Killzone 2 looks great, but is merely solid on all other accounts
When Guerilla Games showed off its first trailer for the second Killzone at E3 2005, it looked so amazing that people couldn't help but go crazy for the prospect of getting to play it themselves. It was to be one of those games that would show off the PS3's advantage in terms of power compared to other platforms. The trailer turned out to be pre-rendered, and as such the pressure was on Guerilla to crank out a game that came close enough to that original trailer to satisfy the fans. It was probably impossible for them to live up to the hype, but the best thing about this story is that they actually pulled it off with the retail game. Not only does Killzone 2 look absolutely phenomenal to this day, the universe it dabbles in manages to be pretty interesting. The actual shooting, on the other hand, is of lesser quality.
The Killzone franchise focuses on a conflict between the human ISA forces and the Helghast troops. I went into Killzone 2 without having ever played its predecessor, and can therefore state with authority that knowledge of that game is not required to understand what is going on. The game takes place on a planet called Helghan, the home turf of the Helghast. You take control of an ISA soldier called Sev, who partakes in the ongoing battle. The main goal is to win the war. As such, you spend the entire game running from one location to the next as the new objectives (e.g. “destroy this Helghast tower” or “disable this anti-air gun”) pop up all over without much context. The story of the game is paper-thin, but it makes up for it a bit by having a universe that could potentially be pretty interesting. Unfortunately, the game chooses to give you extremely little in the way of backstory. You are there, the Helghast are there and you are shooting at each other. That's pretty much it. The story also ends in underwhelming fashion that makes no attempts to hide the fact that Killzone 3 would pick up approximately 30 seconds after this game leaves off. If a compelling tale is what you seek in a shooter, look past Killzone 2, for you will not find one here.
Killzone 2's presentation is impressive. Helghan is an industrial, depressing planet that is being torn apart by war on top of that, and it shows. Pieces of architecture lie ruined, and the sky is cloaked by thick clouds of smoke. Fog of war has never looked this good. The Helghast look positively ghastly with their gas masks on, which feature handy little red lights on them as to allow you to pick them out in the dark environments. The most impressive part is probably the detail on the weapon models. They look extremely realistic and make the fantastic lighting throughout this game stand out, as the cold steel reflects what little sunlight there is into your eyes. The particle effects are some of the most amazing I have ever seen. Killzone 2 uses a lot of smoke and mirrors (literally) to make for a beautiful game, one that will probably still look great years from now, even when compared to new games like Battlefield 3. The aesthetics are simply that good. From a technical perspective, it's a great game, but the art style gives it that timeless quality. We are at a point now where graphics don't really need to approach realism further any more. Instead, the art should and will start mattering more. This game is definitely up there, and if you want something that can show off what a PS3 can pull off, Killzone 2 is the second best game after Uncharted.
When the game was first released, it had almost tank-like shooting controls. Guerilla Games felt that they ought to give the player that sense of weight that one gets when he or she wields a firearm in real life. However, the concept was met with very mixed reactions, and the developer therefore released a patch that includes a “high precision” option. This has been a blessing, because I personally felt that the original control method was rather sluggish. The higher precision allowed me to enjoy the combat situations quite a bit more.
You'll spend pretty much the entire game shooting Helghan foot soldiers. Very occasionally, a mech will appear, and there's an encounter with a gun ship at one point, but the combat pretty much stays the same throughout. Their artificial intelligence is decent. They'll take cover and lob grenades to smoke you out. They also have the tendency to constantly pop their heads in and out of cover. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but I did find it frustrating at a couple of points. The worst thing about these enemies is that they are absolute bullet sponges. Killzone 2 moves quite a bit slower than a Call of Duty or even a Halo game (despite the aforementioned update) and when you couple that with erratic enemies who constantly swerve all over the place and suck up a lot of rounds, it can get somewhat tedious. Even if it may have had to do with a lack of skill more than anything, there were certain parts of the game that had me struggling to continue on for the simple reason that I was sort of fed up with the recurring encounters. Perhaps I am impatient and should be scolded for it, but I could not help but think that the battles lacked pace, as I was spenting lots of time just spraying bullets in all directions, wating for these things to finally die. The main assault rifles in particular, held little punch. There is just something about the whole game that made me feel that I, in the role of the soldier Sev, was really terrible at shooting dudes. This is mostly offset by the look of the battles though. As mentioned, the haziness of the battlefields coupled with the gunfire and explosions is awesome. The good sound effects finish off the product to make for a campaign that isn't always perfectly fluid to play but manages to look cool at all times. There's something to be said for that as well.
There is also a prominent multiplayer mode in here, sometimes touted as the Playstation's answer to games like Gears of War and Halo. The structure of the competitive multiplayer is well-made. You can play ranked or unranked matches, and the idea is that a single game will feature several game types. You may play five minutes or so of Warzone (think Team Deathmatch) and then have the game switch over to a couple of minutes of Search and Destroy, for instance. This is a smart decision that keeps the matches exciting. The thing that made me dislike playing Killzone against other people, though, is once again the way it controls. The deficiency of the controls are bothersome in the single player, but it's something that can be grown used to. Against other players, however, I felt like it lead to numerous deaths that could have been avoided had the controls been more responsive. This caused me to give up on it after attaining the medic gun, which happens after a few levels. I can only praise what Guerilla Games tried to do with it, trying to set itself apart from the cookie-cutter Call of Duty clones. That it didn't end up working came down to my distaste for the controls and nothing more.
Killzone 2 is fantastic in some respects, and sort of dull in others. It features amazing visuals as its main selling point, and they are of such quality that a lot of its shortcomings are easily forgiven. What is unfortunate is that the shooting is only so-so and the story, though not incompetent, hardly inspiring. If you are looking for a new competitive multiplayer game, it could potentially be for you, though you might be better off simply going for Killzone 3 right now, of course. The game, in a single word, is solid and worth a bargain price. Just don't expect to be blown away by it.