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The PS3's defining blockbuster is finally upon us. Can it actually live up to the promise...
- Stunning presentation.
- Deep multiplayer.
- Strong squad and opponent AI.
- Generic level designs.
- Unimaginative gameplay.
- Cliff-hanger ending.
Can a single title save Sony's plight and ignite flagging PS3 sales? It's unlikely. Is Guerrilla Games' effort a defining PS3 exclusive blockbuster, which will at least assure long-suffering PS3 owners? Definitely. Is it worth forking out for a PS3? ... Possibly.
Ever since Sony's infamous use of CG sequences to demonstrate the "possibilities" offered by the PS3 back in 2005, Guerrilla Games' flagship title has found itself under a tremendous degree of scrutiny. Could the PS3 actually manage to pull off the visual quality hinted towards, or was it all just smoke and mirrors? Let's admit it; it wouldn't be the first time Sony has resorted to such trickery.
If rumours are led to be believed then a considerable budget and access to Sony's finest tools, technology, and talent have certainly helped to ensure KillZone 2 is worthy of that footage. Purists could argue that such fidelity is restricted to a handful of sections within KillZone 2 and they're largely cut-scenes. But there's little denying that Guerrilla Games' first PS3 title is a visual masterpiece, eclipsing everything we've seen so far on the format and putting the likes of Gears of War into its place.
Picking up the events two years after the original KillZone, Guerrilla Games has deliberately ensured knowledge of the 2004 PS2 title is not a pre-requisite to enjoy the action. An entirely new cast of characters face this struggle between the Interplanetary Strategic Alliance (ISA) and the Helghan, with the return of Col. Jan Templar providing the only real link to the first game. The ISA's attack on the Helghast planet of Helghan also brings us up to date with the continuing battle between both factions and explores the deeper reasons of why.
So begins eight chapters of pretty intense shooter action. Let's get this out of the way immediately, KillZone 2 isn't the greatest first-person shooter ever created, but then again neither was Halo. Half Life 2 and Modern Warfare still manage to share that honour. But KillZone 2 doesn't need to be. Beyond ensuring a solid shooter experience, the key requisite for KillZone 2 is (rightfully or wrongfully) whether Guerrilla could actually pull it off. And in answer to this, PS3 fans will be happy to know it's a most certain yes. "Hollywood Realism" is the wonderfully opaque term Guerrilla Games has used to describe KillZone 2, something that actually isn't merely the hyperbole that it suggests. There's a constant sense of dynamism to KillZone 2 and the world of Helghan. Wind gushes across the Helghan terrain to create a convincing sense of atmosphere that you can almost feel, while the forceful physics engine creates a gameworld that's utterly believable. Objects fly across the sky when the action heats up, yet there's a sense of solidity to everything unlike the many flimsy, plastic examples we've seen in other shooters.
Unfortunately, although the game captures the visual flair of those trailers, it rarely manages to capture the diversity and concept in terms of the mission challenges and gameplay. All too often the game falls down into familiar territory, with only the occasional section straying beyond the genre's conventions of shooting increasingly tougher opponents. Although KillZone 2 ticks many of the boxes for a solid fps experience, throwing ambushes, squad, and solitary sections into the mix, the game's pacing and occasional bland level designs prevent it from reaching the echelons of the genre's finest. Guerrilla hasn't attempted to throw anything new into the mix, and who can blame them when the pressure was on to deliver the PS3's visual magnum opus? The strict reliance on the check boxes however is a little too stringent for our liking, and whilst sections such as the assault on a speeding train are solid enough, the overwhelming sensation is one of 'seen it all before'!
The assortment of arms is what you'd expect from a shooter with even the more creative Helghast weaponry failing to offer anything that feels particularly new. Equally the handful of sections that require you to jump aboard a tank feel as though they're included just because other shooters have vehicular sections. There are exceptions: jumping onboard the AA guns onboard the ISA Cruiser New Sun feels closer to Star Wars than most other attempts ("great kid, don't get cocky"), while the mech section later in the game is pretty remarkable - all the more surprising considering we're not traditionally fond of mechs in shooters (Quake IV anyone?).
The covering system is the exception. Its implementation can be compared to that of the Rainbow Six Vegas series, just without the gimmicky need to switch the view to a third-person. Tapping a shoulder button attaches you to the nearest wall or object, with the ability to move around it and lean and peek out of cover to shoot. It's not without its problems, but it does provide a more tangible blend of old-school PC style and newer examples without degenerating into the virtual equivalent of whack-a-mole.
Guerrilla certainly deserves credit for its implementation of motion-sensitive controls as well. Wisely opting to restrict its usage to the gimmicky nature that it deserves instead of trying to develop control setups inextricably based around it, KillZone 2 uses the SixAxis/DualShock 3 motion controls for subtle commands such as turning gauges, steadying your aim when sniping, or planting mines - brilliant. Thankfully it's also largely a solid game without the glitches or bugs that thwarted the original. AI is generally very impressive and puts up a good challenge, although the kamikaze technique of certain Helghan troops does provide a weakness that can easily be exploited. As did the availability of the Electricity Gun during a later stage, its imbalance completely removing the sense of challenge from a game that generally steps up in challenge suitably as it progresses.
Of course no shooter is worth its RRP on a single-player campaign alone. It's the online multiplayer that really makes KillZone 2 an essential purchase, and surprisingly where Guerrilla Games has been at their most inventive. Despite the clamour for online play, we've got to applaud Guerrilla Games for including the relatively rare addition of bot support.
With the inclusion of persistent careers linked with the XP system, KillZone 2 may not radically push the boundaries, but the 'Warzone' mode does at least provide something that feels fresh in a fiercely competitive genre. Essentially it's a compendium of tried-and-tested game types into one cohesive game. Such an example begins with the two teams attempting to gain control of command points, the victor winning the round, before the next objective is something like defending or attempting to assassinate a VIP. There's nothing particularly new but the idea to combine each type into one mode is genius, and you're left asking why nobody's really tried this before. The only potential pitfall for KillZone 2 to overcome is whether or not the PlayStation Network can sustain the huge number of hours we expect KillZone 2 to quickly notch up.
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