There was precisely one moment where I thought Killzone 2 would break out of its polished, brown husk and show me a transcendental experience worthy of its pre-release hype. In a siege piece near the end of the game, I had pushed forward against the Darth Vader-ish Helghast with my AI soldiers, fighting in the multi-tiered grounds before a massive palace. At a point, I had taken higher ground, wiping out four Helghast soldiers and creating a new forward position for our march. The Helghast swarmed in, and we were forced level by level back to a landing below. The fight ebbed and flowed and I felt a stalemate come on against these unrelenting foes. Later, I found an underground tunnel which brought me beyond the Helghast barricade and the fight behind me immediately evaporated, as if a flipped switch had dismissed my opponents into oblivion.
This epitomized my time with Killzone 2.
Anticipating a Killzone 3 purchase (it’s Malcolm McDowell’s fault, I swear), I figured that since I had never pulled the trigger on Killzone 2, it would only be proper to review it ahead of time. If you can imagine what Modern Warfare were like if set on a burned-out, murky alien world fighting what Giant Bomb described as ‘British Space Nazis’, you sorta get the idea. The story goes that there’s some back and forth conquest going on between the planets of Vekta and Helghan in the Alpha Centauri system. In the first game, it was the Helghast invading Vekta, in this one, it’s the Earth-helmed ISA invading Helghan, a cruel, inhospitable world that humans settled on and became pale, ruthless people. (Maybe it wasn’t explained to me properly, but it seems odd that your un-adapted lungs seem to work fine on Helghan, but the Helghast run around with breathing apparatuses. Hrm.) Anyway, you play as ISA jarhead Sev and your job is to bring the fight to the Helghast. Through dilapidated towns, underground mining facilities, epic Soviet-stylized architecture, and an eerily derivative train ride, you will push to do so with your fellow soldiers.
Let me start off by saying that the game is solid. The first thought running through your mind is that the game technically looks amazing. I say “technically” because while it’s a highlight for the PS3 as a graphics powerhouse, most of the game’s levels are a dark green and brown blur in my mind. They built an incredible engine capable of great things, then proceeded to fill it with a ton of forgettable, washed out scenery that makes Half-Life 2‘s City 17 look like a vibrant, model metropolis. You carry one main gun at a time (take that, Halo!) and the game features a snap-to cover system that allows you to lean around corners (although in early portions of the game, I found myself jittering uncontrollably against several pieces of cover). The game’s not terribly long and vehicle sections mix up the action a bit, but there were few standout moments in my mind. Well, let me see what I can remember:
– The aforementioned example storming the palace and several similar situations later on.
– Dying repeatedly in a dusty sniper alley because the game’s unforgiving-in-spots checkpoint system had me doing the exact same stick twists and button presses over and over again as I attempted to defeat several waves of baddies before it would finally let me save at a later point.
– Coming to the conclusion of that train ride and dying repeatedly because the game figured that a thrilling conclusion to the level would involve several overwhelming swarms of Helghast soldiers. That was cute.
– Standing, back against a wall, and having to kill a soldier with my sidearm while almost dead because my AI squadmate, who was staring right at the sonuvabitch, did absolutely nothing.
– Standing in front of an enemy soldier who simply stared at me, gun ready and not pumping me full of bullets. I almost dared myself to wait and see how long it would hold.
Killzone 2‘s biggest sin is it’s self-indulgence – it simply loves the hell out of itself. Every time you boot the game, you’re forced to listen to the first twenty seconds of the Helghan Emperor’s dramatic monologue before you can skip to the menu. The music pounds at all times, like the climaxes of your favorite action movies are played in a never-ending, unswelling row. The game also loves cutscenes, so much in fact that it’s more than ready to destroy the mise-en-scene at any point to show you something trivial, like the fact that a switch you just toggled activated an elevator you passed earlier (Duh, there was one elevator and one switch, so . . .) and while they provide a brief window into your character, the game fails to do any actual character development. The smug also carries over to the animations: those trench-coated Helghast not only die, but they die as if they were flinging themselves around in some hammy community theater production.
I said it before, Killzone 2 is a solid title. The game looks fine (when there’s something desirable on screen) and controls fine. The problem is that it’s a nine-hour campaign that simply isn’t that much fun and the entire production feels self-important to a distracting fault. Far-removed from the trauma of its pre-release hype, it’s easier to see the game for what it is: a blockbuster that wasn’t.