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Killzone 2
Score: 92%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Developer: Guerrilla Games
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1; 2 - 32 (Online)
Genre: First Person Shooter/ Action

Graphics & Sound:
I'm a bit late to the Killzone 2 hype wagon. I'll admit that I was one of the non-believers a few years ago when the now famous CGI trailer was introduced at E3 and since then, I've maintained high, but reserved, interest in the game's development. While I never completely doubted that the presentation wouldn't be top-notch, my expectations of it actually delivering on gameplay were tempered by my not-so-great feelings towards the first game - feelings that have been all but erased by Killzone 2.

I could spend days talking about how technically impressive Killzone 2 is, but I won't - it's pointless. This is, without question, one of the more technically proficient games on the PS3 and a great showpiece title for anyone trying to convince someone to buy a PS3 (something I'm sure Sony would really appreciate you doing). However, I was more impressed by the game's design sensibilities. Levels are bleak, dirty and not places you would want to visit. While I would have loved more location variety and more blue skies, both would probably feel a little out of place. The dreary look carries through into the menu screens, which feature an odd "out of focus" shift that helps sell the experience.

If sound is 75% of the experience, Killzone 2 goes a long way in proving it. Music has a cinematic flair and is used only when necessary. The rest of the time, the ambient sounds of war are allowed to come to the forefront and sell the rest of the experience. Weapons fire carries a lot of impact and offers a good sense of how powerful each gun is. The only minor issues are with voicework, though this is more of a side effect of the "action movie" dialogue rather than individual performances.

The single-player campaign puts you in the role of an ISA soldier, though ultimately, the plot is really just something to keep you moving forward. I'm usually bothered by paper-thin plots, but there's a lot going on in the background that helps add a bit of connection. The Helghast, a group of orange-eyed fascists, are a great antagonist and have a certain magnetism that manages to make the entire story feel deeper than it really is.

Really, the only area where I was disappointed was in the shift between first and third person perspectives. I'm a big fan of consistency and can't help but be a little annoyed when games shift viewpoints on me. If the gameplay is in first person, I want to experience the story in first person. Sure, it doesn't allow for super-impressive cutscenes, but the immediacy of actually being there makes up for it. This is by no means a major thing, but a personal preference. Besides, the simple fact that I'm getting this picky should speak volumes.

There's nothing about Killzone 2 that you haven't seen in nearly every other FPS on the market. Levels are linear, though still open enough that you can usually find a few ways to break through enemy lines. Gameplay is mostly carried by the strength of the combat system, which is incredibly intense and polished to a high-sheen.

Multiplayer is the other side of the Killzone 2 experience and something you'll want to keep coming back to once you've knocked out the single-player experience. The biggest draw to multiplayer is the combat class system that awards you with badges for performing well in matches. These are a great motivational tool, though the real fun comes with the ability to mix-and-match different badges, essentially creating your own classes.

To keep things interesting, game types are randomized during matches. Your first match may be a simple Deathmatch, only to transition into a Search and Destroy mission once the first match is done. The system's effectiveness depends on the group you're playing with (to some, every game is a Deathmatch), though as someone who likes variety, I liked how the system allowed me to experience all the types rather than only one.

Even on lower difficulty settings (there are four total), enemy A.I. is smart and will give you a good game. Unless they're manning a stationary weapon, enemies will do everything they can to flush you out of cover and keep you moving. I'm usually the type of player who sticks to a handful of tactics, but the A.I. forces you to use every tool in your toolbox to make it through situations.

Allied A.I. is a bit problematic, only because it doesn't keep your best intentions at heart. It has no problem with charging to the next checkpoint or hanging back while you deal with enemy troops. On the occasion that it does charge forward, there's a really good chance that you'll have to run after then and revive them, a favor they can't return.

Game Mechanics:
Like most of the game, Killzone 2's control scheme isn't mind-blowingly original, but it is so polished and functional that it feels like it is doing more than it is. The dual-stick setup is tight and the button mappings make functional sense -- that is, once you learn the layout. One of the system's few quirks is how it handles actions. For instance, (Triangle) switches weapons, but if you want to get to your knife, you need to hit Left or Right on the D-pad. It's an odd setup, though it makes functional sense within the game; you don't have to go past your knife when switching between your ranged weapons and if you need to quickly pull out your knife, it's a quick jump from the Left Analog Stick.

Another interesting mechanic is the cover system. The option of taking cover is nothing revolutionary, but Killzone 2 manages to make the ability seem fresh. Holding (L2) drops you into cover. From cover, you can pop out and get off a few wild shots to attempt a precision aim. Again, it's nothing other games haven't done, but it meshes with the core gameplay so well that it feels innovative.

If there's an "original" or "unique" element in Killzone 2, it's the use of the SIXAXIS' motion sensors. Periodically you're forced to twist the controller to place charges or turn valves. It feels gimmicky and awkward, but works.

The PlayStation brand has been in a desperate need of it's own Halo, a game that is able to grab the attention of players, hold it and generate a rabid fan base. Killzone 2 fits the bill perfectly. Unless you absolutely hate first-person shooters, clear a spot on your shelf for Killzone 2.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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