Killzone 2 had a lot to prove; moreso than any game should reasonably have to. The one key genre the PlayStation family has always been lacking in has been the first-person shooter, and ever since its prequel was first unveiled in 2003, it had been unfairly labeled as the 'Halo killer' the console so obviously lacked. However, it was not to be, since the finished game was an enjoyable but unpolished and unrefined effort which required another six months in development to smooth out all the creases. So, Killzone 2 came with excess baggage in the form of roughly half a decade's hype and expectation, not to mention thousands of fanboys' hopes and the chance for Sony to really make a stamp on a genre which has until now largely eluded them.
The most notable gameplay element is how slow and leaden your character Sev feels compared to other FPS. Movement is slow and deliberate, jumps are shallow and realistic, and generally you feel like an encumbered, heavy, battle-ready soldier. Further, like the first game the feeling of inertia pervades throughout, with the sense of motion and place more pronounced than any other FPSs - you sway as you throw grenades; reloads are slow, deliberate and realistic; explosions shake the screen -- it all creates something which feels much more tangible and cohesive than almost any other game in the genre.
Because of this, gameplay is slower than most of its peers, requiring you to stick to cover, chose your targets carefully and flank your enemies. In gameplay terms it's probably closer to Rainbox Six Vegas or Gears of War than most, as progress can be slow and very deliberate, and firefights usually take place from behind cover. Running and gunning will only make you a bullet sponge - particularly since the Helghast are clever & agressive, and will flush you out with grenades and perform their own flanking manoeuvres, and on the harder difficulty levels really test your abilities with some punishing AI.
The weapons are magnificent, looking and sounding like brutal tools of death. Detail on them is tremendously high, showing all manner of intricate functions as the light reflects from polished chrome. The weapons feel realistic, plausible and genuinely dangerous: these guns spit lead, not lazers or plasma. However, this *is* sci-fi after all, so a few small liberties have been taken with some, but for the most part the arsenal feels surprisingly grounded and evoke memories of 2006 release, Black.
The visuals are incredible, and almost certainly the most attractive graphics ever seen in any console game. It's not just the sheer weight of polygons in which Killzone 2 succeeds either; it's the little touches and effects. Dust clouds, water and lens flares have never looked better, and explosions are viciously glorious. Character models are superb; in particular the increasingly iconic look of the Helghast and their trademark glowing red eyes. Thankfully there are more variations on enemies this time around, with clear differences and differing uniforms between the various Helghan ranks, such as standard troopers, snipers and officers.
Complimenting the visuals perfectly is an accomplished soundtrack and superb audio effects, which really help create the feel of a large-scale battle. Friends and foes shout and scream, bullets ping and impact all around and explosions happen on both sides of the field almost continuously; all of which help the firefights feel that much more immersive and involving. The soundtrack is a sweeping orchestral score with a choir in place, and is a very strong soundtrack which sets the scene nicely for the coming conflict.
Unfortunately the script and voicework is considerably less accomplished. The principal characters are all typical military grunts whose personalities don't extend beyond shouting "look out" and various profanities, and it's a shame a bit more effort wasn't put into developing them - in particular squad leader Rico is despicable and foul-mouthed, and you wouldn't mind seeing him meet an unsavoury end. The first game wasn't very good at making you empathise with the characters and this game is unfortunately no better in this regard. Likewise, the plot is interesting but it's never examined in any kind of depth - we never find out why the Helghast invaded Vekta, why they hate the rest of humanity or where this interstellar racial tension came from. It's a shame as the premise is pretty unique - mankind fighting a bitter, dark version of itself - but background on the potentially interesting plot is never explained, which feels like a missed opportunity.
The multiplayer is arguably the focal point of the game, and it has turned out really well. There are five match types to be played (which range from team deathmatch to VIP), with up to 32 players per match. The levels vary from small, intense corridor-based arenas to massive-scale outdoor areas, catering for all manner of weapons across the field. The games are generally fast and furious, however, compared to the Modern Warfares or Battlefields out there, it's a lot slower-paced and tactical, with a strong emphasis on unit types and team work. Servers are always busy, and generally it's one of the best multiplayer games on the console.
Criticisms have been leveled with regard to its lack of originality, which is a fair point. However, if the refinement and polish of existing ideas to create something spectacular (but admittedly at times generic) is your ideal, then this delivers in abundance. The greatest shortcoming is probably its lack of any kind of co-op modes - the fact you are always with at least one AI buddy and many of the tasks revolve around the aspect of more than one person, it feels ideal for online co-op so its omission is a shame. It's not helped that allies' AI seems lesser than your enemies'. Further, hopefully future iterations will boast better scripting and characterisation.
Killzone 2 is a tremendously solid game. It doesn't re-invent the wheel, but Hell; round ones work just fine anyway. Guerrilla Games have actually lived up to the massive potential and delivered one of the best shooters of the last couple of years. It's not perfect and there are a few things which could do with a bit more care for the next game but nonetheless, this is one of the most beautiful, explosive and entertaining shooters of the console generation so far.