A great game that ultimately feels like a missed opportunity.
PlayStation 3 or not, we've all been following Killzone 2 with eager eyes for a long, long time. Would Killzone 2 finally be that killer first person shooter that Sony so desired? Would it be that game that finally drew the Xbox shooter crowd over to the PlayStation? The answer is more complex than a simple yes or no, but let it be known that Killzone 2 is a great game, and it will undoubtedly give anyone who picks up a PlayStation 3 controller a highly enjoyable experience. It has most of the ingredients to make a great, fun to play first person shooter with one vital flaw: it never attempts to take that final leap into becoming a timeless classic. Sure, it's no easy feat to go down in gaming history as one of the greatest first person shooters of all time. The problem is, that everyone was expecting this to happen with Killzone 2, and many people wanted it to.
Killzone 2 takes place after the events chronicled in Killzone for the PS2, and Killzone: Liberation for the PSP. No longer do you play as Jan Templar, this time taking up the reigns as Tomas Sevchenko, otherwise known as simply Sev. Rather than fending off the Helghast forces on the ISA planet of Vekta, this time around you take the fight to the Helghan homeworld. Killzone 2's story is relatively simple; you go to planet Helghan with a bunch of other soldiers, and you shoot stuff. There isn't really much else to it than that. Occasionally you will see a cut scene that attempts to tell some sort of story, but the story is ultimately largely forgettable. There is a last ditch effort in the last fifteen to twenty percent of the game to try and make the story more interesting, but by this point in the game you simply don't really have much reason to care. That's not to say the lore behind the Killzone universe is uninteresting, it's just that you never really spend any time with any of the characters, and they are almost completely undeveloped aside from occasionally cracking a joke or their frequent uttering of the f-word.
Fortunately for Killzone 2 the core shooting mechanics are absolutely superb. Every weapon is incredibly satisfying to wield and to shoot, and you can tell that significant attention went into making this game fun to play. The weapons function exactly like they do in the Call of Duty series, in that you must aim down the sight of your weapon to make precise shots. You can fire from the hip, but it is less accurate and more difficult to aim. Aside from this however, there is not much else to Killzone. You will occasionally use the sixaxis wireless controller to activate an explosive or to turn a handle, but these are mostly throwaway novelties that don't really add much to the overall experience.
Killzone 2 also takes a new approach to the way weapons are managed in single-player. You can only carry one weapon at all times. This is both a great feature, but at the same time it hurts the game as well. Because you can only carry one main weapon aside from your sidearm, it takes away player experimentation with the various weapons in the game. When players come across new weapons they will try them out, but usually go back to their comfort zone. This could simply be due to ammo concerns, or a feeling that they won't be able to get by certain areas with a specific weapon. The sidearm is a nice touch, but it simply doesn't provide the player with enough security to try using a sniper rifle, shotgun, or bolt gun for more than a brief amount of time. Players will mostly rely on the standard ISA or Helghan rifles for the majority of the game. Increasing the weapon count to two probably would have encouraged people to take more risks in the single-player in terms of their weapon loadout.
Needless to say, it's a good thing that Killzone 2's shooting action is so much fun, because it's easy to ignore the fact that you never do much else. Exploration is non-existent, and there is little to no character interaction aside from sometimes being accompanied by other squad members. Unfortunately Killzone 2's single-player is incredibly short, and it doesn't really have any bosses. You will come across the occasional "super" enemy but they are usually easily dispatched because the game virtually throws that particular enemy's weakness in your face the moment they appear. It's noble of the game developers to try and help you, but at the same time it takes all of the challenge away from these encounters because you instantly know how to dispatch them. These encounters are also largely infrequent, which even further makes them even more forgettable. There is a pretty great although extremely frustrating final encounter which involves fighting waves and waves of regular enemies as well, but this is definitely one of the highlights of the unique encounters featured in Killzone 2. Killzone 2's single-player is a fun experience in regard to the intense and satisfying shoot outs, but it never amounts to anything else. Combined with its short length, as well as a lack of any type of co-op, Killzone 2 ultimately winds up feeling like a bit of a missed opportunity, despite its incredibly solid shooting action.
On the multiplayer side of things, Killzone 2 largely succeeds with flying colours. It's not hard to tell that a significant amount of time went into the creation of Killzone 2's multiplayer component. The unique aspect of Killzone 2's multiplayer is that it combines class-based team play with various game modes all in the same match. Killzone 2 seamlessly changes from team deathmatch to assassination, to capture and hold, and so on. Matches are won based on which team won the most amount of game types. You can win the team deathmatch round, but if you lose all of the other ones, then your team loses the overall match. It's a fresh take on the multiplayer aspect of a first person shooter because it takes modes which may have otherwise been throwaway modes (aka modes no one would regularly play) by inserting them into an overall game with other types of modes as well.
However, you don't start Killzone 2's multiplayer with a bunch of classes to choose from. You begin with the standard soldier and barely any weapons, but the more you play and gain experience, more options become available to you. This is great because not only does it match you up with players of similar skill level, it gives everyone a chance to get used to the game before it throws all of these other classes and weapons in your face. This makes Killzone 2's multiplayer highly accessible to pretty much anyone, even people who rarely play first person shooters. When you start playing you don't have to worry about whether you should be a medic, and engineer, a saboteur, or whatever. You simply learn the maps, and how to get good, then you get to start experimenting with these other classes and weapons. The best part of it is that everyone else will start getting the new stuff around the same time as you do, so it allows everyone to get used to it together.
The biggest problem with Killzone 2's multiplayer is that because all of the game modes are tied together, after a while it starts to feel pretty repetitive, and even kind of stale. The gradual unlocking of new classes and weapons is fun, but there are several weapons which are entirely absent that were included in the single-player campaign, such as the flamethrower and the bolt gun. These are both included in DLC maps, but if you don't buy them you won't have access to them in the multiplayer; but even then, they are exclusive to the DLC maps in which they are featured. Killzone 2's multiplayer component also only comes with eight maps, and while they are mostly incredibly well designed they will eventually start to get old pretty quickly, especially combined with the fact that every multiplayer match winds up essentially being the exact same thing time and time again. There are several map pack DLCs available, but I've never quite been able to get used to the notion of paying money for additional multiplayer maps, especially when you consider that when you add up all the money you can spend on DLC the game starts to approach the price range of eighty dollars.
It's no secret that Killzone 2 is a graphical power house, and it truthfully does look amazing. On an HDTV Killzone 2 simply blew me away. This game is astounding from a technical standpoint, and is easily one of the best looking console games ever created. The art design of Killzone 2 is also quite exceptional, the whole game world has this really dirty, dusty appearance that really sets it apart from other games. One of the earlier levels has these huge lightning bolts streaming across the sky with thick dark clouds above, which creates a truly great atmosphere for war. It really feels like there is a true battle to the bitter end going on here. The Helghan imagery which is obviously influenced by World War II and Nazi Germany also helps give Killzone 2 a unique feeling that helps separate it from other shooters on the market. If you're sick of playing in the same type of atmosphere over and over again, then Killzone 2 provides a nice change from the norm.
It's disappointing that Killzone 2 never took those extra steps to include a truly memorable single-player campaign. It's starting to feel like most first person shooters only have a single-player campaign out of obligation rather than wanting to make something truly unique and memorable. It's easy to tell that the focus of Killzone 2 was largely placed on its multiplayer experience, and this is what they wanted to use to draw people into the game. Killzone 2's multiplayer is great, but there's a ton of other great multiplayer games out there as well. While the single-player is fun to play, it simply never does anything interesting with itself. It makes Killzone 2 feel a lot like every other first person shooter flooding an over-saturated market where most other games in the same vein fail to live up to gaming greats such as Half-Life 2 and Crysis. Fortunately for Killzone 2 it's solid shooting action and unique atmosphere is what helps it stand apart from everything else, so if you have a PlayStation 3, Killzone 2 is still worth checking out.