You know, this lead up to the review almost makes the day feel like some mega console launch. The amount of hype and hysteria surrounding Killzone 2 is epic, especially considering that it's a sequel to a rather poor PlayStation 2 shooter. Having debuted with an ultra-stylized and flashy render at E3 in 2005, Killzone 2 has finally reached the end of its development cycle and here we are, fortunate enough to be playing the final product for the past month now. I've let the whole experience sink in, and now it's time for me to tell you why this may be the best first-person shooter in a long, long time.
I applaud Guerrilla for building an exhilarating single-player experience that'll go unrivaled for many years. You see, unlike other FPS games, Killzone 2 doesn't start off with a boring training mode that constantly interrupts the gameplay to inform you of a new tip. Instead, after a two-minute gameplay intro sequence, a cut-scene will lead you right into the heart of the action and you'll definitely feel the fright and hectic gameplay from the get-go. What's amazing about Killzone 2's gameplay is just how superbly well the game manages to envelope you into its surrounding.
You're well aware that this is a videogame, but at times, the tension and excitement can make you forget. You'll play Killzone 2 slightly more alert than any other shooter, and that could also be a testament to the game's fantastic A.I., which is always working together and always keeping their eyes peeled for any surprise attacks. Never before have I played a shooter that made you feel so close to the environment and conveyed that sense of panic during gameplay; Call of Duty 4 is close, but Killzone 2 is still better.
Where as some games boast A.I. that's mindless and follows a path, or other games have A.I. that's just obscenely difficult to the point of being annoying, Killzone 2 strikes that perfect balance and even manages to avoid one crippling flaw: constant re-spawning. Once you've dealt with your enemies, you can be rest assured that they won't be coming back anymore, and I commend Killzone 2 for that.
How Killzone 2 engages the gamer seems to be unlike any other FPS game I've ever played. There is a solid connection between the gamer, the character, and the environment that you're in. The amount of excitement all around you really cranks up the feedback and the experience, and I can't stress that facet enough – the game is simply intense. To further add to this whole feeling of immersion is how your enemies react to the bullets as they pierce through them with their bodies recoiling to every bullet connected. You've no doubt seen the footage of a Helghan troop getting shot up as his body is rained on with lead, and while it's pretty to watch on your computer monitor, it's even better to witness in person on your TV. With hundreds of death animations, that kind of attention to detail really makes the shooting feel rewarding, as every bullet fired just feels extremely satisfying.
And that's another important aspect of the game that lends itself to that immersion factor, the feel of every shot is superb. One thing I must mention is something that may shock some of you…but when I played Killzone 2 at E3 this past July, I wasn't terribly crazy about it. The shooting had far too much recoil, making it hard to steady the reticule and mow down enemies. So I was extremely happy to see that this had been taken care of, and the controls were tightened considerably – definitely a big kudos to Guerrilla for listening.
Progression through each stage is fairly linear, but combat can be approached in a variety of directions. For example, you are free to sneak around the environment in order to gain some leverage on your enemies. But be careful, like I said, the A.I. isn't stupid as they often know of exploits in the environment, and can cut you off with a surprise attack. So if you'd like to wander off and attack your opponents from the side, you may encounter some resistance on your way to and through a path. You'll combat that resistance in a variety of ways; when you're out of ammo your knife will be your melee weapon, you can also strike enemies with your gun, and of course you'll have a reserve of grenades to throw. The best method is to play it smart and play it cool, running and gunning will result in a sure death, so use the game's cover mechanic to shield yourself from danger, and peak out every now and then to pick off your enemies – headshots are most rewarding here.
Difficulty levels range from easy (Recruit), to hard (Veteran), with normal (Trooper) being the perfect middle-ground. Of course, you can expect additional difficulties to pop-up once you complete the game, but my playthroughs are based entirely on the normal setting, though I did give the hard setting a try too. On normal the game provides a proper challenge, with A.I. that I've already mentioned to boast a perfect balance. You'll still find yourself getting killed occasionally with the standard difficulty mode, but if you're looking for an even bigger challenge, playing on Veteran will give it to you.
Between the beta and the online matches that Sony has setup for us, I've also had a chance to experience the multiplayer offerings numerous times, and while it may not be the 60-player mayhem of Resistance 2's setup, the 32-player events we took part in were still more than enough to have an awesome time with. Multiplayer is definitely going to be Killzone 2's lasting point, as the maps were great and the matches were all a blast. With up to 32 players on the field, things got really chaotic, and I wouldn't have had it any other way. Multiplayer modes include, Assassination, Search & Destroy, Bodycount, Search & Retrieve, and Capture & Hold – all of which are fairly self-explanatory. As far as vehicles, those will be made present as free downloadable content soon after the game's release. Shame about the lack of a co-op experience though, maybe that'll appear as DLC, as well? But a big plus for at least giving us bots to fight against.
Moving on, Sony has always promised that Killzone 2 would be a visual tour de force, and seeing as how it's got one absurdly controversial trailer to live up to, the gaming public has kept expectations extremely high. I'm happy to report that visual fidelity of Killzone 2 lives up to what Sony first showed us. Granted it's not a carbon copy as far as polish and quality goes, but there are a number of things that the game does better than that aforementioned debut trailer. For example, the colors are now more varied, and you can notice this if you compare the original trailer to the actual cut-scene of the game side-by-side. Additionally, old builds and screenshots of the game from 2007 reveal a much more monotone environment, where as the final game's environments not only boast a more varied color palette, but also much better textures. Furthermore, character detail has also been revamped in some cases, when compared to those older in-game trailers.
The characters, much like the environments, have also been given a shot of life, with eyes that don't make them look like zombies, textures that are sharper, and overall detail that makes Killzone 2 one of the best looking games around. Despite the amount of action that goes on the screen, the game runs extremely well, with little to no slow-down present. And despite how massive and detailed the environments are, the graphics still aren't plagued with things like pop-up or aliasing, as the game's pristine picture clarity is a sight to see. Lastly, animation, lighting, and other bits of attention to detail really round out a visual package that is nothing short of jaw-dropping.
The audio is also extremely powerful, with lots of battlefield dialogue and banter. The Helghast sound hauntingly menacing as they taunt you, and the sound effects of the battle all around you rips through the speakers with force. There is quite a bit of voice acting, and it helps that it is also solid, but it's really not what you'll be concentrating on when listening to this game in action. You've seen me say this numerous times, but if you've got a home theater setup, you absolutely must experience the game on it. I can't think of any other way it should be played – a game with such high technical caliber was designed to be played on only the best audio and visual hardware. This one really makes a nice 'boom' sound.
Killzone 2 lives up to every one of its promises, and considering the bar it set for itself in 2005, that's a lot of promises to live up to. Ultimately, we have a game that strikes the perfect balance between a single-player and multiplayer experience. Where almost all current FPS games boast a multiplayer component that is far and away better and more satisfying than the single-player experience, Killzone 2 boasts a single-player campaign that is every bit as much fun as the multiplayer – and that is truly a rarity. I've had the pleasure of going through the first six stages of the preview build last December, and then replaying the entire game on this review build. And even though I've experienced half of the game twice, it still felt every bit as exciting the second time around, as it did the first. I also applaud Guerrilla for building a campaign that doesn't last only a few hours, but rather close to 10 hours in total. Yes, the hype is real, Killzone 2 is that damn good, consider it the first big game of the year contender for 2009.