In the four years that we’ve known about it, Killzone 2 has been all but defined by one incident, so let’s get this out of the way right off the bat: yes, Killzone 2 lives up to the infamous “target footage” clip that roused legions of skeptics at the 2005 Electronic Entertainment Expo. It even surpasses it, although if you’ve been following the game over the last few months, you probably know that already.
Above: You may even have seen this 2005/2008 comparison video
So, yes, Killzone 2 is a graphical powerhouse. No disputing that. Despite its dismally gray color palette, it renders the war-torn planet Helghan in meticulous detail, and the corridors, city streets and industrial hellholes you fight through feel like believable, lived-in environments. The gasmask-wearing, Nazi-like Helghast troops you’ll fight are just as beautifully rendered and animated, and it’s weirdly fun to watch them flail and jerk as you hammer their impossibly tough bodies with bullets.
More importantly, Killzone 2 is an excellent shooter that’s faster, prettier and much more chaotic than its predecessors. It’s also relentlessly gritty, and its weapons, vehicles and architecture are so low-tech and dingy that the action feels much closer to World War II than to your average space-marine shooter. In fact, it’s not a stretch to say that this is the closest thing there is right now to a sci-fi Call of Duty.
Even with that said, Killzone 2 still has a lot more to prove than the average shooter. It’s one of the most important, make-it-or-break-it titles for the PS3, but it’s been met with heavy skepticism every step of the way. That’s not really surprising, given the game’s sketchy past. Aside from the spec footage, there’s the first PS2 game, which was hyped before release as a “Halo-killer” and instead turned out to be a slick but fairly slow-paced trudge through “realistic” sci-fi battles inspired by actual 20th-century warzones.
Above: The first Killzone. Average score on Metacritic – 70
Then there was the PSP sequel, Killzone: Liberation, which - despite improving on the original - wasn’t actually a shooter, and therefore didn’t say anything about developer Guerilla Games’ ability to craft one.
Above: Killzone: Liberation. Average score on Metacritic – 77
It also doesn’t help that “Killzone” is exactly the kind of ultra-generic name that uncreative cop-show writers use whenever they want to insert a “message” about “video violence” into the weekly murder plot.
All that stuff just makes what Killzone 2 has achieved that much more significant. Putting you into the boots of Sgt. Tomas “Sev” Sevchenko, a new character under the command of series regular Rico Velasquez, Killzone 2 throws you into the invasion of the inhospitable planet Helghan, which is roughly as significant within the game as marching into Berlin was during WWII. You’ll see every second of the campaign unfold through Sev’s eyes, from the first moments aboard his army’s gleaming dropship to the final confrontation with the Helghast leaders. His story’s fairly predictable (assuming you’ve ever seen a war movie), but it’s well told, and the characters – simple as they are – are memorable and likable enough to keep it from ever feeling generic.