Isn’t it strange how the sequel to a mediocre, last gen shooter can generate so many millions of vitriolic words on the internet? Can one little pre-rendered video really to be blame? Or is it the fact that it’s an exclusive title, fuelling the fires of platform loyalty? One thing is for sure, whether we like it or not, a Killzone 2 review carries more significance than it ought to. But if we strip away the many, many layers of bullshit, what we’ll find is not, unfortunately, the second coming, but rather a tight, straightforward, tactical shooter which is very aware of its competition.Not that this will be your first reaction when you play Killzone 2. Nope, Guerilla, clever chaps that they are, decided that a bucket of water in the face was the best way to start the sequel. As if in response to the deluge of criticism thrown at that E3 video, the game begins with another drop ship sequence which proves to be a spectacular assault on the senses. “Are you awake? Good. Now look at this. And you said we couldn’t do it.” The most impressive aspect of the opening level is that, once the drop ship sequence is over and the gameplay begins, it still looks incredible. As you move towards your first taste of action on Helghan, you’ll soon realize that war in Killzone wasn’t really war. This is war. Gunfire rattles overhead, unseen artillery thunders all around and you can almost taste the acrid smoke of the battlefield. The visual impact is stunning, from the particle effects that briefly obscure your vision to the gorgeous depth of field trickery which focuses your eyes on the action. Killzone 2’s visuals are a remarkable technical achievement. You won’t have much time to swoon over the prettiness, however, as the game throws you – Tomas “Sev” Sevchenko – straight into the action on Helghan.The game is set two years after the Vekta-based events of Killzone and the PSP’s Killzone: Liberation. The Interplanetary Strategic Alliance (ISA) is now taking the fight to the Helghast, invading their home planet in order to neutralize the enemy war machine and bring the evil Scolar Visari to justice. You will be accompanied by a squad for the most of the game which includes a veteran of the first campaign, Sergeant Rico Velasquez, wise-cracking young corporal Dante Garza and cocky, irritating redneck Corporal Shawn Natko. Don’t expect to become particularly attached to any of the characters, however, as they’re all predictably one-dimensional and there is zero characterization throughout the entire narrative.In fact, the story in Killzone 2 proves to be its biggest disappointment. Despite a promising start with Brian Cox’s opening Visari monologue, the narrative never really takes off in the sequel. We don’t learn much, if anything, about the Helghast, who are depicted in typical Nazi-esque bad guy fashion as uber-fascists, undeserving of mercy. What’s most frustrating about the story is that Guerilla has already crafted a dense, detailed background to the game which can be found. It offers useful insight into the schism between humanity and the Helghast, at least some of which could have been explored in the game. However, any ambiguity implied by the back-story does not make it into the game (or at least, not until the last few seconds the campaign). You are good and the Helghast are bad. Let’s just leave it there, shall we?Nevertheless, although the game fails in providing a compelling story, what it does manage to achieve is atmosphere and this is due to a combination of art style, gameplay and AI. As mentioned earlier, not only does the game capture the visual splendor of a chaotic battlefield, it forces you into a frenetic, tactical gaming experience. Run and gun has no place whatsoever in the Killzone universe and, in true modern shooter fashion, cover is king. Holding the left trigger will attach Sev to the nearest bit of cover, at which point he can blind fire over it, or aim properly and risk taking a few bullets in the process. The system is not without its problems, however, and if I had to compare to any other cover-shooter on the market, Rainbow Six Vegas would be the most obvious candidate. It’s similarly glitchy in places and you will find yourself cursing the fact that Sev refuses to attach to certain pieces of scenery. Strangely, you do develop a kind of sixth sense for knowing which bits of scenery will “work” as you progress through the game and it’s never enough of an annoyance to hinder your enjoyment.The feel of the controls also harks back to Ubisoft’s tactical shooter. If you’ve come to Killzone 2 from Call of Duty, prepare for everything to feel a little bit sluggish at first. Although you can adjust your stick sensitivity, which does help when shooting from the hip (as does the gentle auto-aim), when you use your iron sights (with a click of the right stick), things become to feel a little less accurate than you might have hoped. Bearing in mind that the average Helghast soldier can take an awful lot of punishment (unless you cap him in the noggin), you’ll be glad of the fact that you have teammates by your side as you fire round after round towards the enemy. And don’t expect the Higs to wait passively behind cover, popping off the occasional shot.The AI in Killzone 2 is one of Guerilla’s most impressive achievements. Not only will you find yourself being flanked on a regular basis, the enemy is also fiendishly clever when it’s cowering behind cover. This became immediately evident when I found a Red Eye in my sights, only for him to duck behind cover. As I teased my crosshairs to the point where I expected him to show his head, he was busy sneaking around the back of the cover in order to lob an extraordinarily accurate grenade in my direction. Okay, lesson learned. The AI really feeds into the notion that the Helghast are a strong, smart class of warriors and there’s a definite sense of your own vulnerability, especially in the game’s lone wolf moments. Round a corner to find three Higs in your way and you’ll be messing yourself as you search for reverse gear. In the context of gaming satisfaction, when you manage to advance towards your objective, you know that you’ve achieved this because of good tactics rather than an inferior enemy. By the time the tremendous final few hours of the single player game kick in, you’ll find yourself making mental notes of enemy positions every few seconds, in order to ensure your survival. This tight, tactical gameplay is what makes Killzone 2 such a compelling shooter. Those expecting colossal set pieces of the kind seen in Gears of War 2 and Resistance 2 will be disappointed. This game is not about contending with 100ft monsters, but about fighting tooth and nail to advance just a few metres at a time. That’s not to say there aren’t some impressive levels to witness; it’s just that they’re not particularly original. For instance, the train level is lifted from Gears and the final assault on Visari’s palace immediately brought back memories of the latest Call of Duty effort. However, while Killzone 2 may not be packed with fresh ideas, what it does it does very well and this is none more evident than in the multiplayer game.It’s clear that Guerilla has taken note of why shooters like Call of Duty 4 have found themselves near the top of the online gaming tree for so long. Accordingly, Killzone 2’s multiplayer features a class system, unlockables, a ranking system and a whole host of game modes. Again, the majority of these are classic, tried and tested staples of the genre with flashy new names, but they’re done pretty well. The developer was even kind enough to throw in an offline Skirmish mode which allows you to play against bots on any multiplayer map so you can get used to the different feel of the online game (e.g. there’s no cover system, thus forcing you to adapt to a more run and gun style).While Guerilla may not have succeeded in reinventing the wheel with Killzone 2 – indeed it seems as if that was the wish of the fanboys rather than the developer – what it has produced is undoubtedly an achievement. Although it’s disappointing that more thought has clearly gone into the gameplay than the story, there’s no denying that Killzone 2 has carved its own niche into the PS3 shooter market with tight, tactical gameplay, fiendish AI and stunning visuals.
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