akumax's Killzone 2 (PlayStation 3) review

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  • akumax has written a total of 3 reviews. The last one was for Killzone 2

Dazzling technical display that should have been so much more

Killzone 2 reviewed on PlayStation 3

It is generally considered that to criticise something for what it does not do is fallacious. After all, it deserves to be judged on its own merits in isolation from what it may or may not have been, and to do so could prove a disservice to its creators. Killzone 2 is ostensibly a shooting game and what it does, it does pretty well. The control scheme is adeptly tailored to the two stick set-up, its visuals are gloriously bombastic and the action itself is more than solid. All of this complemented by an audioscape that falls nothing short of remarkable and Artificial Intelligence that surpasses almost everything to have come before.

One would assume, then, that Killzone 2 is a great videogame and this is true to some degree; the experience as a whole just about measures up to what it sets out to be. It’s a terrible shame, then, that this goal had to be so achingly unambitious. So profoundly clichéd, so unsettlingly insipid are Killzone 2’s setting, premise, mission objectives, squad chatter, plotline and general structure that it quickly becomes frustrating. Not only that, but it proves folly to numerous genre pitfalls including poor pacing, action “corridors”, blatant and all too numerous set-pieces and pathetic, ham-fisted attempts at emotional scripting. Worst of all, Guerilla are evidently a ludicrously talented collective, but when it comes down to it they simply didn’t do enough with the excellent tools they created.

First of all, immersion. There’s low visibility with dust spraying all over the place. You spot a faint red glow through the thick clouds. Patiently, you line up a shot and squeeze the trigger. Your target hits the ground, limp. A woman radios you to signify the area is secure. Objective complete. These are the best moments of Killzone 2. It looks, sounds and feels like a battle at times, and the payoff is very rewarding indeed. This can be destroyed in the blink of an eye; as the camera pulls back, your partner drops a gay-joke laden with expletives and marches on like an All-American-Hero, as if precisely nothing has just taken place. There’s no pausing for breath, and had Guerilla taken a few lessons from Valve’s ten-year-old Half-Life with regards to careful pacing and identification with character a lot of problems would have been solved. It persistently breaks from the first person viewpoint, showing the player character as just another one-dimensional grunt. This renders the already laughably awful story unable to resonate with the person in front of the screen and ruins the illusion it strives so hard to build up. Additionally, the relentless audiovisual hammering the player is subjected to can be incredibly wearing after a few hours. A little downtime would have lent more of an atmosphere to proceedings, however the game seems content to fill these rare moments with head-in-hands embarrassing quips like “It’s quiet, a little too quiet”.

This brings us neatly on to the next point, tying into almost every lacklustre element of Killzone 2’s design. The aforementioned squad “banter” is downright atrocious and on occasion offensive to the player; for instance going to unprecedented lengths to insult our mothers. It’s the sort of nonsense one would expect from the average Xbox Live exchange, not planned dialogue in an important, Triple A, first-party release. To say that soldiers, whilst in a kill-or-be-killed situation, would try to temporarily combat their moral instincts through hollow jibes is one thing, but it’s hard to believe they actively revel in the death of fellow human beings as the buddies in this game appear to. Had my partner just electrocuted several men and watched them squirm, shrieking on the ground as they breathed their last, I certainly would not have complemented his murdering skills with an ebullient “Haha! Brutal!”

For a game so technically advanced, it’s odd that Killzone 2 feels in many regards lagging behind this generation of shooters. The touted dynamism is essentially quashed by restrictive environments that rarely offer anything other than a single path, and for once a little sneaking may have added depth to the gameplay. Although some scenery is destructible, it’s essentially peripheral to how the mission unfolds, unlike 2005’s Black, which had a similar feel and aesthetic, but utilised its degradable objects to great effect in gameplay terms by making allowances for environmental kills that went beyond the usual explosive barrels. They may have been carefully placed so the player didn’t stumble past them, but on the whole it worked, and something along those lines would have introduced a tad more variety to Killzone 2 - something it intrinsically lacks. Oh, it makes an attempt to spice things up with a few short, tacked-on vehicle sections, but little can compensate for its repetitive nature. This isn’t helped any by moments which seem so artificial and scripted that even a second or third play through an area can make them very easy to exploit. This worked in Doom, but in 2009 it’s very jarring to see, especially when the animation and surroundings on display are so lifelike.

It would be unfair to deride Killzone 2 so much as to rob it of its many considerable achievements. The cover system, despite inconsistencies, is the best yet in an FPS, and is paradoxically much more immersive and natural than that seen in Rainbow Six Vegas. Weapons have a great feel to them, and there’s a considered and balanced range of both light and heavy which caters to all tastes. Unfortunately, the player character is unable to carry more than one primary weapon at a time, and this, although more realistic than other games, leads to a lack of willingness to test out different play styles. Thankfully, ammunition is always plentiful and any Helghast firearm can be equipped, so it’s not a massive problem in the long run. The control system, although not to everyone’s taste, suits the console very well and results in one of the few shooters that arguably work better with a joypad than a mouse and keyboard. Online multiplayer, a class-based effort with some unique touches, will work very well for those who don’t tire of the experience as rapidly and proves that, out of the campaign’s damaging context, the shooting itself is actually of a high standard, though its longevity is to be questioned – the compelling and infinitely replayable Call of Duty 4 this is not. Finally, the earthy, tactical shootouts that are the centerpiece of the game are, when everything fits into place, some of the most satisfying the genre has borne witness to; however these glimpses of true brilliance are all to infrequent and only add to the frustration when one ponders what could have been.

“Violence has its own economy. Therefore, be thoughtful and precise in your investment” reads a Helghan propaganda plaque. Perhaps Guerilla should have paid a little more attention to it, because for all their precision in living up to that trailer, they appear to have applied little thought to how this should be balanced out as part of a much more interesting whole. Rather than producing a solid lump of exactly what was promised, perhaps some humble pie should have been swallowed and a more considered version of the game crafted. The chip on the shoulder may have been harder to shrug off in this situation, but we’d have been better off for it. Even just a few less man-hours spent polishing the lens-flare and a few more dedicated to turning an incredible engine into an incredible videogame would have elevated the Killzone 2 that is sitting on shelves into one of the greatest first person shooters ever made. Sadly, it isn’t, but don’t forget that what we get in its stead is not to be sniffed at.

13 Comments
Posted by Justariuss

Now that's a review.

Beware of Thiago.

Edited by AkumaX

I've crossed him several times already. This review is for him <3

And thanks :)

Posted by thiago

Your writing is way too serious and unnecessarily adorned for what you are trying to describe, which makes it look pretentious (see the shot description in the third paragraph). The language used must match context in which you are communicating. Equally funny would be to use extremely formal language in a rapper video, or slang in a literary piece. In this case a more objective and technical approach is needed because you are describing reality.
 
Let's go by parts:

1- What exactly is the identification with the character Guerrilla should learn from Valve? Gordon Freeman doesn't even have a face nor a voice. As far as a character goes he doesn't even exist (no past, no future, no occupation, no family, etc) and his interactions with the environment are limited to bullets and pushing button to open some area.

Killzone characters are one-dimensional grunts, the same way in almost any shooter. Even in Gears of War they are also one-dimensional grunts and cliches. The pacing is not much different, i.e., you go from battle to battle without stoping, with the difference that Killzone has more chaos and it is more war-like.

If you are comparing Killzone to an hypothetical idea of perfection, then your comments might be close to correct. But in the reality of the market and the many titles released your comments are way off. No shooter has a deep story with interesting characters. All of them are little more than militaristic propaganda.

I have written about it before here about how Gears is militaristic propaganda (no explanations, cartoonish enemies, kill them and ask no questions, the enemies are monsters without organization, purpose nor intelligence, etc). Killzone doesn't do much different, but it is not fair to blame it for a genre specific defficiency, especially when there's nothing better around.

2-  All shooters have linear gameplay, all of them without exceptions. None of them use sneaking, but only shooting your way through.  So where did you get this idea?

Half-Life doesn't have it, Gears doesn't have it, COD is the most scripted and linear game that ever existed, etc. How is this a Killzone flaw? The maps are gorgeously created and pass exactly the idea of places that used to be inhabitted by people, but they have been ravaged by war. The "scripting" you complain about is the same as any other game, with the difference that the AI actually makes up for the linear gameplay, adding more interesting variations you can enjoy at each replay. Therefore the replayability factor of this game is much higher than others.

The only game I have seen that it is not linear and offers many ways for you to accomplish your goals is Metal Gear Solid 4, but that's not a shooter.

Now look at Half-Life. Half-Life is full of hamster-like gameplay (see the Ravensholm level of Half-Life 2) with unrealistic looking maps where you need to go up to the top of a bulding, push a button in order to open a gate (!!). What is that? How many times did you need to do that in real life? The gameplay is full of insulting moments like that where you feel treated like some kind of pet playing fetch.

3- The cover system is the single greatest innovation of this game, along with the weightier controls. Those two characteristics alone make Killzone have a category of its own. How is it inconsistent?

It is funny that you use Doom in your review, because this is the least Doom-like game in terms of FPS you will find. Unlike Doom you are not a lonely warrior going through dungeons and corridors  (like Half-Life, Bioshock, etc), you are not faceless and voiceless, you don't shoot at static enemies that serve only as standing targets or they just run at you (like COD, or any other shooter)...

The cover mechanics changes it all!

4- You seem to try to promote the idea that Guerrilla is incredibly incompetent in creating stories and that they should have focused on that instead of building the greatest FPS ever made. Based on what? In terms of market the story is on par with everything else or even better. And they have set out to do exactly what they did, an action packed and fun FPS that used the most advanced technology on consoles.

And let's see what options we have. Call of Duty  4 and its main character Soap are a joke. Against that Helghast are poetry. Killzone's story is even better than many other games, including the whole of the Call of Duty series.

5- The ending of your review is revealing: "Rather than producing a solid lump of exactly what was promised, perhaps some humble pie should have been swallowed and a more considered version of the game crafted."

What was promised? The greatest FPS ever made. And they delivered it. The game is well done in all aspects, graphically, sound, AI, gameplay, etc. It is a shooter and a masterpiece. Then what's the problem?

Your problem is that you are measuring Killzong against your own ideas of "perfection", i.e., what you think a game should be like. You are not objective in using the current state of technology and genre characteristics to measure this game against. You could create a table of common features of FPS, highlighting those more interesting from the best selling games of the current generation and then use it as a metric to find out if Killzone is good or not, if it does less or more. But you didn't.

Your standards are nothing but pure imagination, not backed by actual products you can refer to. That's where your self-important review fails.

Posted by TomRay74

This was a really great review!

Posted by AkumaX

Thank you TomRay :)

Thiago:

You seem to have this notion that gaming is a medium undeserving of more mature critical commentary and I can't really see why. We have plenty mass-market Gamespot- and IGN-style descriptive, simplistic appraisal going around; gaming as a whole deserves something more analytical (not saying Gamespot etc. are bad, it's just a more accessible read). Furthermore, you appear to see these battle lines constantly drawn between games. I'd argue that a shooter has to do something unique to truly stand out, and an arbitrary cover mechanic - that I believe I praised - is not enough of a differentiator. As a disclaimer, let me reiterate that to me: Half-Life 9/10, Half-Life 2 8/10, Gears of War 2 7/10, Call of Duty 4 9/10, Halo 3 7/10, Black 8/10, BioShock 6/10, Crysis 6/10.

Some of your questions are so ridiculously loaded that there's no point in answering them, but I'll try.

1- Half-Life did some incredible things with storytelling and it's the immersion I'm on about. You assumed the role of Gordon Freeman, you saw every single part of the game through his eyes, and it was this quality that, at thte time, made it incredible. You never saw him and you never heard him because he was you. Sev is impossible to relate to because you're often wrenched out of his shoes and it totally wrecks the immersive atmosphere and prevented me from getting completely sucked in. Also, the teammates in Gears of War at least have some semblance of personality, even if they are stereotypes, and the first game didn't take itself as seriously as Killzone and is far more self-aware, even with the cringeworthy teary bits in the second one. Gears of War and Half-Life have fairly long sections with few enemies, whereas Killzone was a never-ending barrage and suffered badly because of that.

2- Yes, those other games are linear, but at least their battlegrounds are much more open and flowing than Killzone 2's. A lot of the time, they were just corridors with nice backdrops, funnels where the same enemies would take the same positions and you would crouch behind the same piece of cover. The slower pace makes for incredibly tactical battles when the design gives it a chance, but this didn't happen anything near often enough. Call of Duty 4 may have been heavily set-piece based, but it did it in a way that usually allowed for the player to take a slightly different approach each time, Killzone 2's levels simply don't do this most of the time and it's unfortunate.

3- I'll repeat, the cover system is great, but often it didn't do as intended and I began to get shot despite crouching. Also, when leaning round corners, I often had to go so far out before the game would let me shoot that I was terribly exposed. Sometimes, the ability to crouch near walls would have sufficed. It's immersive, but I think I'll stick to stuff like Call of Duty in this regard until it's perfected. Doom laid the foundations for the genre, and Killzone 2 appears to have followed the evolved template without expanding on anything like it had the capacity to. Guerrilla should have been braver.

4- The story had potential in Killzone's fairly interesting lore, but the way it's told in game really is at the level of a nine year old who has just learned some swear words off of the older kids. Badly conveyed, it sucks bigtime balls. Call of Duty 4 had a straightforward plot, but the characters were interesting and the battle itself ended up being affecting. The nuke level was a real "HOLY SHIT" moment for me, Killzone 2 doesn't approach anything like the level of accomplishment of CoD4's campaign.

5- Rather than creating a constantly explosive FPS like that trailer required them to do, a little more consideration would have done wonders for it. It's in the review, dude. We're never going to settle this.

A game should be judged using the full /10 scale, and what I got out of it was 7/10 level. Yes, you can compare it to other games (as you seem to contradict yourself by saying) but simply saying "This element is better than a similar one in Gears of War" or whatever is not nearly insightful enough.



Posted by thiago

The characters in Killzone 2 are fitting for the scenario created for a warzone, they are soldiers, not poets. All they need to do is to pull a trigger. There's no science to it.

Call of Duty 4 had a forgettable story with forgettable characters. The only one I remember of is Soap, the rest I can't even remember. I can't remember the plot also. It was so bad that I forgot it completely, played the game once and never went back, not even to try it in a harder difficulty.

Just lookup the complete Killzone story in killzone.com, you will see that this game has a very good story.

Posted by AkumaX

That's the thing that bugged me. I've read the back story (as well as having played most of Killzone and finished Liberation, excellent game) and it's actually really interesting, but the way they've presented it assumes all knowledge and is largely incoherent. Infact, the intriguing elements of the plotline were entirely absent from Killzone 2. After all, I was rating the product, not the backstory on the website.

Posted by radion_null

Read this review and can understand where you are coming from. My gutt feeling tells me it is a bit higher than a 3 1/2 stars but not a 5 (although a 5 can be given and well-argued like in Jeff's review).

Posted by GalacticFerret

With all respect I also found this review to pretentious. Jeff was short and to the point (you can`t argue he has no experience on what he does).


In the other hand i have seen this "the story is awful" "unidimensional grunts" trend in many forums, it's almost like if some people want KZ2 to fail.. i mean, honestly Im not much into it.. kinda sick of fps right now, but hey! common its obviously a outstanding achievement, so why bother?

The only good story "FPS" i recall atm is Bioshock.. and good in a sense is not retarded, not good in a sense it is worth of a book or a serious movie.. just good for what it is.. 

this pretty much sums my take on all this "philosophical" debate KZ2 has unleashed on the internet (see article):

http://www.wired.com/gaming/gamingreviews/news/2009/01/gamesfrontiers_0112


Posted by AkumaX

I do this kind of in depth dissection with all my reviews and if that makes me pretentious then at least I'm doing something a little different ;)

Posted by Johnstonx22

While I hate the whole anti-intellectual bent most people seem to take, at times you lay on the words a little thick, I think that it works up until your meaning is obfuscated. You definitely could have been clearer in your writing. I like the in-depth analysis, nothing is worse than "Lol, great game lol roflmao," I disagree with it (I think innovation is great, but highly value a good execution of an old theme) but it is well supported.

Posted by Freki

Great review mate!


Just ignore that thiago troll - he's been spamming the site for more than a week now ( and I still doubt he ever tried the game )
Posted by OhdK

Fantastic review! I thought the writing was great, and I do agree the story was a gigantic missed opportunity. The squad is also probably the most annoying collection of sociopathic misfits to gather in a video game, except for the squad in Haze. ("Sev find some cover!" and "I'm down AUUGGGHHHH" are permanently drilled into my skull... Jesus) Keep up the great work!

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