No game has ever shipped under such high expectations as Killzone 2. Expected to almost single handedly dredge Sony out of the slump it's currently in, Guerilla Games had a lot riding on their shoulders with their latest title. As if turning the franchise around from the critically panned first title wasn't enough of a challenge, the fledgling Dutch developer has been under the watchful eye of enthusiasts every step of the way, constant criticisms thrown at them at each move. If it wasn't the seemingly unachievable graphical standards set by the pre-rendered trailer, it was the unfinished AI demoed in the pre-alpha build of the game. And if it wasn't the AI, it was either laggy controls, drab color palette, or whatever other trivial blemishes could be spotted. However, even in the face of the unrelenting media and the titanous pressure piggy backing Killzone during all it's 4 years in the making, it succeeds in what it set out to do, creating a definitive PlayStation 3 experience.
Four years ago, Sony announced the PS3 at E3 2005. Killzone 2 was unveiled, via a pre-rendered trailer, the very same day. The trailer looked nothing short of amazing, easily beyond anything any game had achieved prior to it, and would become the source of hysteria and controversy that still surrounds the title to this day. While Killzone 2 doesn't look quite as good as the trailer, it is by far the most spectacular looking console game thus far. If there was a definitive moment where games made the full out graphical leap to the next generation, Killzone 2 is it. It isn't just that the character models are rendered better than other titles, or the environments are eye popping. There are literally a dozen graphical effects; dust particles, lighting, smoke, fire effects; that make Killzone 2 an unparalleled graphical tour de force, even with it's rather drab and limited color range. The graphics set the war torn atmosphere, and that serves to firmly entrench the player in the game's world. From the inner city suburbs with lightning crashing down from the sky, to barren desert shanties with blinding dust storms rolling through, Killzone 2 shows off it's brilliant graphical prowess at each corner.
The stellar presentation of Killzone 2 doesn't just end with the graphics, either. Joris de Man's soundtrack for Killzone truly completes the game. Whether you're storming the Helghast grand palace or fighting your way through an armored soldier transport, each sequence is accompanied by a masterfully composed piece that adjusts to the action occurring on screen. The sound of gunfire is loud and, when accompanied by the rumble of the Dual Shock, creates a feeling of empowerment that many shooters fail to get right. The voice acting, on the other hand, is a mixed bag. Brian Cox's portrayal of Scolar Visari is chillingly eerie and spiteful, thought the rest of the voice actors are pretty forgettable for the most part. The in-game dialogue and banter between the soldiers is generally comical and light hearted, which serves as the only relief for the relentless action occurring on screen. It's also considerably varied and you won't often hear the same lines repeated over and over, as was the case in the first title.
Of course, no matter how stunning a game looks when it's released, it will inevitably age as technology gets better, which is why a game needs solid gameplay, and Killzone 2 delivers. Guerilla has scrapped everything from the original title and rebuilt it from the ground up. While Killzone isn't particularly innovative, everything it does is polished to the utmost amount of perfection. From the moment you crash land at Corninth River, the game never spares you a dull moment. The combat is raw and visceral, and you'll easily find yourself killing over 500 of the cunning Helghast soldiers before the game is, which is an absolute blast thanks to how prefect the weapons feel. The game has your usual suspects, from assault rifles to rocket launchers, but there are no useless weapons, no guns that don't serve a purpose, each is a unique tool you'll need for different scenarios throughout the course of the game. The guns all feel weighty and solid, and with the feedback provided from the Dual Shock, they get that empowering feeling just right. Popping the head off an unlucky Helghast soldier with a deftly placed head shot from a sniper rifle or watching lightning arc between screaming enemies has never been so disturbingly satisfying. This is even more so the case with mounted turrets and even a mech you get to pilot late in the game. The game only lets you carry one main gun at a time, alongside a beefy revolver with unlimited ammo if you find yourself in a jam. On occasion, this may lead you to some predictable situations where you see a rocket launcher in front of the door way, and you just know there’s a tank or some otherwise heavy enemy artillery right outside.
Despite how amazingly effective the weapons are, you'll never find yourself breezing through any section of the game. The Helghast enemies are incredibly swift. They most amazing thing is how they communicate with each other. They'll constantly be barking commands, with one soldier keeping you pinned down while another rushes in for a melee attack, throwing grenades and forcing you to keep on your toes. More than once I found myself scrambling around and ending up next to an explosive fuel tank, at which point my Helghast enemies would blow up, sending me packing back to the last check point. The scenarios you find yourself in are incredibly epic, from long distance shootouts to intense building-to-building battles, and the Helghast react accordingly to the situation, each and every time.
The only places you'll find any respite from the onslaught of Helghan defenders is behind whatever make shift cover you can find. While the cover system is certainly nothing new to shooters, Killzone 2 implements it in a seamless manner. It isn't context sensitive like in Uncharted or Brothers in Arms, which can sometimes leave you guessing as to what you can or can't use as cover. If there is something there, simply push L2 and you're character will sidle up on it. Cover is constantly being blown apart. Stone columns will crack and break, wood panels will be shot apart, and eventually, after you are just getting cozy, you'll be forced to search elsewhere to find some solace.