Killzone 2 - First Impressions

   06/02/2009 at 20:37       Derek Littlewood       7 COMMENTS.
[THUMB1]Although smoke and mirrors are a necessary evil in development... has been (quite forcefully and sometimes with LARGE CAPITAL LETTERS) argued that Sony took this to something of a cynical extreme with their initial presentation of Killzone 2 at E3 '05. Although it eventually introduced us (some months later) to the concept of a 'target render', the result of Sony's larking about is that the gaming community is more polarised over Killzone 2 than any other title I can remember. So, cunningly marketed and promising FPS upstart or cynically overhyped PS3 failware?

Clattering into battle at the start of the demo on the back of a remarkably foolishly designed APC-type vehicle (although armoured personnel carrier is perhaps a bit misleading seeing as your squad benefit from no armour protection at all sat on top of the bloody thing), and crash-landing on a beach, it's quickly obvious that Guerilla has its sights set firmly on a Call of Duty-style experience of linear progression and scripted set pieces, albeit in a sci-fi setting. Not that I have no idea of the plot, you understand, but fortunately the characterisation makes this a minor issue; your squad are all solid jock stereotypes whilst the enemy Helghast wear helmets with demonic glowing red eyes. It's likely to be fairly apparent which one to fill with bullets.

[THUMB2]Visually the game betrays a highly bespoke engine but it's certainly been worth the effort for Guerilla. Although the slabs of grey tend to rapidly blend together (despite being plastered with some lovely detailed textures), the particles and screen filters - from the screen-burning explosions and lush, thick clouds of smoke to some artfully applied motion blur and depth of field effects - really make the scene. Everywhere you turn the action looks almost directly stripped from a trailer, not only in effects terms but also through some well realised animation (which is occasionally undermined by glitches in NPC animations, although this is the type of bug that has a high chance of being fixed before release). With a robust orchestral score and some neat incidental details like the Helghast soldier's voices being muffled by their helmets, the audio also impresses and overall it's apparent that Killzone 2 manages its spectacle of carnage and destruction better than perhaps any other title out there.

Between the controls and some pleasingly hefty first person animations, the gunplay in Killzone 2 has a immediate weight that's a definably different experience to many recent FPS games. It's likely to be a bit of an acquired taste; the control sensitivity, for instance, is tweakable in the menu but still has a slightly ponderous feel even at maximum, and every other action, from reloading to jumping, takes longer than you might expect. Throwing a grenade, for instance, is an extremely deliberate process - it's not slow by any means but nor is it a Master Chief-style twitch reflex either.

And for my money, the balance works well. Despite the sci-fi setting, Killzone 2 doesn't cast you as a super soldier; you're a slow, easily punctured bag of flesh and bone and you quickly begin to act like it. Headlong charges at the enemy generally end in disaster, so instead it's a case of picking your cover and either picking them off from a distance, using grenades to flush them out, or trying to flank them. This is supported by a highly intuitive cover system that's so subtle you almost don't notice it; by crouching close to some cover you can cling close, and shuffling along to peek out to the side or over the top of the cover is all achieved with the left analogue stick. It's a far better implementation of first person cover play than the clumsy first person switch of the recent Quantum of Solace game, and although extended play may change my mind on this, I have my suspicions it may even be more effective than the cover system in Gears of War.

[THUMB3]In the final section of the demo you work your way through a small warehouse, coming under pressure from several waves of Helghast troops. This section gives the AI a thorough workout - on numerous occasions I became pinned down by crossfire or enemy grenades, and they have an extremely disconcerting habit of aggressively flanking and moving as a unit, rapidly invalidating previously safe cover points and continually forcing you to change position. At the far side of the warehouse you're required to hold off an enemy squad as your teammate hacks a door lock and whilst the scenario is as old as they come, desperately trying to pick off the Helghast as they moved up, one bit of cover at a time, closer to my position, was an alarmingly tense experience.

Upon replay the demo disappointingly doesn't give up many secrets. Although the scripting is largely transparent (barring the odd obvious spawn trigger), there is an enormous amount of it, and the playable corridors are narrow, offering little in the way of alternate routes. A couple of enemy APC's make an appearance part-way through the demo but are obstacles only and don't offer the sort of gleeful hijacking opportunities that makes the vehicles in Halo such a blast.

[THUMB4]And really, this is the compromise Killzone 2 asks of players; it delivers a spectacular and visceral FPS experience, but only within its own narrowly defined scope, and in return you have to play along and turn a blind eye to the amount your freedom has been curtailed. There's a convincing argument that it completely succeeds at what it sets out to do, but it's questionable whether there are really enough ways in which men running at you with guns in corridors can be spun out to hold interest in the long term, even if they are damn shiny and explosion-packed corridors. And ultimately, that will be the thing that makes Killzone 2 a game of genuine substance or just another example of Sony and Guerilla's mastery of the smoke and mirrors.

Killzone 2 is due for release on the 27th February on PlayStation 3
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peej - on 06/02/2009 at 21:58 wrote:
Good stuff, pretty much concur with this. Had a look at the original target render movie and it still makes me grin. Such optimism by gamers at the time that the PS3 could ever do anything that incredible.

Syrok - on 06/02/2009 at 22:12 wrote:
Nice write up.
I didn't notice there was an actual cover mechanism until a friend of mine played this today. Most of the time I flanked the enemy, hid behind something, let my AI friends throw grenades and ran back in.

Now where can I find that orchestral score you were talking off? All I can remember is the noise of bullets and bombs. :)


nekotcha - on 06/02/2009 at 22:34 wrote:
There's definitely an orchestral tune on the title screen, which reminds me actually, one criticism I had that kinda got cut because it didn't really fit with the article was of that appalling 'jittering' thing the menus do whenever you select a new option. It's presumably meant to be jittery but I just found it really, really annoying.

Syrok - on 06/02/2009 at 22:54 wrote:
Oh, I thought you meant while playing.
I think the menus judder when you move the controller. Every game needs to have some sort of motion controll. ^_^

Trip SkyWay - on 08/02/2009 at 07:52 wrote:
I didn't notice the run button, which made it feel really slow. Once I'd told where to find it though I had a good time with it.

I prefer the demo's scripted enemies to some of the monster cupboard spawning I ran into in COD4.

The narrow corridors are probably my only concern after playing the demo a second time. I hope there are sections with a little bit more freedom to approach the encounters.

Really interested in the Mulitplayer now.

peej - on 09/02/2009 at 12:32 wrote:
One thing I noticed which was a neat bit of window dressing was the semi-3D manipulation of the loading screen bit with the Sixaxis tilt...

Novel, useless but pretty!

Espad - on 11/02/2009 at 12:37 wrote:
Good write up.
Loved the cover system, very nicely done and keeps the FPS view.
I approve, went from a 'no way' to pre-order instantly.

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