While entrenched in the first third of Killzone 2’s campaign a simple yet profound conclusion smacked me in the face. No matter the circumstances or gallons of blood spilled, every violent skirmish in a long string of skirmishes felt like a multiplayer round between two distinct teams donning similar attire. In other words, if Killzone 2’s multiplayer is the chicken and campaign is the egg, Guerilla Games is quite clear on which came first.
One of many great Killzone 2 distinctions is chicken and egg connoisseurs will each digest a hearty meal, even if one is more appetizing than the other. This hasn’t been anticipated since Sony went out on a limb with a mind-blowing pre-rendered CGI trailer in May 2005, it has been expected. Next to maybe Grand Theft Auto IV, no videogame in recent memory has had more pressure on it to meet or exceed expectations than Killzone 2 running in real-time on a Playstation 3 console.
Set two years after the events that transpired in Killzone on PS2, Killzone 2 sees the Interplanetary Strategic Alliance (ISA) launch an offensive against the nefarious Helghast on their home planet of Helghan. In a thrilling “Hollywood” in scope opening cinematic interspersed with character control, you join fellow ISA soldiers and ride an open-topped dropship through enemy flak to the planet’s surface for immediate insertion into a hot combat zone. Within seconds of hitting the ground the Helghast are on top of you, kicking off 8 arduous levels of intense and immersive combat.
There’s no denying with any semblance of uncertainty that the technical wizardry Guerilla Games has designed into Killzone 2’s engine meets those lofty expectations set nearly 4 years ago. Swirling wind sends airborne smoke around and through Helghan structures in real-time. You can almost feel the wind hit you as it restricts vision and hides the enemy while whistling throughout the 5.1 surround sound stage. Grenades throw off debris when exploding including tossing Helghast soldiers into the air if they’re within the blast radius. Sunlight, artificial light and bullets react to every object they strike with startling realism. This is the closest a videogame presentation has ever come to achieving a visceral energy on par with a feature film. Sorry Infinity Ward, but take a seat Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.
When it comes to the campaign gameplay well, stand back up COD4 because you’re still head of the class. That’s not to infer Killzone 2’s campaign is rubbish; it most certainly is not. There are creative non-gimmicky uses for Six-Axis such as turning explosive devices to activate them, steadying a sniper shot or dinking around with 3-D artwork during in-between level load screens. But there’s also a lingering feeling while playing that Guerilla Games spent most of their time working on the engine rather than fleshing out new ideas when constructing the story and level design.
For every rare unique scenario such as manning a massive Mech or monstrous AA guns, or planting remote-activated explosives to take out a building or door, there are 30 subtle variations of “blast the encroaching Helghast soldiers” to plow through. Even within the wondrous immersive game engine these skirmishes begin to feel like predictable multiplayer modes rather than fresh and inventive campaign sequences. The near colorless Helghan color palette doesn’t help conquer monotony either despite the remarkable level of detail and weathering drawn within said palette.
To the AI’s credit the Helghast put up an intelligent fight. They make sure to dodge grenades and gunfire regardless of the difficulty setting and will shoot at you if visual contact is made. Some questionable actions – or lack thereof — do occur when Helghast hide behind a column and let you shoot continuously at their arm peeking out until they fall dead, or when they rush at you with reckless abandon making it easy to unload a magazine into their chest. But when covering behind walls they shuffle side-to-side so you can’t lock into a single firing positive just above the wall’s top edge for a cherry pick shot. Those kind of unpredictable movements are what will quickly thwart any attempted run-and-run maneuver through the Helghan army.
Covering is not unique to the Helghast; all ISA troops including you share the same ability. The best way to describe the cover system is “fluid and non-intrusive.” Unlike Gears of War where you suck to cover like a magnet, Killzone 2 gently presses you against the nearest surface and lets you move around on it with almost the same fluidity as if you weren’t covering. Reloading when under cover can be troublesome to the controls – especially if you’ve been shooting from a raise position while attached to cover. This small quirk is an easy swap for a system that doesn’t force you into two harsh animations as if you’re playing a deadly game of peek-a-boo.
Most moderately experienced first-person shooter players will blow through Killzone 2’s campaign in a few evenings or less. Aside from achieving Trophy goals, collecting Intel documents and destroying Helghast symbols, there’s little reason to return without cooperative play. After a few minutes in multiplayer my initial conclusion was justified. The campaign is but a spin-off of multiplayer; going at with friends via the Playstation Network is where the real Killzone 2 game is at.
Aside from Killzone 2’s incredible engine that carries over to multiplayer and the inclusion of a Call of Duty 4-inspired XP system, there are two reasons why Sony’s servers will be tested like they’ve never been tested before. Killzone 2’s “Warzone” mode is simultaneously the most creative and most obvious addition to multiplayer games in some time. Rather than trying to reinvent the wheel with new objectives, Guerilla Games has assembled classic multiplayer modes into a dynamic round revolving door where the completion of one objective triggers a completely different objective. The uncertainty of what comes next and adjusting on the fly to new objectives keeps matches fresh for far longer than playing the same mode over and over again.
The second reason gamers will be drawn to Killzone 2’s multiplayer is the inclusion of bots. PC games have long been a favorite destination for developers to use bots while console games have been left out to dry with a few notable exceptions. By allowing bots in Killzone 2, Guerilla Games has made it simple for a small handful of friends to experience the thrill of 16 on 16 combat without filling a match full of prospective jerks or compromising the Killzone 2 visceral experience.
I look at Killzone 2 as two games hiding under the guise of one. The first offers a decent if intense single player campaign mode utilizing some amazing tech and engine power we can only hope Sony finds a way to propagate to other titles. I say this having put in all my Killzone 2 hours on a 112″ 1080p front projection system. While that alone may not be worth your $60, the multiplayer game is where Guerilla Games put forth their strongest creative muscle which alone is worth the price plus a couple twenties on top. Either way, you’ll get to eat the chicken and the egg for one price which makes Killzone 2 the most obvious no-brainer purchase on PS3 yet.
– Dan Bradley