Total war

When Sony and Guerilla Games gave the public its first look at Killzone 2 back at 2005’s E3 conference, the footage of the game, depicting a number of aerial landers getting shot down into the middle of a gritty urban warzone, sparked widespread confusion among gamers.

When Sony and Guerilla Games gave the public its first look at Killzone 2 back at 2005’s E3 conference, the footage of the game, depicting a number of aerial landers getting shot down into the middle of a gritty urban warzone, sparked widespread confusion among gamers.

The source of the controversy stemmed from the technological changing of the guard, as Sony also debuted the PS3 during the show, and people didn’t know whether the video that Guerilla showed was pre-rendered, or if the damn near frightening power of Sony’s new console had created the war-torn scenes in real time.

Now it’s 2009 and Killzone 2 has finally hit stores. The game’s intro shows a somewhat lengthy introduction from the Hitler-like dictator of the Helghast (you don’t need to know the story: the Helghast are evil and after attacking a human planet, it’s time for vengeance) which looks great. When the game proper actually begins, the sleek, lush visuals immediately grab your attention.

Watching a grunt get up from his bunk and walk onto a deck of an aerial cruiser with a sweeping panorama of bulky, massive ships jutting out of the clouds had me in momentary disbelief.

“This has to be CG,” I told myself. I don’t know why I was surprised—the cutscene ended and the visuals didn’t change when I started running down the deck. No doubt about it: Guerilla has not only equaled their target goal, they have surpassed it. I could probably count the number of next-gen games that look as good as Killzone 2 with one hand.

The game doesn’t leave you much time to sit around and bask in the glory of its visual prowess, however, as Killzone 2 is defined by its chaos 99 percent of the time. Within the first two minutes, you’ve already picked up an RPG and blown up a bridge, and in the first hour pushed through a number of enemy strongholds and witnessed a hell of a lot of spectacular pyrotechnics.

For those of you that have played the original PS2 game, prepare to be amazed. Whereas the entirety of the first Killzone felt like a series of small skirmishes in a relatively empty world, with only a handful of Helghast to take down in each, the enemy’s home planet of Helghan feels alive, organic and is positively swarming with red-eyed soldiers.

Killzone 2 is truly remarkable in its overwhelming ability to make you feel like you’ve been dropped into the middle of a raging warzone. It’s not just the constant feeling of being outmanned and outgunned, either. The Helghast themselves are a lot more sophisticated this time around.

Not content to simply stay in one position or shoot from the open, they’ll make use of any available cover, blind-firing and trying to flush you out of hiding with a well-placed grenade. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Teams of Helghast infantry (different classes, even) will also work together providing covering fire to flank you, along with other bags of tricks. Essentially, the Helghast behave (almost) like real soldiers, which means that if you treat Killzone 2 like a run-and-gun shooter, you’re going to die, and damn fast. (For a real exercise in masochism, try Veteran mode.)

Needless to say, strategy then becomes a matter of finding shelter, thanks to a well-implemented cover system, which you can use by holding down the L2 button near any kind of cover or barrier.

To pop up, all you have to do is aim up or to the side which clears you to line an enemy up in your sights and take a shot before snapping back to cover. The system works so well it’s a wonder how the genre ever got along without it. It’s a good thing too, since the game throws a lot of different offensive/defensive scenarios your way.

Almost everything you may have had a problem with in the first game has been fixed or refined. Your normal running speed is much faster, and you can sprint for a much longer period of time (often a necessary skill). You can even jump, although you’ll rarely need to.

The price you pay is that the game’s varied weapons no longer have a secondary fire option, which is a bit of a letdown, although you do get to play with a flamethrower and a bolt gun, which is a decent tradeoff.

Aside from the strategic gameplay, Killzone 2 makes fantastic work of the Havok engine, making even the burned-out Helghan landscape feel like a living, breathing, destructible thing. Dust and dirt spray everywhere when an explosive goes off chunks of concrete and other debris will routinely go flying throughout the game’s virtually nonstop firefights.

There are disappointments, but they’re few. Killzone 2 can be a little glitchy at times, like when an A.I. teammate will sometimes stubbornly refuse to get out of the way in a narrow corridor (a quick fix is bludgeoning him with a rifle butt). The environments aren’t as varied as the first game, making the visuals heavily saturated in reds, oranges and grays. Also, the script can be a little heavy on bad, stereotypical-space-marine dialogue.

But what Guerilla has basically given us is World War II on another planet. The Helghast are fascist bastards, the devastated environs draw heavily from bombed-out European cities, radio propaganda can be heard blasting in the background … Hell, you’re even deployed from what amounts to an airborne Higgins boat.

The game’s few shortcomings are more than made up for by Guerilla’s epic vision and taut, tactical game play. Also, before I forget, the multiplayer is deep and robust, and will keep you playing longer after the last Helghast has fallen in single player.

So, have five years been worth the wait? In a word, yes. Any PS3 owner should already be enlisting.