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Raising Helghan – Killzone 2 Review

Not unlike the shattered, broken, violent, gaseous world of Helghan, this game was left for dead before anyone outside of the elite gaming press had a chance to grab hold of its reigns. Mired in controversy over an epically huge budget and misleading CGI trailer, many were unwilling to give it a second chance to impress them. It’s real time reveal in 2007 impressed those willing to see it for what it was, but for those who simply would not, it still reached well short of its intended target. Two years later we see the culmination of Guerilla Games’ inspired effort at creating the first must have shooter for the Playstation 3. Regardless of its quality, it will stand as a turning point for ill or better.

I must admit I never liked the original Killzone, so when it came to the sequel all I had guiding me was the fact that I already owned a PS3 and was wowed by its visuals. I had no real expectations for its gameplay. In short, I felt it would disappoint me as much as Free Radical’s Haze. I was very pessimistic on the outlook for this title, and nothing, not even positive preview after positive preview and multiplayer beta impressions would convince me otherwise. I skeptically played the demo – and all that changed. After playing the demo at least a dozen times I waited until the game’s release with anticipation.

It wasn’t an easy process though. It was rough and very gritty, like the war torn streets of vacated Helghan. The controls felt ugly. In the weeks from my last play of the demo to my first of the full game I had lost whatever feeling I had for it. My hands writhed at the controller’s touch, digits braying at the awkward motions of cover to grenade to zoom to – and then – it just meshed. While attempting to fumble clumsily with the control system Alternate 2 and Standard 1, I kept it on Standard 1. Somehow, my hands had seemingly evolved to match the controller I held before me. War was Perfected.

Whatever qualms I had about the Dualshock 3 were gone. After each consecutive sitting I came back to it as good if not better as the try before. What’s more, I was playing on Veteran. Challenging yes. Frustrating, most definitely. Unrelenting – of course. But impossible? No. I had found the demo too forgiving, unchallenging and an all around cakewalk. Although it wasn’t itself easy. If I made a mistake they would punish me. Hence I stopped making them. I had figured out my opponent. Thus I had to give them an edge. Veteran difficulty took me to a place only superseded by the same named difficulty of Call of Duty 4, a feat I have not yet mastered and I most assuredly never will. I would like to boast that I was able to maintain this accomplishment, but at some point I just decided it was not in my interest to do so. I lowered the difficulty to Normal as I wished to complete the game more enjoyably.

Not to say the campaign is a chore, or to give it overly undo credit as a masterpiece. It was adequate, a bit more so than others. Tried and true characters, harrowing escapes, impossible odds – etcetera. Alone I might have taken its worth at face value, but the sum of it proved immersive. I’m not saying it had greater story, better characters, more interesting environments – I’m not saying any of this – but I hadn’t really felt pulled into what I was seeing before me since Half Life 2. I’m not quite sure what they accomplished but it felt – you could just feel it. This game took you to Helghan and convincingly left you there to fight your way out.

The story interestingly parallels the struggles of those who call Playstation 3 their only next-gen console. I’m not going to sugar coat it – they don’t have a lot to call their own. Although it is foolish to say that it has no games – but mass appeal? No. Enough of the console war babbling – the Helghasts’ march to freedom against oppression draws interesting parallels to the PS3 owners attempt to quell criticisms. If anything needs to be said it’s that a trend is growing just as much as the loss of nearly every major exclusive had. Every exclusive that remains is visually stunning. Killzone 2 does not disappoint in that regard in the least.

For those wondering if the multiplayer would be able to stand up to the giant that is Call of Duty 4, or even the College Campus champion Halo 3 – I’m not going to say if either is better or worse. That’s not a fair argument or really one that can be won without an “ad mominem” or two. It has its own unique twist to things. The switching off of its various game types through given matches keeps players on their toes and makes the matches more interesting. Whereas one who’s better at stealth will excel in ‘Search & Retrieve’, one who’s better with a shotgun and a handful of grenades will feel at home in ‘Body Count’. Both players on opposite teams on opposite sides of the spectrum have a chance to feel powerful.

The ranking system makes you feel motivated to play another round to shave off the large amount of points you need to accrue in order to level the playing field. After releasing a few patches the game feels a little more balanced, but for Guerilla Games’ many talents judgment like that of Infinity Ward’s is not one of them. Maps, weapons, classes, all positives and abundant lack one basic element that just can’t be overlooked: communication.

I’m not going to crucify them for not implementing a party system, I’ll throw that ball into Sony’s court. But the squad system they chose to use would be fine if it were an asset instead of a liability in the heat of combat. Being in a squad allows you to speak with the members in your squad, spawn on them as well as know where they are in relationship to you on the map. Very valuable in a game such as this. However, you are required to open the menu and invite or accept invites to squads while leaving yourself exposed. Had they attached such an essential feature to the D-Pad like Burnout Paradise or even paired up straggling players in squads automatically, this would have been a very big opportunity to get unified players instead of divided lone wolves.

Another issue, again in Sony’s court, is the lack of a headset. Bundling this game in with a headset would have done wonders. Soccom of all games gets one? But not Killzone 2? It’s bad enough you don’t get something out of the box – not even HD cables – another story – but this is just poor judgment on the part of the people at the helm. No more than a small install base have a headset, and even fewer still use them to actually communicate intelligently. A big missed opportunity here that may not come again. MAG? Get on it.

The game has its issues. It still aims like you’re underwater, but you’ll be able to control how well you shoot by effectively planning attacks. One thing that is unforgiveable though is players dying at the same time – and even worse dead players killing live players. There seems to be a short window, long enough after a player has been killed to have his remaining bullets kill the opponent he was targeting. What is this? Bullet time? Not debatable, not a rational or an intelligent design decision. Fix it. This game still has more patches before it’s at 100%, but in its current state it is more than enjoyable.

I would recommend this game to anyone with a PS3. To those on the fence about owning a PS3 altogether: there’s enough content worth owning on the PS3 that it’s a system you can justify owning it for games – so add this to the list. Those wondering if this is the killerapp? Sorry guys, this one isn’t it. It’s more than an enjoyable product but it’s a bitter sweet title. Ultimately it’s a game that you really have to work at to enjoy immensely. I have a feeling the majority of gamers outside of PS3 owners wouldn’t have the patience enough to try it and reach the point I have through trial and error. They would simply shell out the money, try it for an hour, drop it, and harp on a message board. I won’t be responsible for that.

Still, Killzone 2 is every bit worth owning, and if you can put aside your fanboy bias and want to remember why the first person shooter genre is still going strong, buy this game and enjoy it for what it is. Not the next generation of shooter, not the end all be all. It’s a highly enjoyable shooter that has more than enough content to last you a good while.


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