Review: Killzone 2 (PS3)
The hottest game of E3 2005 arrives.
I never played the original Killzone on the Playstation 2, or the PSP version, so I wasn’t fully clued up on the backstory. Something to do with an ongoing war between the Interplanetary Strategic Alliance (humans) and the Helghast (used to be human but now slightly-superhuman Nazi-types). Unfortunately this doesn’t go out of its way to explain it to newcomers of the series, but you can pretty much get the gist of it.
When you first play, you will immediately notice how awkward the controls are. There are a few different button layouts to chose from but it’s almost unforgivable that most developers don’t allow you to fully customise – especially in an FPS. Of course the fact that the Dual Shock is horrendous when it comes to FPS games doesn’t help, the analogue sticks always feel to loose and their placement wrong. Character movement also feels slow and cumbersome. Some may argue that it makes you feel like you are in control of an actual person rather than a floating gun, but here it just feels like wading through treacle. The aiming and turning speed is also very sluggish, and the over-enthusiastic recoil of most guns means run-and-gun is out the window – that’s where the “cover system” comes in. Pressing L2 attaches you to the nearest wall or crate and unlike Rainbow Six: Vegas for example where you switch to third-person, you stay in first-person here.
This doesn’t work as well as it should have since you still feel somewhat exposed to gunfire and you will sometimes find yourself unable to attach to what seems like a perfectly good object to use as cover. Enemies have the ability to blind-fire from cover no problem whereas you can’t seem to do this without popping your head up aswell. I don’t know if the cover system was in the game from the start but it does feel like a bit of an afterthought. Motion-controls are also used, albeit rather sparingly. When using the sniper rifle the Sixaxis/Dual Shock 3 must be held still to help steady your aim, it works much in the same way as holding your breath in Call of Duty. You also tilt the controller to simulate turning valve handles and for setting detonation charges. It’s a nice touch, particularly the sniper rifle, but it would have been nice to see it used more throughout the game.
The Helghast enemies you come up against could do with more variety. Their army is made up of pretty much the standard light, medium and heavily armed soldiers, with the occasional tank and flying robot drone. It’s also hard to take them seriously since their mockney accents make them sound like a bunch of Jason Statham wannabes, rather than the fearsome persona the story implies. However, Brian Cox’s brilliant voice acting for the main antagonist at least gives the Helghast some sense of threat. In combat the enemies prove to be more than a match for you with some impressive AI. They will press forward, putting more pressure on you to find more cover, and will flank you when given the opportunity. Headshots aside, it can sometimes take a little too much bullets to take them down and this can often be frustrating since, depending on what weapon you are using, ammo can be rather tight in places. You are certainly spoiled for choice when it comes to weapons. From SMGs, assault rifles and shotguns, each weapon has a similar version belonging to the opposite faction, although given all the variety I found the standard ISA assault rifle was more than adequate so stuck with that throughout most of the game.
On most levels you will be accompanied by at least one of your squad mates, none of whom are actually memorable because they are generic beyond belief. Unlike most games where they feel like extra baggage, they are actually very competent at taking out enemies but they do have their moments of sheer stupidity. It become a chore when they are downed in battle due to wandering like a lemon straight into enemy fire, resulting in you having to revive them using some sort of hand-held defibrillator gun. What makes things even more annoying is they do no such thing for you when you are downed, you simply die and return to the last checkpoint. A wess as this, some of the soundbites they come out with can quickly become irritating, although hearing “YEAH POP DEM TOPS!!!” after a successful headshot never gets old.
Overall the singly player campaign left me rather disappointed. There is nothing you haven’t seen before – warehouses full of crates and conveniently-placed explosive barrels included. Some sections, particularly towards the end, resorted to cheap tactics which sucks almost all the fun out of it. However, it does have its moments with some decent set pieces and tense firefights. The quality of the visuals obviously won’t go unnoticed, especially the impressive vistas which give the levels a good sense of scale, and the intricately detailed weapon models. The subtle grain filter adds to the gritty, visual style of the game. While the graphics are undoubtedly good, at times it can look rather dull and generic with some pretty drab textures and a general feeling of emptiness within the levels. Although I didn’t want to mention the infamous E3 2005 trailer and subsequent ones, I was expecting better.
Killzone 2 has much going for it and is the best FPS on the PS3, but I can’t just pretend that the 360 doesn’t exist and this is the biggest problem for Killzone 2. It’s just not as good as Halo 3. I could have finished my counter here to be honest, but I’d better keep going just to avoid the ire of the Sony fanboys.
This game does look jaw dropingly gorgeous and has a reassuring solidity to it from the earth shattering explosions to the weighty, yet fun, guns. The guns have a heft to them which is missing from most other FPS’s and the slow and methodical way in which you fire, move and reload all serve to reinforce the idea that this is a robust gritty game.
The cunning AI is also worthy of mention, pressuring you to take cover and then sweeping in to flank you. Give it half a chance and you’ll find yourself out-maneuvered and with a knife in your back. But the level designs are serviceable at best and the set pieces lack the punch of those you’d find in Half Life 2 or Halo.
Your squad mates lack any real character and are easily forgettable and your character’s view point means you must either be a dwarf with a hunch back or have your head in your crotch. Things are rescued by a fun multiplayer but the accessibility lacks the refinement of any number of examples you’d find elsewhere. It’s fun while it lasts, but it’s not the spectacular system seller Sony must have wanted it to be.
Secondary Score: 6/10
While the single player was disappointing, the multiplayer was the complete opposite. There are eight different maps, all of them of decent size and vaguely based on sections from the single player campaign. The offline multiplayer mode, Skirmish, allows you to play against up to fifteen AI bots – something which is rarely included in games these days. Warzone, the online mode for up to 32 players, offers class-based play but initially this is locked as you have to rank up by gaining XP from kills and wins. These classes can be mixed and matched using unlockable skills.
The way the games play out is pretty unique, it consists of five different game types which are variants of capture-the-flag, king of the hill, deathmatch etc. Every five minutes or so it changes from one mode to the next, without taking you out of the actual game. The available game modes and time can all be customised by the host. There is also clan support, which also needs to be unlocked, and groups of four players can make a squad within the game that can then be joined with another squad. This certainly helps due to the fact voice chat is proximity-based when not in a squad. One major complaint about the online multiplayer is that it doesn’t support any sort of invite system.
You can browse your friends list in-game and join or spectate, but you can’t invite them. Considering how much thought has gone into the multiplayer, it’s unacceptable that this has been left out. One other thing of note is that the cover system is absent from multiplayer, which is probably for the better since it allows games to be played at a much faster pace.
The FPS market has become over-saturated in recent times with the release of one identikit shooter after another. It needs something to progress the genre and unfortunately Killzone 2 isn’t one of them. Ultimately the single player is unspectacular but as a package the multiplayer saves the game from becoming just another average shooter. Definitely a worthy purchase if you are interested in the online aspect, but if you are looking for a good single player experience then you will be left feeling disappointed.