Killzone 2 User Review
When one thinks of the defining moments of human history, our wars often rate highly due to the atrocities and acts of heroism that are committed during them. It is our curse that it is in our very natures to cause and seek conflict. We are drawn to it and it is for this very reason that the most engaging entertainment medium known to humanity often uses the theatre of war as a backdrop. In spite of its commonness, it is rare to find a game to match the intensity and ambience of battle. One that achieves this in spades is 2009’s Killzone 2.
Upon making such a sweeping statement the imagination is often given free reign, leading to a vision of massive pitched battles, bullets and blood, the jackhammer sound of rifles interrupted only by the screams of the dying. While it is true that this scenario crops up several times throughout the seven hour campaign, a part of the brilliance of this game is that it does not rely solely on it. It usually saves such situations for the climax of a level, while the rest of it consists primarily of the forward prompting of generally linear levels and scripted sequences. Even these aspects are broken up from time to time by extraneous elements, including piloting vehicles on two occasions, more contained and strictly scripted exchanges and a rather memorable push forward towards a grouping of crackshot snipers.
In addition to all of this, the game also employs a number of boss battles, but these lack any real sense of excitement being, like most first-person shooter bosses, unimaginative and extremely scripted with only a single method of dispatching them. It’s a nice sentiment though. Remaining in this gameplay middle-ground, the level design is usually quite good, but never manages to rise any further. There is a degree of openness and verticality that is quite refreshing while there seems a distinct lack of choke points. Adding to the issues is what feels like a very cluttered design resulting from the sheer volume of cover elements. It is a very peculiar combination that doesn’t really seem to gel very well.
In spite of this, enemy placement is handled quite well, bolstered by the above-average AI that sees them using very viable tactical options, such as taking cover, flanking and forcing you to move by throwing grenades. Their tactics also change on the fly, affected by their weaponry, proximity and your actions towards them. Further to this is that, unlike many other games in the same genre, the enemies of Killzone 2 do not solely target the player character. This adds to the aura of authenticity and really helps you to accept that you are nothing more than a small cog in the massive machine of war. Friendly AI is quite capable as well, picking up the slack when you aren’t quite up to par with your aim.
In a novel twist to the gameplay, Killzone 2 allows you to take cover, a mechanic popular in third-person shooters, but rarely even attempted from a first-person perspective. It generally works quite well though you do sometimes end up attached to an object when merely wanting to crouch, or try to hide behind an item that refuses to be accepted as a source of cover. Finally, I’m not sure if it’s just me, but I found using a sniper rifle while in cover to be frustrating. These are minor annoyances compared to the fact that the implementation is intuitive and non-intrusive. Even so, it really does behove you to use cover frequently. It can give you a quick reprieve from the hordes.
Outside of this relatively unique mechanic, Killzone 2 enjoys many of the usual ideas presented in military first-person shooters; a limited load-out, a fairly liberal smattering of weapons to pick up with a standard arsenal to choose from, regenerating health and, one of my pet peeves, too many endless spawn points. At its core, the game is an excellent shooter, but that is all it is. At no point does it elevate itself beyond the strict, tedious trappings of that genre and, for someone like me that enjoys depth and variety as much as challenge, it simply is not stimulating. If you’re not a fan of shooters, then there is no way that Killzone 2 will change your mind on them, but if you are, it’s a fine choice.
Much has been made of the “weightier” feel of the controls in this game, and there is no doubt that it adds something to the experience to give it a greater sense of uniqueness, but it doesn’t change really change anything. You move more slowly and with an approximation of real movement, but I fail to see why this is viewed as being something special. It doesn’t revolutionise the first-person perspective or make any difference to the way the game plays, but it is still worth mentioning. Annoyingly however, it does seem to have an effect on turning speed as it takes a rather ridiculous amount of time to spin around.
There are a number of different control layouts to choose from, ensuring that most everyone is catered to, and the controls are, for the most part quick and responsive. The only qualm worth mentioning is the shoehorning in of Sixaxis functionality. It clearly strives to draw the player into the experience, but only manages to take one out of it instead by being so sudden and brash in its implementation.
This lack of unity between elements permeates the production, with the most abrupt and startling example of it being the poor marriage of gameplay and narrative. Of course, Killzone 2 adheres to the typical first-person shooter tactic of offering only a perfunctory attempt at a plot to tie together the gameplay scenarios. I find this disappointing given the lore that could be built up in this series, if only Guerrilla Games would make story a key focal point of development.
Nevertheless, you take control of Sergeant Thomas Sevchenko, a new character in the series, an unmentioned amount of time following the end of the first game. The Helghast invasion of Vekta has been repelled and the ISA launches a counterassault. Their war fleet crosses the solar system and takes up position above the inhospitable surface of Helghan. It’s more than a reciprocation of war though. It is an attempt to bring it to an end. To achieve this, it falls to a battalion to capture the Helghast leader, Scolar Visari, who has been stirring up the Helghast to a fanatical pitch against the ISA.
Sevchenko’s Alpha Squad is a part of this. A quick introduction sees you acquainted with the other three members of the squad, Corporals Dante Garza and Shawn Natko and squad leader, returning character and Master Sergeant Rico Velasquez. You are also met with the playable character of the original game, now promoted to Commander of the ISA fleet, Jan Templar, as well as Commander Narville and scientist Evelyn Batton. Despite some flashes of potentially excellent characterisation, and a stronger focus on it in the latter half of the game, it is difficult to empathise with any of them. Although the Helghast play a much smaller role, their fanaticism is endlessly more fascinating than the cookie cutter mentality that seems to permeate the ISA.
A short while ago I mentioned the disconnection between gameplay and narrative. To be sure, this doesn’t come in the form of a military story in a first-person shooter format. It has long been established that this works. No, it comes from that feeling touched upon earlier that you are just a cog in a machine. The story never reinforces that, instead tasking the player character as the one to bring in Visari. Sevchenko is an elite soldier, his mission is one for the most experienced veterans. Sure, he must be involved in the push for the palace if he is to achieve his goal, but he shouldn’t always be on the frontlines, or being tasked with heading off elsewhere to solve another problem.
The other major issue is one that requires a spoiler warning. Regular review process will recommence in the next paragraph. If one of your squad mates falls in battle, you can revive them with a defibrillator. On the surface, it creates tension to think that they might die if you don’t get to them on time. But if you ignore the indicator and their cries for help, they’ll eventually stand up again. When one of the characters is shot during a cutscene, it leads to his inevitable death. Why could he not be revived in the same way as he could in gameplay? It’s a poor design choice, but it does promote the aforementioned focus on characterisation making it hard to gauge as a positive or negative point.
All things considered, the narrative takes too much of a backseat. It forms no more than an excuse for continuous action and suffers from poor pacing. The writing is middling. Visari’s speeches are powerful, stirring affairs but the regular dialogue suffers from a lack of any emotion and far too much profanity that can be healthy. You can argue the stress of war and authenticity until you’re blue in the face, but it doesn’t excuse what is present here. Only adding to the issues is the non-committal delivery of lines by the voice actors. There are exceptions in Visari, Mael Radec and Templar, but these each only play small roles.
Outside of this, the aural presentation of the game is very good. The battlefields echo with explosions punctuated by the firing of rifles as friends and enemies alike cry out in fury and pain. The soundtrack consists of marshal tunes that fit in with the theme of the game, and although certain aspects can seem lacking or come across as unbalanced, it never really detracts from the entirety of the experience.
The visuals, however, are where the production values really shine. Three years after its release, it still manages to stand shoulder to shoulder with all but the absolute best graphical presentations. From the highly detailed characters, weapons and environments to the stellar elemental particle effects, it is more than enough to take one’s breath away. Of course, every production has its flaws, and for Killzone 2, there are two. The first is the lip-synching, which is simply not convincing and an exceedingly poor attempt in a game that is as gorgeous as this one. The other comes from the blandness of the environments. Most of the game takes place in an oppressive cityscape in which the backgrounds quickly begin to meld together into a melange that is simply forgettable. There are a couple of deviations, one for a wasteland and one for the ISA Command Centre and these present a very different look but both are over too quickly to make amends for the general lack of impression.
And this is ultimately the final verdict for Killzone 2 as a whole from the perspective of a gamer that sticks solely to single player campaigns. It’s a good game, no fear, and it would be great for fans of first-person shooters, but it is simply not the eminent quality game that can be appreciated by everyone that many people seem to profess. It’s a derivative shooter that, outside its ability to conjure a simulacrum of the reality of warfare and its graphical proficiency, is entirely unimpressive. And again, I see not the draw of Skirmish/Botzone.
Peace and Love. Until next time, PSXE.
This user review does not reflect the views of the PSX Extreme Staff.