Tag Archives: Guerilla Games

Best of 2009 #10: Killzone 2

Graphics aren’t everything, but they are something, and when they look as spectacular as Killzone 2, they’re really something. Even if it wasn’t quite what was promised, Guerrilla got closer than anyone thought it had any right to, creating what is arguably the best-looking game on consoles today. It’s an advert for just how important animation and effects are to visuals and is certainly the closest thing to photorealism we have right now.

The best part of a year on from its release, the forgettable story has almost completely passed from my mind and I’m left with the game itself, which I thoroughly enjoyed despite the hotly debated issues with laggy controls. I think it gives the game a sense of weight that complements the gritty style. It wouldn’t be Killzone 2 if it had the tight, twitch controls of a Call of Duty.

It also deserves credit for one of the year’s best multiplayer modes, shorn of some of the deliberately obtuse control elements in the name of competitive play, and I enjoyed that enough to put it up there with Warhawk as one of my favourite PS3 multiplayer experiences.

It’s too flawed to be a bona fide classic, I think, but Killzone 2 does enough right to justify its plaudits and firmly establishes the series as a contender rather than the also-ran that it was in the PS2 days.

Killzone is the New Battlefield

Back before it got bogged down in such nonsense as story and trying to make us care about its characters – or even having characters, for that matter – the Battlefield series was about nothing more than being an absolutely brilliant multiplayer game, into which you’d happily sink dozens of hours.

Killzone 2 is slightly different in that it does have a proper campaign to play through, but in every other respect I think that it’s the heir apparent to what is still the peak of the Battlefield series: Battlefield 2. Hell, it even has the ham-fisted attempts to make us care about the paper-thin characters with crappy AI as we play through the engine tech demo that is its campaign – an approach borrowed from Battlefield: Bad Company for good measure.

Now before I bring down the wrath of the Killzone Defence Force, let me be clear that I mean this in the nicest possible way. Killzone 2’s campaign is passable and a great way to show off the home cinema but not something that I’ll play through more than once, but the multiplayer mode is one of the best that I’ve played in a long time, and certainly the best since Call of Duty 4 stole my life away for a few months over 2007 and 2008. I’ve already played a dozen hours while finding time to play The Lost and Damned and Street Fighter IV, and I don’t feel like I want to slow down yet.

Alas, the controls are still less than ideal. You can’t polish a turd, as they say, but for the multiplayer Guerrilla has mercifully put the turd next to some potpourri. There’s a touch more aim assistance to make firing from the hip less hit and miss – mostly miss – and the slightly clunky cover system has been done away with, and it generally feels less encumbered with the campaign’s affinity for making you feel the weight of your character.

It’s probably a decision based on the fact that human-controlled players are likely to be more wild and reckless, but perhaps it might have been a good idea to let us use these controls throughout the entire game? Just a suggestion…

But what I’ve found to be its most interesting feature is the way that it rotates game types in the same match, meaning that whereas my time in a game like Battlefield 2 would be spent flipping between team deathmatch and conquest-style games without exploring the offerings further, every match of Killzone will randomly flip between deathmatches, conquest, assassination, and other objective-based modes without returning to the menu or lobby. It’s a simple idea that I’ve never seen done before, and it adds a wonderfully unpredictable slant to how the game is going to play. And, of course, you can just choose to play a straight deathmatch, which the game is still very good at doing.

The Battlefield comparison goes further than the superiority of the game’s multiplayer experience, though. This just has a very similar feel, like the realistic imprecision of the guns that makes killing someone with an assault rifle from a distance at best blind luck, if not almost impossible. It’s annoying when faced with AI opponents who aren’t working with the same limitations as you, but against similarly encumbered humans it becomes more of a game of skill, seeing who’s best at carefully aiming and picking their shots before the other guy can, and it’s nearly impossible to win by jamming on the trigger because the recoil is likely to hit everything but your opponent.

Look me up if you’re online – PSN name: NekoFever (stats currently down) – because I’d be more than willing to have a game.

Killzone 2 First Impressions

I’m as frightened as the next person about the ravenous cult that this game seems to have built up over the last year or so, but very occasionally the fanboys do pick a winning horse. I’m saying this having been impressed with the visuals of the demo but been left underwhelmed by the gameplay, where I felt that a combination of the PS3 controller and the game’s attempts to convey weighty realism combined to make it feel clunky and imprecise.

But then I borrowed a promo copy and played through the first two missions…

Before I go any further, I’m going to mention specifics of gameplay and what happens in these missions. If you’ve played the demo and seen the gameplay trailers you’ve seen most of what I’m going to talk about, but I know some people are going dark on spoilers now.

Killzone 2

Aside from a short sequence on your ship at the beginning, the demo is the first part of the game itself, and it’s essentially how that entire mission progresses. You have a set piece on a mounted gun that culminates in the very impressive collapse of a building and a sequence in a tank – this bit wins praise for being a vehicle section in an FPS that isn’t shit – at the end of the level, but other than that you’re playing an extended version of the demo.

The second mission is far more impressive. It’s the same sequence shown in the E3 2007 footage, set in the night-time streets as you attempt to take out the Helghast arc cannons – those are the big lightning guns – while facing heavy resistance from some of the bigger enemies, a couple of which you would have seen in trailers. It’s grimy and atmospheric, and despite being set on an alien world it feels as real as, say, the Middle Eastern streets in something like Call of Duty 4. Very impressive, and the end hints at bigger things to fight than just a bloke in heavy armour.

Now you don’t need me to tell you how good it looks, so I’ll just go as far as to say it looks magnificent and like being almost certainly the best-looking console game yet. What few flaws I saw – the occasional jagged shadow and physics glitch, mainly – were minor next to how incredibly solid everything looks, with a real sense of weight to things that I haven’t seen matched, and I’ve seen plenty of games that go for a similar style recently. Expect this to be the benchmark for any console game with lofty graphical ambitions for a long time to come. The textures, the effects, the staggeringly believable animation – all top drawer.

If I was being really picky, I’d complain that it brings you out of it when you see half-arsed effects like the medical gun thing used to revive downed allies, which looks like a sprite popping out of the barrel. But I’m not, so I won’t.

The sound is what I found most deserving of praise, though, and I haven’t heard it talked about nearly as much as the visuals. On my modest 5.1 system I was getting DTS sound that was constantly active, both with action going on around me and with atmospheric sounds in the background, and one sequence in particular where I was fighting in an underground drain in which every shot rang out with echos off the metal walls blew me away. It sounded notably different both to fighting in the open and in enclosed areas with concrete walls.

And to think that on a better setup I could be playing it with 7.1 PCM audio…

The presentation combines with the sensation of weight that the game carries to really make you feel like you’re inhabiting a physical body, firing actual bullets. There’s just enough inaccuracy to your fire to feel realistic without frustrating you when your shots don’t connect, and you quickly realise that it’s more about pinning enemies down with fire – something that works well with the highly impressive AI – and popping off a few shots at them when an opportunity presents itself than it is going for one-shot-one-kill accuracy.

Now as for the controls, I’m still not entirely convinced, but I’ve found a layout that suits me much better than the defaults that those who didn’t like it may want to try out: I essentially turned it into Call of Duty, swapping to the Alternate 2 preset with hold to aim turned on and x-axis sensitivity bumped up a few notches. Like I said, I still have issues with it, but I wasn’t fighting the controls like I was with the defaults. If anyone knows a layout that can stop my thumbs hitting each other on those sticks and get rid of the occasional Sixaxis control mini-game for turning cranks and arming bombs, please drop me a line.

Expect a more comprehensive impressions post once it’s actually out and I can play more of it, but colour me very impressed so far.