After a rather disappointing Killzone, a lot of expectations were placed upon Guerrilla Games for Killzone 2. The hype after its teaser trailer at E3 2005, and the subsequent disappointment for learning that it wasn’t in real time as they had originally proclaimed, meant that the pressure for releasing something truly outstanding had been raised a notch. Could Guerilla Games deliver on all the hype, or would it simply fizzle? Is this a must have PS3 game like so many are proclaiming? Well you’ll just have to read for yourself. Better yet, give it a spin and try for yourself. Still, it doesn’t hurt to give this a read.

Killzone 2 takes place entirely on Helghan, the home world of the Helghast, who invaded the Interplanetary Strategic Alliance (ISA) colony of Vekta back in the original Killzone. Two years after the assault on Vekta, the ISA has launched an assault on Helghan in the hopes of capturing the Helghast leader, Emperor Scolar Visari, and bringing the war to an end. You assume the role of Sergeant Tomas “Sev” Sevchenko, a veteran of the special forces unit Alpha Team, who go on various missions to ensure ISA victory.

The campaign can best be described as short, frantic and pulse raising. The games pace ensures that there’s almost never an lull in the action. You’ll go from mission to mission, shooting your way through buildings, tunnels, bridges, train stations and more as you make your way through the Helghan capital. You man turrets, drive tanks and stomp around in EXO mechs as you pound your way through Helghan defenses. The missions are designed to keep you constantly moving, and the battles don’t wear on too long.

Like many other shooters, mission objectives often involve turning a crank or pushing a button. Killzone 2 makes full use of the SIXAXIS controller and forces you to rotate the controller to simulate the onscreen activity. It feels unnecessary and in a way disrupts the flow of the game. Thankfully, the actions are brief and don’t slow down the play too much.

The games AI is some of the best we’ve seen to date. Helghan soldiers will patiently wait under cover while you shoot at them, poking their heads up once you’ve taken a few seconds off from firing. They flank and use tactics unseen in other games. The level of though put into the enemy soldiers is extremely high and something that really enhances the game play. Unfortunately though there is on thing that detracts from the game, its aiming system.

The controls in Killzone 2 can be horrible at times for one simple reason, the games aiming is not up to par. Perhaps Guerrilla Games wants to replicate the Helghan home world, with it’s increase in gravity, but far too often you feel the weight of the bulky armor when trying to control Sev in a firefight. I found myself re-adjusting far too often after firing off a few shots. This caused a lot of bullets to miss their target and gave opposing troops time to get cover or recover. Far too often I found myself almost face to face with a Helghan troop and it took more then a clip to down him because the kick in weapons was too powerful. Unfortunately it was a big distraction for me and negatively impacted the game play. That and it’s relatively short campaign were the biggest detractors. I expect a game to give me more then 7 to 8 hours of gameplay.

After the relatively short campaign you might as well partake in the best part, the multi-player. Similiar to the Call of Duty games, Killzone 2 rewards you with bonuses as you progress through the ranks. As you progress you’ll receive new weapons, extra grenades, and entire classes. This can be achieved either through the leveling system or ribbons earned by completing specific tasks. The bonuses are earned separately from leveling, which gives you two chances for leveling up during a game.

While the online game types aren’t anything new, from assassination, capture the flag, capture and hold, deathmatch and destroy and defend, it’s the what Guerrilla Games has presented them that really stands out. The modes offered in multi-player really stand out. The various modes are strung seamlessly together, mixing up game play and forcing teams to adjust accordingly. Up to five modes can be meshed into a single game, with games often involving up to 32 players at a time. A very nice feature is the ability to play in games with less people if you choose, or host with up to 15 AI controlled bots.

One thing that’s painfully obvious is the omission of the cover system in multi-player modes, but in doing so it makes the action faster and more straightforward. The eight maps really stand out, giving each game mode a natural fit. The varying spawn points of the propaganda speaker in Search and Retrieve, and the locations of capture points in Capture and Hold provide for the exploration of ever nook and cranny of each map.

The weapons in Killzone 2 are a lot of fun. The ISA standard rifle, the M82, is a powerful and effective weapon in both distance and close range. The bolt gun is a lot of fun to use, pinning Helghans onto various surfaces and watching them explode from the grenade tip. In close range, the LS13 will cause enemies heads to explode with a single blast. What’s nice is that even though you’re in a sci-fi game, your weapons are modern-day, from the sniper rifle to the Helghast StA-3 LMG which is extremely reminiscent of the Nazi MG-42. About the only sci-fi weapon you’ll find is the lightning gun, which showers enemies with jolts of electricity. The realistic look and sound of the weapons really stands out.

Perhaps the most striking thing about Killzone 2 are the stunning visuals. Both technically and artistically, they’ve knocked it out of the park. The level of detail and the lighting of various settings stand out and make you want to take an extra second to take it all in. The soldier animations are some of the best I’ve ever seen in a game, with fluid movements and the way enemies take cover and then adjust themselves under over give it a realistic sense. When you kill an enemy the way in which they fall, slump over and react to being shot is nothing short of superb. Guerilla Games really nailed it and have set the bar very high.

The audio in the game is another excellent feature, including an excellent score recorded by the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus. The sound effects of the bullets passing by, the hit against armor, the crunching of your feet on the pavement really stand out. Unfortunately it’s the comments from your fellow teammates, Garza, Rico and Natko that bring it down a bit. Rico is by far the worst of the bunch, his voice is that of a poor mans Cole Train from the Gears of War series. It’s annoying and feels forced. I wanted to mute the game every time he spoke.

Unfortunately there are a few downsides to the game, the first being the characters. To put is bluntly, they’re bland. Your play as Sev, one member of the four in Alpha Squad and you act as little more then a conduit for the story. Sev is a quiet, sullen killer who barely says a word for the majority of the game. Your squad leader, Rico, is an annoying prat that makes you want to frag him from the get go. There’s no emotional attachment to the characters at all. You don’t care about them or what they’re going through and when people die it has no emotional impact, you simply move on to the next mission with a shrug. You’ll find no difference with the Helghast, with their sinister masks, glowing red eyes and Nazi-esque uniforms, reminding you of the soldiers from the Japanese anime Jin-Roh. Colonel Radec makes for the perfect comic book villain and Scolar Visari is your typical charismatic psychopathic leader. It’s safe to say they lack of interesting characters stem from the uninteresting story.

Killzone 2 never rises above the clichés it exhibits. The plot exists solely to move the action along, which is fine in and of itself. But you’re never treated to the back story, just the narrative during the cut scenes. Only the opening of the game offers any real sense of what is occurring and why. If you’re familiar with the original Killzone, you’ll at least have an idea why the ISA is attacking the Helghast home world; if not then all you know is that you’re the good guy and they’re the bad guys and it’s your job to kill them all.

Killzone 2 is not the end all be all that so many have hyped it up to be. For a FPS it does its job well, but lacks originality. You can’t doubt its visual superiority, but a game needs more then just outstanding graphics to truly make it special. For the PS3, Killzone 2 is important for a number of reasons. Most of all being it’s distinction of not being a good FPS console, Killzone 2 goes a long way to dispelling that myth. It’s also important to show that when given the right tools, developers can harness its power to give us something truly outstanding visually. To put it simply, if you own a PS3 and are a fan of FPS then you’d do yourself a disservice if you didn’t at least try this game.