At this point, the tale of Killzone 2's long march to market has become the stuff of legend. I can't imagine anyone thought that a simple trailer, debuted at E3 back in 2005, would reach this sort of mythical status, and that the anticipation for the final product would become so ridiculous. While plenty of people will spend plenty of time dissecting Killzone 2 and trying to decide if it "lives up to the hype" or some such nonsense, all that really matters is the final, core transaction. Killzone 2 is $60. Should you pay $60 to play the content contained on that shiny little Blu-Ray? Yeah, you probably should.
So we've already established that this game is worth playing. But if you're the sort of person that's going in expecting some kind of deep story with important characters and numerous twists and turns, you'll probably be a little disappointed. The single-player is straightforward and absolutely to-the-point as you, an ISA soldier, partake in an invasion on the Helghast homeworld. There isn't a ton of dialogue, and most of what you see consists of basic military orders. Go secure the convoy. Go secure the bridge. Let's take it to the Helghast. It's functional enough to keep you pointed in the right direction without spending too much time introducing you to characters, the world, or the conflict. The exception is that the game makes some half-hearted attempts in the back third of the campaign to make it personal. But with next to no time being spent on building your soldier, Sev, or his allies up as three-dimensional characters, it's pretty hard to care when things go bad on them. It's sort of a shame that there isn't more character or plot development, as the conflict between the ISA and the Helghast seems really interesting. You'll just have to go outside the game to learn more.
While the events that transpire during Killzone 2 don't feel particularly impactful, the minute-to-minute gameplay helps make the campaign worth seeing. Your battles against the Helghast forces look outstanding and play well. You'll encounter a good variety of weapons along the way that should let you play the game the way you like to play shooters. I'm a big headshot guy, so the default assault rifle, with its dot sight and high accuracy, was my go-to weapon for the entire game. Of course, ammo for that thing doesn't last forever, so you'll encounter a Helghast version of the assault rifle, along with a shotgun, a submachine gun, a rocket launcher, a sniper rifle that requires you to hold the controller still for steady aim, and so on. Though you don't encounter it very frequently, there's also a lightning gun that'll chain electricity between multiple soldiers. Though a lot of fun to use, it's not the most practical firearm. Since you can only hold one primary weapon at a time, you need to be wise about what you carry into battle... though there are so many guns laying around on the battlefield that you'll rarely have to turn to your backup piece, a lowly pistol with infinite ammunition.
The campaign takes you through a great-looking variety of messed up environments as you hunt down stolen nukes and attempt to seize the enemy's stronghold. The game's effects really help sell the Helghast homeworld as a total hellhole, with just about everything that resembles nice, civilian architecture already reduced to some form of rubble. High winds circle and swirl dust and smoke in the air, giving the entire game a hazy look that helps convey the feeling of being on the battlefield. That haze makes distant enemies a little tough to see at times, which makes for a great, dreadful atmosphere. Even when you're marching straight across a bridge, you're never quite sure where the enemy is going to be coming from next. Once you've spotted the enemy, they're never too tough to deal with as long as you're a straight shooter. The AI isn't fantastic, but it makes up for that with quantity, and--if you're playing on a harder difficulty setting--accuracy and resiliency, as well.
The campaign makes for a fun ride and will probably fall between the eight- and 12-hour mark for most players. While you'll unlock a fourth difficulty by beating the game, the real replay value comes from Killzone 2's multiplayer mode. If I broke it down into mission types and number of classes, the online portion of Killzone 2 would sound pretty standard. It's the way that all of this is built and presented that makes it special.
Online, Killzone 2 is a team game for up to 32 players. Rather than breaking each different way to play out as a separate mode, everything is mushed together and presented on the fly. So the game may start with an assassination mission, where one team is trying to kill one specific player on the opposing team. At the end of that, there are a few seconds of downtime, and then the game launches into the next mission type. Sometimes you'll get something simple, like five minutes of team deathmatch. Sometimes you'll have to attack or defend positions, play one-flag capture-the-flag, take control points, and so on. At the end of each phase, the winning team gets one point. At the end of the match, the team with the most points wins. It's a clever way to keep things fluid and prevent the player base from breaking down and rallying around one or two types at the expense of the others. Though if you find yourself wanting something specific, the server launching menus give you a great deal of control over which missions appear, which weapons are allowed, and so on.
Player advancement is also a big part of the multiplayer. When you first get going, you're a low-ranked soldier with very few options. You won't be able to access any of the different classes and weapons. That might sound like a drag, but it works out pretty well by forcing new players to get comfortable with the basics before letting them sign up to be a medic, an engineer, a saboteur, and so on. As you rank up, you'll earn the additional classes and be able to play a more functional role in battles. The classes are pretty standard in their abilities and limitations. Engineers can create turrets, but are limited to shotguns. The medic can carry the default assault rifles, but gains the ability to revive downed players. Tacticians can create mobile spawn points to give the team a forward position in battle. Scouts can cloak themselves, saboteurs can disguise themselves, assault gets heavier armor... you get the idea. As you play, you'll also earn ribbons and badges that reward your play with additional abilities, so medics can eventually drop health kits, engineers can repair ammo dispensers, and so on. There are also bonuses that aren't class-specific that will give you more starting ammo, more grenades, more points during certain mission types, and the like. All of this gives players a lot of different badges and upgrades to shoot for as they wage war across the game's eight maps. If you like, you can check out your unlocked gear by playing with up to 15 bots offline. Bots can also get in on multiplayer matches, if that's your thing.
Controlling Killzone 2 feels a bit different from other first-person shooters, as the turning radius has a bit of weight to it. You can't just snap around at a moment's notice. This is something the first game had, as well, but it doesn't feel as cumbersome here. The animation still looks great, but it doesn't come at the expense of your control over the action. In the campaign you'll come across a few spots where you're asked to use the motion control of the Sixaxis to turn valves or plant explosives. It's a bit weird and feels clunky the first time you encounter it, but once you know to expect it a few more times, it's fine.
Killzone 2 successfully iterates upon the formulas and standards of console first-person shooters in ways that make it feel fresh, and it does all that while looking absolutely outstanding. If you're the least bit interested in first-person shooting and you own a PlayStation 3, Killzone 2 should be near the top of your list.