Killzone 2 Review
For many PS3 owners, their console’s library of exclusive must-haves begins and ends with Metal Gear Solid 4. More dedicated Sony fans may also have some combination of Resistance 2, Uncharted, Ratchet and Clank, Heavenly Sword and LittleBigPlanet among their prized pile of PS3-only titles. Regardless of which group you’re in, though, there’s no denying the pickings are pretty slim for must-play first party properties on the nearly two and a half year old console. The prospects are even worse for FPS fans—I mean, R2 can only be played through so many times before twitchy fingered fans tire of fighting the same Chimeran threat.
Thankfully, those with a deep affection for peering down the first-person perspective sites of kick-ass hardware, and aiming right between the eyes of humanity-threatening forces, can lock-and-load and hit the frontline for an all-new PS3 entry. Killzone 2, the title that’s been buzzed about—positively and negatively—since Sony revealed its too-good-to-be-true “gameplay” trailer at 2005’s E3, has finally arrived to set the record straight and provide PS3 owners with another reason to justify their stalwart Sony support. And while the final product may not exactly match the ambitions of that four year old teaser, it comes astoundingly close. In fact, I’ll go on record as saying Killzone 2 is one of—if not the—most visual pleasing games my discerning peepers have ever feasted upon.
Stating Killzone 2 is artistically ambitious simply doesn’t cut; it’s a graphical tour-de-force that consistently stings you with eye-popping surprises. All the details—big and small—are out in full force: Metal chunks and concrete debris pepper the battlefield, choking smoke effects make you want to cover your mouth, fiery explosions dominate your HD display, and muzzle flashes and discarded shells pierce the entire presentation. It all comes together beautifully, building an amazingly tense sense of scary-real warfare. In fact, not since Call of Duty 4 have I been so immersed in the orchestrated chaos of a future-set battle zone. The amazing audio work further serves to complement the visual showcase with immersion-injecting cues; whistling projectiles, ear-rocking explosions, enemy and ally chatter, the screams of fallen foes and the desperate cries of your wounded brothers in arms culminate to deliver the most engaging audio experience you’ll ever encounter on an FPS battlefield.
The endlessly atmospheric production is further supported by impressive gameplay and controls. One of my biggest pet peeves in shooters is wimpy weapons that sound like pea shooters and lack the weightiness to match their appearance. Well, needless to say, Killzone 2’s Helghast killers more than deliver in the audio/visual department, but it's also important to mention that they perfectly hit the all-important “heft” factor; they feel as big and bad as they look and, in turn, make the player feel like a true force to be reckoned with. A pleasing selection of the usual suspects—pistols, rifles, automatics—are joined by some suped-up weapons that you’ll have to fire for yourself to truly appreciate. The level layouts also pack in the variety, offering plenty of wide open spaces cut with more claustrophobic encounters. It's actually the more intimate moments with the Helghast, in enclosed spaces, that impressed me most. Cautiously navigating a quiet, seemingly empty interior, only to be ambushed by a group of red-eyed baddies, packed more genuine frights than Resident Evil 5’s and F.E.A.R. 2’s scarier moments. Amping the palpable tension and quality play experience are AI enemies that are actually pretty damn intelligent. Whether smartly flushing you out of cover or frantically diving away from your grenades, the Helghast will continually keep you on your battle weary toes.
If I had to find fault with Sony’s premier shooter, it’d be with its overriding color scheme. The game is dark, and sometimes it winds up being just a little too dark. And despite the jaw-dropping visuals on display, you’ll simply encounter a lot of areas that are saturated in muted colors. It certainly matches the title’s war-is-hell tone, but when you see what the technology is capable of, you may wonder what other tricks could have been pulled with a more varied palette. It's a minor gripe to be sure, but one I wouldn’t mind seeing explored a bit in the inevitable sequel.
Some may find the straightforward story a bit disappointing as well. It pretty much consists of heading to the Helghast’s home planet and tearing it a new one. I for one don’t expect much from an FPS story, and just the concept of the Helghast—with their glowing eyes, menacing masks, and Third Reich vibe—has always been enough for me, even in the PS2 original. They are, without a doubt, one of the coolest enemies in the medium. That said, the genre has been getting a bit more touchy-feely lately (I’m looking at you Gears of War 2 ), so some players may be looking for more emotionally-charged moments. If you want to cry during this one, though, you'll have to resort to chopping up some onions between piling up Helghast corpses like cord wood.
I’ve heard some other critics cite Killzone 2’s multi-player component as its real draw. While I certainly agree the online options, which support up to 32 players with varying upgradeable classes, has eight maps—some as high as they are wide, offering the vertical aspect lacking in so many shooters—and a variety of modes, is the most robust and enjoyable on the PS3. And honestly, to truly do justice to this game’s multi-player, you’d have to dedicate an entire review just to its online action. However, I play games—even shooters—for the solo campaign first and the online offerings second. Assuming I’m not alone in my affection for going it alone over joining the online melees, players considering a purchase solely on the merits of Killzone 2’s 10-hour campaign should not hesitate to join this fight. I’ve conquered it twice, and am already anxious to jump in again and remind the Helghast they're not welcome in my universe. Even those few that have a PS3 but no broadband connection should still add it to their list. Either way, one-man armies and multi-player masses alike should all head to Helghan; I hear it’s beautiful this time of year, even if the locals are a bit restless.