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Killzone 2

Platform(s): PlayStation 3
Genre: Action
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Guerrilla Games

About Brad Hilderbrand

I've been covering the various facets of gaming for the past five years and have been permanently indentured to WorthPlaying since I borrowed $20K from Rainier to pay off the Russian mob. When I'm not furiously writing reviews, I enjoy RPGs, rhythm games and casual titles that no one else on staff is willing to play. I'm also a staunch supporter of the PS3.


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PS3 Review - 'Killzone 2'

by Brad Hilderbrand on Feb. 16, 2009 @ 9:00 a.m. PST

Killzone 2 throws players back into the midst of a hostile and dramatic ongoing battle between the ISA and Helghast army, delivering intense warfare with incredibly lifelike character animations, highly detailed and destructible environments, realistic physics, and advanced levels of AI.

Genre: First-Person Shooter
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Guerrilla Games
Release Date: February 27, 2009

There was a time when we all laughed at Sony and the PlayStation's supposedly "killer app," Killzone. The original game was a fair but derivative affair, plagued with dumb enemies, so-so graphics and just a whole lot of mediocrity. When it was announced in 2005 that Killzone 2 would eventually make an appearance on the PS3, many around the industry scoffed. Apparently the folks at Sony were a bunch of masochists, just waiting to take it on the chin once more with yet another blah game in a market already saturated with macho-man space marines fighting alien foes. But Sony's not going to take it on the chin this time, no sir, because Killzone 2 is everything the original was hyped to be and more. PS3 owners can rejoice, for you finally have the game that might make all those Halo- andGears-loving fan boys shut their traps, if only for a moment.

The plot of Killzone 2 is as straightforward as they come and weaves a tale of vengeance and aggression. The ISA, tired of being kicked around by the Helghast armies, has finally decided to turn the tables and take the fight to the enemy homeworld of Helghan. The widespread assumption is that this will be a cakewalk, that Helghast forces are so decimated by the two repulsed invasions they've mounted against humanity that all that's left is to simply mop up the remnants and pop the cork on the champagne bottle. Unfortunately, that isn't the case, and those baddies with the glowing eyes are just as numerous and vicious on their own turf as they are on anyone else's.

Players take control of Sev, a sergeant in Alpha Squad tasked with spearheading the assault on the Helghan capital city. Along for the ride is Rico, who series fans will remember from his appearances both in the original game as well as in Killzone: Liberation, and two other chaps as well. Together, the squad must do the typical FPS thing by fending off wave after wave of enemies all while completing seemingly impossible objectives and single-handedly winning the war. Just like basically every other FPS out there, if the other squadrons were half as daring and talented as the one you control, then the war would be over in about 20 minutes.

While the story may be fairly blasé, it's presented in a way that will keep your heart racing and pulse pounding for the duration of the roughly 10-hour single-player experience. Right from the get-go, you are blasted with a high-energy opening sequence, and the action never lets up once it gets rolling. You are nearly constantly engaged with Helghast forces, and there are moments when the battles are so pitched and intense that gamers will likely need a moment once it's over to collect themselves and let the adrenaline wear off.

Two sequences stand out in particular, both of which are nicely paced in the overall structure of the game. First off is a moment roughly halfway through, when your squad and the rest of the strike force joining you are tasked with gaining control over an AA gun. Unfortunately, the group is spotted while moving into position, and all hell breaks loose. Helghast forces come rushing in for support, all while the artillery piece blasts away at anything that moves. You are then forced to ease up slowly, taking out enemy reinforcements and strategically using cover to advance on the gun's position. Thankfully, once your trial is over, you get to turn the gun on the bad guys and give them a taste of their own medicine — truly a fitting reward.

The other particularly memorable sequence takes place near the end of the game as ISA forces are attempting to storm the fortress of the Helghast leader. The enemy has brought all their resources to bear in this fight, and you'll never break through by hanging back and waiting for their ranks to think. Rather, you must fight through the seemingly endless horde of baddies, push up to whatever post they were occupying and then brace to do it all again. As you continue to throw your troops straight into the teeth of the enemy assault, you'll likely find yourself understanding what those old war vets were talking about when they called a situation "helpless." All you can do is keep moving up, hoping to eventually break the lines and send your foes into a full retreat, but the task feels nearly impossible. Still, once you accomplish the mission, the sense of pride that washes over you is enough to make it all worth it.

There are many things that make these moments really stand out, and it all starts with the graphics and sound design. Killzone 2 is easily one of the best-looking games to ever grace consoles, and everything about it is gorgeous, albeit in a gritty, dirty way. The world of Helghan is desolate and dead, but you still can't help but stop and marvel at it. The dust swirling through the air during firefights, the way characters move and react to gunshots and explosions, the way tattered banners flutter in the breeze oblivious to the carnage all around them: All these things make the game an absolute visual treat. Granted, there are a few moments when things are interrupted to load the next section, but these occasions are brief (only lasting a couple of seconds) and never seem to occur when there is any combat or danger on-screen.

Complementing the graphical feast is an auditory experience that is utterly resplendent. The game is piped through in full 7.1 surround sound, so those with a nice home theatre setup are in for a real treat. The sound effects and ambient noises are spot-on and lend a lot to the experience, making the title exceptionally immersive. While most games tend to focus on either the audio or visual element, leaving the other as an afterthought, Killzone 2 blends them perfectly to bring you the horror of war in the most amazing possible way.

Gameplay is no slouch either, delivering a challenging, fun adventure that will test your tactics as well as your reflexes. The first thing you'll likely learn once you set foot on the battlefield is that not only are the enemies more numerous than you are, but they're likely smarter too. Baddies are masters of cover and group tactics, working cohesively to draw you out in the open and riddle you with bullets. Their favorite tactic involves suppressing you with blind fire and chucking grenades to dislodge you from cover, while their friends sneak around to your flank and catch you completely unaware. For those who think the solution is to simply charge in and confuse the AI, feel free to get yourself sized for a body bag now. As I said before, these guys are smart, knowing when to press their advantage and when to retreat to safety. If you try and rush a position, you may manage to catch one foe off guard, but this will be offset by his four buddies who've all taken up defensive positions and are now using your "Look at me, I love standing out in the open!" body as target practice.

Luckily, you are almost always accompanied by at least one of your squadmates, all of whom act as more than the typical FPS bullet sponge. For the most, part your allies will play it smart, taking up sound tactical decisions and covering your back while you separate a few Helghast from their conscious existence. However, there are times when your buddies will prove that AI has only come so far, and once in a while, they'll rush right out into the middle of an assault or charge a machine gun nest for no reason other than the next objective marker is beyond the enemy line. While these moments are fairly rare, it's still a pain to have to clean up their mess and revive them as their whiny asses slowly crawl around the battlefield, bellyaching about how much they're bleeding.

Overall, the single-player experience is a blast that only needed a couple of slight tweaks to make it perfect. Granted, the story is pretty stock and you'll run through all of the familiar FPS levels (train, sewers, vehicle/turret mission), but sometimes it's not about originality but rather about execution, and in that department, Killzone 2 delivers. The major bummer here is that there is no co-op, so you're stuck with the AI allies through thick and thin. Also, even though you can revive your squadron as often as they go down, they can't return the favor. If they "die," it's just a matter of running up and pressing the Circle button to get them back in the action, but if you take too many bullets, then it's right back to the last checkpoint as you think about what possessed you to be such a thoughtful and considerate teammate. Also, be forewarned that the game has some very tough moments, so don't be surprised if a few sections see you repeating them more than a few times before you get it right.

As exquisite as the single-player may be, it is the multiplayer component of Killzone 2 that will make this the one PS3 owners continue to play months or even years after release. Much like every other aspect, the title doesn't really innovate on the established multiplayer formula, but rather gathers bits and pieces of what's already out there and mixes them together into something that rivals the achievement of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. Games pit up to two teams of 16 against each other in modes like Assassination (V.I.P.), Body Count (Team Deathmatch), and Capture and Hold. The twist is that you don't play one match, get bounced out into the lobby and play another, but the matches keep coming one after another in a continuous, unbroken session. You play a match, the winning team earns a point, and then after a few moments of mayhem, you move right into the next event. It's easily an experience that makes you wonder why no one had thought of it before, and it allows for deep, sustained action every time you log on. After trying it out, you'll curse the games that make you go back and set up a match after every round.

Killzone 2 also borrows the current flavor of the month vis-à-vis gaining experience and unlocking new equipment and classes. Gamers start out with a lowly soldier armed with an assault rifle and a grenade, but continued play grants new classes and specialties. Taking things one step further, each class has certain tasks which, once completed in a session, grant service ribbons. Earn enough ribbons, and you are granted a badge that allows you to take the skill with you into other classes. For instance, if you play as a medic and revive enough teammates in a match, you'll earn a certain ribbon; if you repeat the feat enough times, you'll be able to take that revival ability with you to any other class, making you both an offensive and defensive threat. The opportunities are limitless given all of the available classes, and you can easily create a saboteur who is rendered nearly invisible as he slips behind enemy lines or a sniper able to deploy sentry guns to watch his back while he camps. The level of freedom is unprecedented, and gamers never again have to limit themselves to the predefined roles of different classes.

It's been amusing to compare the run-up for Killzone 2 as opposed to the original. While the first game was lauded as a "Halo killer" in some circles, only to crash and burn on arrival, the sequel has been met with measured skepticism, all afraid of heaping praise upon it lest we be burned again. It's clear that Sony and Guerrilla Games wanted to strike back at the naysayers, and they've done it in the best possible way by delivering a game that exceeds all expectations. Granted, there's almost nothing completely original about the title, but who needs new ideas when you can do such a great job improving on the old ones? The bottom line is that Killzone 2 can compete with any other shooter out there on the market, and PS3 owners should definitely be adding this game to their libraries when it hits shelves later this month.

Score: 9.5/10

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