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The first Killzone is an average shooter at best. It was overhyped by the media and was predicted to be one of the best shooters for the PlayStation 2. It was even dubbed the “Halo killer”. In the end, it wasn’t any of those things and that made it only more disappointing. It was followed up by Killzone: Liberation for PlayStation Portable in 2006 and Killzone 2 for PlayStation 3 in 2009 which ended up becoming one of the most successful games for the system. Developed by Guerilla Games and published by Sony Computer Entertainment, Killzone 2 was released for PlayStation 3 in February, 2009. This was yet another game in the Killzone franchise that was extremely hyped before release but the difference between this and the first game is that this actually met the expectations.
Set after the events of the previous game, Colonel Jan Templar leads an ISA fleet on an attack on the planet Helghan. His goal is to arrest Scolar Visari, emperor of the Helghast, for war crimes. The story follows Alpha Squad, led by Templar’s old comrade Rico Velasquez, and puts players in the shoes of Sergeant Tomas “Sev” Sevchenko. Much like the first game, the writing doesn’t dig too deep into the more interesting aspects of the premise. The game follows the squad as they go from one encounter to another making for a typical tale of war.
One of the more disappointing elements of the writing is the lackluster character development. I spent just under five hours with Alpha Squad (the campaign isn’t very long) and after it was all over, I couldn’t even remember all their names. They shout, they swear, they joke around and Rico is still an angry hothead. That’s as deep as they get. They’re mostly forgettable. As as result, some of the more emotional moments conveyed in the plot failed to leave any kind of impact. I would say the voice performances are decent with Brian Cox, once again, stealing the show as Scolar Visari. Actor Sean Pertwee, who voiced Hakha in the first game, also returns and delivers a solid performance as Helghast Colonel Radec.
While the story in Killzone 2 isn’t anything exceptional, the developers did a great job at conveying what could be seen as an apocalyptic world in the middle of war. Gloom and doom can be felt around every corner. The game is packed with atmosphere. Killzone 2 features a short but intense action-packed campaign and conveys a hard sci-fi look and feel. Dark clouds looming overhead as lightning flashes in the distance with fierce winds blowing debris around and smoke rising from the war torn areas around the planet make for a very gritty experience.
Killzone 2 was not only visually stunning for its time but also a joy to play and still is. I can’t say the campaign does anything special with the formula, but everything it does do it does very well and feels great. There’s a good sense of weight to the characters and weapons, the gunplay is satisfying and all the weapons are fun to use. The only thing I don’t care for is the reliance on the Sixaxis motion controls to perform certain actions in the campaign like turning valves and planting explosive charges. It can’t be disabled and just feels gimmicky.
If you were to strip away the aesthetics and details, you will see that Killzone 2 doesn’t stray too far from the gameplay formula established in its predecessor on PlayStation 2. You primarily go from one encounter to another, blowing away tons of Helghast. The run and gun gameplay is broken up by some cool set pieces and scripted sequences here and there like when you have to defend a ship from enemy aircraft and use an Exosuit to eliminate enemy armor and ground forces.
Running and gunning in Killzone 2 is actually one of its biggest highlights. Sev can carry one primary firearm, a sidearm and a knife. He can take cover behind objects, lean around them to get shots off, and aim down sights. Many of the weapons from the first game are present in Killzone 2 along with several new deadly toys like the flamethrower, Electricity Gun, and Bolt Gun that fires bolts capable of pinning foes to surfaces before exploding. All the weapons have great audiovisual feedback and feel great to fire and are often accompanied by cool gore effects. Certain weapons can blow the heads off enemies and blood will splatter on surfaces. Plus, the excellent animations make for some dramatic and cool deaths.
One of my biggest issues with the first game is the lackluster enemy AI. Enemies exhibit questionable behavior and often not react appropriately. I’m happy to say Killzone 2 showcases smarter enemies making them more interesting and fun to engage. Many of the same foes from the first game and Liberation are present in Killzone 2 and they’ll run around, take cover, vault over obstacles, shoot at you, throw grenades, blind fire, and certain foes will even rush you. You’ll engage a variety of Helghast troopers and one of the most deadly variants is the heavy trooper. Equipped with bulletproof and blast-resistant armor and armed with heavy firepower, they’re an intimidating force that slowly advance on the battlefield. But they can easily be taken down by shooting the tank on their backs.
Your objectives in Killzone 2 are pretty standard stuff. Move from A to B, secure and defend areas and destroy shit. You will get plenty of opportunities to utilize weapon emplacements and the combat often feels intense thanks not only to the great gunplay and atmosphere but also the partially destructible environments. Bullets and explosions can rip through objects and structures which looks really cool. Throughout most of the campaign, you’ll be accompanied by one or multiple friendlies. They do shoot at and kill enemies from time to time but since I always felt like I was doing all the work I often forgot they were around unless they got in my way or needed to be revived.
What’s really great about Killzone 2 is that every single encounter feels exciting. It doesn’t matter if it’s your standard run and gun gameplay or scripted sequence, the way everything is presented simply makes for an exciting time. You’ll frequently get into firefights with friendlies by your side and with projectiles flying every which way and the sounds of gunfire, explosions and shouting all around you, every battle looks and sounds like a hectic war zone. It’s great. This kind of presentation helps elevate even the most basic stuff. In my opinion, one of the most memorable sequences in the game is a bridge battle. Your objective is to eliminate the Helghast forces defending a bridge so a convoy can get across. It’s your typical run and gun gameplay but the intense firefights, dramatic music and gloomy atmosphere make for a very exciting and memorable sequence.
Killzone 2 does support online multiplayer but the official servers were taken offline years ago so I didn’t get to jump into any online matches for this review. But I did play online years ago and remember it being fun. It should be noted that as of this review, a group of dedicated fans have set up their own unofficial servers. The game does come with a Skirmish mode which does allow you to play against bots. The multiplayer does feature class-based gameplay and includes a ranking system. There are multiple maps and matches can include multiple missions or objectives like search and destroy, search and retrieve, assassination and capture and hold.
Killzone 2 is definitely one of the better-looking PlayStation 3 games and for the most part it still holds up visually. Everything is extremely well detailed and from what I read, the developers utilized motion capture technology for the animations which I think is why they look as good as they do. Some things show their age when viewed up close and I did notice jaggies but, otherwise, Killzone 2 is an all around phenomenal looking game. The soundtrack is also excellent and features a lot of dramatic orchestral tunes with the more intense stuff kicking in when the bullets start flying. The music compliments the action nicely and adds a layer of dramatic tension to the battles. On the technical side, I did experience occasional stuttering and frame rate dips when the action got hectic. I also encountered brief periods of freezing during gameplay whenever the game had to load. Other than these things, it performed rather well most of the time.
I find the Killzone franchise interesting. I think it’s interesting that it even is a franchise because the first game really isn’t that great. I’m a little surprised it spawned sequels. But I’m glad it did because Killzone 2 is easily one of the best first-person shooters for PlayStation 3 and consoles in general. Excluding the multiplayer since I didn’t get the chance to dive into it, if you really break down the game, it’s your typical first-person shooter. It doesn’t actually do anything new or groundbreaking. But it does everything so well and presents everything in such a great way that it feels like something bigger and better. Simply running around and shooting things is a ton of fun just because of the way it looks and feels. The lackluster story, forgettable characters and gimmicky Sixaxis motion controls are my only real gripes with the game but I can’t say they ever got in the way of the phenomenal gameplay.
I would absolutely recommend Killzone 2. I would even say skip the first game and jump right into this. It’s one of the greatest sequels ever made. This is what a Killzone experience should be. The campaign may be short but it’s consistently fun and action-packed all the way to the end. Ultimately, Killzone 2 is one of those must-play games. If you’re a fan of the first-person shooter genre, this is an experience that should not be missed. Definitely check it out.