Killzone 2 Preview

By Jeb Haught, May 21, 2008 12:30pm PDT

Entering the penthouse suite where Sony was holding its E3 Judges Day event, I was immediately greeted by two large widescreen TVs surrounded by an almost impenetrable line of journalists. Lucky for me, I only had to wait about thirty minutes until lunch was served and a few spots opened up--apparently, free meals and booze are the only power-ups needed to lure journalists away from new games.

Parting the remaining crowd as if it were the Red Sea, I discovered that the Guerrilla Games' much-hyped PlayStation 3 shooter Killzone 2 was the center of attention. Eventually, the controller landed in my hands, and it was time to exact revenge on the wicked Helghast.

Senior producer Steven Ter Heide explained the story up to this point as the level was loading. While the original Killzone focused on the Interplanetary Strategic Alliance's (ISA) defense of their home planet Vector, the sequel is all about taking the fight to the enemy. The plan is to protect Vector by invading the Helghast home planet Helghan and capturing emperor Visari.

Assuming the role of a Special Forces soldier named Sev, I began my adventure on Helghan by flying in on a transport ship designed with no roof. From a first person viewpoint, I watched as another transport ship was blasted out of the sky, throwing a comrade end over end into my ship. Heavy weapons fire came at us from all angles, and my ship eventually crash-landed on a beachhead. One of my squad mates pulled me to safety and handed me an M82 assault rifle. It was time to let the carnage commence! Registered users can use the HD Stream.

Both sides of the beach area were surrounded by tall, dark structures, and barricades were strewn all around. This dreary layout left me no alternative but to advance forward through both heavy machine gun and random missile fire that lit up the dark sky, I immediately noticed that every Helghast soldier's eyes emitted a slight glow through their gas masks, which made it easier to locate them in dark areas during firefights.

"Take cover behind that wall," Heide told me, "and you can use the new lean and peek cover system." During gameplay, L1 snaps Sev to a wall, and the left thumbstick is used to lean side-to-side or upward. Pressing fire auto-pops Sev up or to the side to fire.

"Sweet, I love cover systems," I thought to myself. The player can zoom in and out while using the cover system, but I'm not too thrilled with the fact that it is de-activated every time I pop back behind cover.

"Our goal is to keep the player immersed in the action, so the game always stays in first person view," Heide explained when asked why the camera doesn't change to a third person view when in cover.

As I advanced past several dead soldiers and lit up the enemy with my trusty M82, I was impressed with the way the rifle felt in my hands. It had a decent kick from DualShock 3 controller--the accuracy was spot on, and I really like the green dot scope. Getting head shots with this rifle was second nature, and I couldn't help laughing inwardly every time I saw a Helghast helmet fly off to reveal their hideous face.

In the distance was a bridge with two machine gunners and one sniper on top shooting down on my band of futuristic brothers. After killing these enemies several times only to have them replaced by a seemingly never-ending supply, I noticed a rocket launcher lying on the ground. Since the game limits players to one pistol and one main firearm, I had to swap my M82 for the noobtube.

Grabbing the rocket launcher immediately initiated a mission that instructed me to blow up the ammunition on the bridge, and a symbol appeared over the target. One blast later, the bridge exploded in an impressive display of fire and particle effects, tossing debris in every direction.

Flashbacks of the original jump button-less Killzone tormented me with the idea that I might not be able to transverse these formidable one-foot-high chunks of debris. Fortunately, a simple press of the X button lets Sev perform realistic jumps, and I was also pleasantly surprised by the fact that players cannot fire weapons while jumping. This should help to eliminate unrealistic gameplay and bunny-hopping during multiplayer bouts.

Three heavy machine guns protected the next area, with two mounted on enemy APCs and one mounted on a second story platform. "There will be drivable vehicles in the game, but we have to leave something new for E3," Heide told me, with a smile.

Eliminating the machine guns wasn't too difficult, but it seemed like there was no obvious path for me to take. Just then, I noticed a teammate named Garza near a wall, and I was instructed to press a specific button when I approached him. This initiated an assist oce move where he boosted me over the wall, and we both proceeded inside a building. In the final game, only some assists are required to advance.

There was no load time during the transition from outside to inside, and after clearing a couple rooms full of Helghast, we made it into a two-story warehouse. I crouched behind some cover and blasted the hell out of any threat that advanced, while sunlight created visible rays that helped to illuminate the dimly lit room.

I tossed a few grenades into the room and watched as one enemy called out the danger and they all ran away from the threat. Heide mentioned that all teammate and enemy chatter is context-based in order to help immerse the player in battle.

I cooked another grenade and tossed it in the middle of the room below me. As it exploded, shrapnel hit the various objects littered around the room, including a propane tank. The tank spun around, shot off towards a large shelf, and exploded, killing one soldier and destroying the contents of the shelf.

It's what the developers refer to as "happy accidents," where unscripted random chain reaction events occur depending on the situation. This was enough incentive for me to scan for exploding barrels and propane tanks everywhere I went from then on. Another incentive to do more than just run-and-gun are the placement of collectible Helghast symbols hidden throughout each level.

After making my way down into the warehouse, my AI companion and I came upon a locked door. I was instructed to protect him while he attempted to pick the lock, so I covered the obvious entryways into the room. Just then, several small explosions rocked the roof as a half dozen Helghast fast-roped into the room. I managed to pick one off before he hit the ground, but then ran out of ammo.

Scavenging a Helghast battle rifle from a dead soldier, I activated the zoom, which happens to be iron sights for this weapon. It had more recoil than the M82, but was fortunately just as effective due to a fast rate of fire. Two clips later, the room was silent.

We advanced through the unlocked door and came to a room with a wheel that had to be turned using Sixaxis motion controls. It opened a floodgate that was impeding several friendly APCs, and watched them lazily roll underneath me and through the floodgate as I strolled across a catwalk. This ended the demo, but I played it two more times before I left the event.

Killzone 2 exudes a rich level of detail that blows its PlayStation 2 predecessor away. Much of the environment is destructible, and subtle details such as detailed lighting effects and on-screen blood effects that indicate the direction of incoming fire help to immerse the player in a realistic environment.

I also like the death animation system that blends hit response with motion captured animations so players will rarely see the same death twice.

Granted, there are a ton of scripted events, but the advanced physics also allow for lots of creativity and random "happy accidents." One concern I have is that frequent mission updates displayed on-screen might be distracting during the heat of battle, but only time will tell. Multiplayer remains a mystery as well, but we'll hopefully find out more when E3 rolls around in July.

Killzone 2 is due out in February 2009.

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