Review: Killzone 2

Killzone 2 is dirty. Grimy. Hard. It’s a butt-scratching, steak-and-fries eating, beer-drinking shooter that lives down the hall from games like Gears of War, eschewing much of the galactic frilliness one sometimes sees in other games set in the far future. There are no lasers, massive robots, or delusions of universal heroism. You get bullets and fire, f-bombs and blood. And that’s plenty.

We’re a few years away from the game’s initial unveiling, when Sony caught flak from fans and press for it’s too-good-to-be true trailer at an E3 press event. This was after the original Killzone for the PS2 was billed as a “Halo-killer,” only to be generally relegated to good-not-great status while the Master Chief and company set sales records.

This incarnation of Killzone feels different. This game is comfortable it it’s own unwashed skin, rooted to the ground in both gameplay and philosophy – the polar opposite of its flashier, more bombastic contemporaries.

The easiest place to see this all is the relatively short single-player campaign. It lacks the story and character depth of other shooters, but few games do a better job of making you think you’re about to get blown away at any moment. At it’s heart, this game is a wartime shooter in the vein of Call of Duty or Brothers in Arms, where you’re just a part of a greater force instead of a single military messiah.

Scorched earth and destroyed beauty are the game’s visual hallmarks. From the opening shots of your pre-mission drop from a starship to the battles in a downtown square, this is one of the more attractive shooters you’ll play on any system. The game’s plot places you and Alpha squad (your team) on the enemy home world in an effort to take in Scolar Visari, the eloquent leader of the mask-wearing Helghast, the bad guys from the first game.

Unlike other futuristic shooters, Killzone 2 doesn’t feature a vast palate of enemies. The Helghast wear masks, but they are mostly humanoid, varying only in size, weaponry and uniform. The curveballs come when you’re asked to face robots, armored divisions and eventually, the vicious Colonel Radec, who has the ability to turn invisible.

Conversely, you and Alpha Squad have a variety of weapons at your disposal. The most creative one is a large cannon that fires electricity, which will make you feel like one of the Ghostbusters as you hose down Helghast and machine alike for a few minutes. It’s the only major departure from the other weapons, which use bullets, grenades or flames. You also get to drive a tank, use anti-aircraft guns and take advantage of mounted machine guns scattered around the battlefields.

However, before you get to fully enjoy raining fire on the Helghast, you’ll have to get a feel for the controls. Most first-person shooters are built to react instantly and precisely to a player’s movements. That’s not the case with the single-player campaign, which allows some give on the thumbsticks before actual movement takes place. There’s a split-second delay on jumping, which you rarely need to do in the game anyway. Where the give throws you off is when you try to aim on the fly. Overall, I’d say the single player control felt heavy, as if I were steering the character as opposed to feeling like I was in total command.

Things feel much sharper on the game’s outstanding multiplayer mode, which does its part to try and debunk some of the negativity some have tossed at the PS3 online experience. Not only did I get next to no lag on every online game I played, it was extremely easy to get there. I even found several rooms dedicated to new players.

I also enjoyed how mission types are handled. Instead of reloading a level every time a task is completed, the missions are thrown at you consecutively, guaranteeing a wealth of play experiences every time out. Of course, you can adjust maps and games for one mission only, but it’s not nearly as fun as the “world series” approach.

Time will tell how much Killzone 2 will boost the PlayStation 3 lineup, but this is the kind of gritty, earthy experience that you won’t mind getting under your fingernails.

Killzone 2
Guerilla Games/Sony Computer Entertainment
PlayStation 2
Rated M for Mature