team get slowly picked off, and as the gunfire got nearer I genuinely got alarmed. Eventually both squads guarding each door exploded in blood and the enemy appeared and I was shot. A lot. Plus blown up with grenades. It was fun though. I am completely addicted to multiplayer now and that is a first for me.
I love First Person Shooters and play a lot of them. It sometimes worries my wife. Killzone 2 doesn’t bring anything particularly new to the genre but it does everything right. It is unbelievably good fun and if the plot is a bit second rate – who cares? You will barely remember it. The game rarely lets up and you will move from one massive set piece to the next in a frenzy of killing joy. The multiplayer is superb and you will spend a lot longer on it than the solo game, so it’s well worth your money. There are so many more elements to it than can be listed in a review, so my advise is to just buy it. If you like epic battles and big guns you will love it. I will see you online.
(Thanks to gamespot for the photos.)