Few titles have shone as brightly in the spotlight as Killzone 2. Ever since the infamous E3 2006 "in-game" video trailer (since debunked after long half-denials by all parties involved), the gang at Guerilla Games have faced an incredible amount of pressure to deliver something resembling the jaw-dropping experience Sony hinted at years ago. The ultimate moment of truth is coming next spring when Killzone 2 finally releases, but I got a chance to jump into an invite-only multiplayer beta for a sneak peek at what awaits when Killzone 2 hits the streets.
Betas are always tough to judge, since you never know what will be changing and what'll remain the same. No matter what though, two things were immediately clear – Killzone 2 is great-looking and seriously intense. It may not be reinventing the multiplayer shooter, but it is undoubtedly bringing the genre onto the PS3 platform in a big way. While Resistance and Call of Duty fans might balk at the notion that the PS3 suffers from a dearth of AAA first-person shooters, Killzone 2 is Sony's last, best chance at establishing a first-party Halo-killer.
On first glance, the visuals are impressive. I'm no technical analyst, so I can't describe the nuances of particle effects or texture mapping. Even so, Killzone 2 looks tremendous, from the environments to the weapon discharges and just about everything in between. My only real gripe with the eye candy was that it was hard to tell the difference between friend and foe; more than once, I filled the backside of a teammate with lead thinking he was a Helghast (or vice versa). That never went over very well.
A plethora of weapons were available in the beta, including assault rifles, shotguns, rocket launchers, grenades, and others. When utilized properly, they were wildly effective, especially once I got over the initial learning curve. Only three maps were there to choose from, but they ranged from small to large, including a compact concrete compound to a massive, urban ruin stretching a few city blocks. Each of them sported plenty of choke points and central meeting places for maximum carnage. For the most part, things ran very smoothly, even when the action got exceptionally frenetic. On dozens of occasions rooms were scenes of pure chaos, with grenades, bullets, and rockets flying all over the place, yet I never noticed the action bogging down much at all.
A class-based system determines the makeup of individual teams, including riflemen, engineers, medics, and several others. As you'd expect, each one has particular advantages and disadvantages, and when you've got a solid squad put together spanning the full range of available options, a pretty powerful team mechanic emerges. Success is dependent on communication and support; running around on your own without a solid plan is the best, quickest way to get destroyed. Clan support promises to up the ante even more, as roving teams of four coordinated players who know how to work together will likely dominate the action.
Killzone 2 also featured a couple of surprises. The controls definitely took some getting used to, as my standard "spray bullets with extreme prejudice all over the place" way of playing got me nowhere fast (except getting killed a lot). Unlike Halo or Call of Duty, the movement and aiming felt slower and more deliberate. After making some adjustments though, I managed to score at least a few kills, but I still have a long way to go before I can consider myself skilled. My kill-to-death ratio was simply embarrassing. The game modes were enjoyable enough – not so much because they were particularly new or bold, but because the Warzone mode allows several of them to be strung together in a single "campaign" of sorts. A match may start off with both teams looking to capture a flag, then switch to an assassination attempt against a randomly chosen individual, move to a free-for-all death match, finally ending with an assault on a single objective point on the map. The concept of not playing a single mode for an entire game may not be all that new, but it is welcome – and it definitely livens things up.
As with any multiplayer shooter, there were frustrations. Spawn camping was a problem, especially when those campers had rocket launchers. There were plenty of occasions when my games devolved into a never ending cycle of immediate death upon spawning, and once that process begins, it's virtually impossible to escape. Hopefully by the time the retail version hits, some measures can be taken to reduce its occurrence.
With plans to support up to 32 players online, Killzone 2 is an ambitious and eagerly-awaited title that just may deliver on a lot of its promises. If the beta is any indicator, lots of deliciously entertaining death and destruction is just around the corner.