Genre: First-Person Shooter
Release Date: February 27, 2009
Killzone 2 has a mountain to climb and a weight on its shoulders, coming off of the pre-rendered footage quandary that surrounded the first title and being groomed to be the next big exclusive shooter for Sony's powerhouse platform. We recently participated in the beta for the game and came away with mixed impressions. While the graphics effects are stellar, they come at a high cost to the playability, which we hope will be properly tested and balanced before the game goes gold.
The beta was strictly multiplayer and set in three maps, ranging from a city block strewn with debris and blown-out buildings to a complex with far more regal architecture, even with its shattered windows and fallen walls. The Warzone gameplay mode was the only one available in the beta; it's actually a smattering of many different modes, each with a five-minute time limit. For example, for the first five minutes you are tasked with defending a pair of points that are set for demolition by the other team, while in another five-minute block, you must kill the enemy's VIP (who is randomly selected and then shows up as a constant objective on both team's HUDs). The changes keep things interesting and make combat move around all over the place; as a result, you usually aren't stuck fighting in the same section of the larger level for the duration of a match.
Progression is something that is taken quite slowly in Killzone 2, with players starting off with only the basic equipment of two basic assault rifles, a pistol and a single grenade. As players participate in multiplayer matches, they gain experience and rank up in a fashion similar to the recent offerings in the Call of Duty series. Ranking up unlocks the ability to use new classes of weapons as well as alternate character classes, but beyond the first few ranks, it takes a quite long time to do so. Players looking to get their sniping on must first complete at least 100 decently played matches to unlock the ability. Of course, you can always gun down an enemy sniper and use his weapon until your eventual death, to give you a taste of the forthcoming weaponry in your Killzone 2 career.
One thing that cannot be picked up from the fallen and must be earned is badges, which are awarded for doing certain feats. For instance, killing a certain amount of enemies with a grenade will unlock the ability to carry a second grenade as part of your equipment, while getting headshots on a set number of foes will permanently increase the damage dealt by your sniper shells. Nearly every weapon or piece of equipment has similar unlockables, which is an effective way to get players to try out much of the equipment that the game has to offer, or at the very least strengthen the equipment that they tend to use the most often.
As you take hits, your health depletes quickly, sometimes instantly, depending on whether you're talking pistol rounds or sniper rifle shells. Once it has been depleted, it's wise to take cover, as avoiding taking more hits will let your health regenerate somewhat, but never fully. Controlling your soldier is a relatively simple process, with most functions such as shooting, crouching, jumping, and melee attacks needing little explanation for FPS fans. Movement is filled with the feel of weight and momentum, which makes sense when the considerable armor that covers each soldier is taken into account. Sprinting is one way to scoot around, but combat basically boils down to a tactical affair of cover and trading fire.
The bar for console graphics may need to ready itself for some upward movement once more, as Killzone 2 has, at a glance, some of the highest graphical fidelity seen in the console market thus far. Motion blur is incorporated in nearly everything to give the visuals a movie-like flair, as do the special effects, such as how the player's viewpoint shifts around and the lighting cast by gunfire in a room. Of course, the "at a glance" caveat deserves some explanation; while the graphics are of a high quality in the beta, they also come at a taxing cost to the hardware. The frame rate is consistently below what is considered smooth, and it often hitches and stutters to make things even worse. To top things off, when this happens, the controls are often affected by input lag as well, making the gameplay feel like you're trying to shoehorn and play a maxed-out Crysis on a computer that clearly has no business doing so.
That's not to say the PS3 shouldn't have the power to remedy the issue, but at least from the standpoint of the beta, Killzone 2 definitely needs some optimization. All of the charms of the tactical gameplay, career progression perks, and graphics quality tend to fade away when the frame rate is chugging to the point that it affects the accuracy of the controls. Technical issues aside, Killzone 2 shows promise as an incredibly strong exclusive offering for the PS3. However, for it to reach that goal, a higher and more consistent frame rate needs to be part of the offering, and whether that can be achieved through sheer optimization or the necessity of turning down the quality of the graphics remains to be seen.
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