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Killzone 2

Review: First must-have shooter of '09

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Let's get this straight from the off; Killzone 2 has raised the bar for graphics. Somehow Sony has delivered on the promises of its ambitious 'target' video. But does it have the gameplay and depth to match?

We know 'gameplay over graphics' is a line commonly cited, but it's Killzone's incredible, retina-melting visuals that makes this one of the most absorbing shooters out there.

Is it all grey? Nope. You start off in a fairly dank, grey urban area, shooting your way through very cramped Hong Kong-esque streets, before moving on to a desert land, an industrial refinery and other locations with differing, but equally-gritty-looking Helghan environments, packed solid with detail and atmosphere.

Killzone 2's epic setting is mental from the moment you're dropped down onto the planet of Helghan. The sound of explosions, anti-air fire, guns and soldiers' screams fill your head. A windstorm blows dozens of swaying cables stretched between the cramped, detailed buildings as giant railguns blast enormous lightning bolts at ships above. This is played out below a gloomy sky that only enhances a sense of Armageddon as the war between Earth and the Helghast kicks off.

As well as the audiovisual splendour that gives you the feeling of being in a real war, the almost constant company of AI-controlled team mates (which makes it all the more surprising that there's no co-op) makes the game's events feel important. You travel in a group for most of the game, with helpers lending a hand, but it never makes you feel like you're an extra.

The AI that powers your Helghast foes is great. They never run at you mindlessly, or stand there waiting for a bullet to the face. They run for cover, ducking down before you get a chance to pick them off.

The common trick in games is to aim at an enemy's point of cover and wait for them to stick their heads out, but if they know you're doing that the cheeky buggers stay tucked in, blind-firing in your direction. You'll have to flush them out with a grenade.

But grenades have to be thrown strategically because enemies will consistently move out of harm's way if they notice your attack - usually legging it to another cover point. On the reverse, if you dig your heels in behind a cover point they'll attempt to flush you out with their own flurry of explosives.

This cover-orientated gameplay in an integral part of the game, rather like in Gears of War, but in a first-person view. Holding L2 while near a wall locks you into a cover-taking position. From there you can use the left stick to peer above or to the side of your cover, popping off shots before ducking back to safety.

Zoom

The analogue movement and aiming will feel really sluggish and heavy at first, but increase the sensitivity options and your brain soon adjusts.

The cover mechanic works brilliantly. It takes some getting use to, but once you get the hang of it you realise that winning gun fights becomes all about using the environment properly - choosing good places to take cover, spotting opportunities to rush towards an enemy, and slowly pushing on until you force your opponents into a vulnerable position.

Shooting them is satisfying too, with their bodies jerking back realistically to the impact of every bullet.

This all comes together to make for some heart-pumping set pieces - when you walk into a room full of Helghast you know an epic gun fight is about to go down, and it's a real technical marvel.

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