We’ve been here before of course. Back in 2003 the original Killzone was unveiled as the game that would emphatically wrestle the FPS initiative back to PlayStation 2, away from Microsoft, Xbox and the mighty Halo. Blinded as the press and public were to some admittedly impressive technical demonstrations, the game went on to sell well over a million copies, presumably before anyone had the chance to realise how many cracks there were beneath the invitingly shiny exterior and how poorly Killzone compared – if not in looks, then certainly in playability – to Bungie’s masterpiece (a game that appears to take on more and more significance as the years pass).
Skip forward two years to E3 2005. Killzone 2 is unveiled to an industry as the tech demo – sorry, game – that would cement PlayStation 3’s inevitable market leadership, even with the launch of the Xbox 360 just months away. Sony’s response appeared reminiscent of an advertising slogan Nintendo used in the months before the launch of Nintendo 64: “Is it worth the wait? Only if you want the best!”. As we know, the PlayStation 3 has hardly had an easy ride since.
By now you’ll have already seen the corresponding score. Chances are you’ll have also made up your mind as to this review’s merits, or even those of Killzone 2 as a game overall. So for everyone disembarking at this point, the brief summation is thus: Killzone 2 does very few things that are new and it won’t exactly win the Pulitzer for its attempt at fiction, but it may just be the most accomplished slice of genre gaming this generation has yet produced, with every noteworthy strand of technology and game design collated into one console-defining title. Where others have innovated, Killzone 2 has refined to the nth degree; this approach may be considered cowardly, but it will work wonders for the average gamer.
What suggests Killzone 2 is such a successful creation is that after a while the soundbite-worthy features that stand out in the initial hours gradually give way to an experience that is all about the feel and the immersion of play, a factor that was sorely lacking from the original game. From the heaviness of movement to the debris that chips off each pillar through gunfire, the world of Killzone 2 is tangible, realistic and incredibly well conceived. The visuals, even after such blog-friendly hype, are astonishing, but would represent little more than a hollow victory were they not supporting this cohesive ethos. Narrative excepted – and it is a big exception – Guerrilla has placed a certain gravitas upon their vision of warfare and ensured that everything works towards this goal.
A case in point would be early on when your squad finds itself ambushed in one small corner of Visari Square by charging Helghast troops. Wave after wave of enemies appear, past the point that other FPS shooters would have reasonably given the player a break, but it never feels unfair; instead it’s the first intense set-piece in a game loaded with such encounters. By the end our ammo was down to single digits, our reaction one of being genuinely relieved to have survived. The final assault on Visari Palace is similar, a sustained battle during which every inch gained feels vital and where retreating even a few steps invites the Helghast forward.
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