The most difficult aspect of making a truly great game is that the greater the game, the more obvious small flaws become. Killzone 2, by any standard of measurement, is a masterpiece. But it's a masterpiece who's small flaws are glaringly noticeable.
This aspect of the game hardly needs mention anymore. Killzone 2 is still unmatched in graphical quality by any other game, console or PC, on the market currently. The designers' extraordinary attention to detail in every graphical aspect, from lighting to modeling to architecture, is not wasted. Killzone is the only game where I have been killed because I was too busy ogling the sky.
The lighting is the first aspect that strikes you when you begin a new campaign. The ISA monolithic battle stations are set against a sky washed in sunset colors. A dramatic lens flare effect sweeps across the screen when you turn to look at the sun. When the sniper rifle is equipped, you're able to see the enemies behind you off the reflections on the scope lens. On the map Radec Academy, columns of light streams in from the ceiling windows. Killzone's lighting is beyond what I thought capable for a video game.
The weapons themselves are beautifully modeled and textured. I've personally always felt that the weapons in first person shooter games always looked flat and blocky in comparison to the environment. I had no such impression with Killzone 2. All the weapons looks solid and menacing, and conveys the impression that there is some real weight behind them.
There's a lot of other aspects that I haven't touched on, such as the motion blur, and map and character textures. But rest assured, Killzone 2's quality is consistent across all aspects of its graphics.
There is only one complaint that I hear from critics, and that is that Killzone's environment is not as varied as it could have been. We do not see a single trace of vegetation in the entire game. It could be argued that Helghan is a desert planet, and vegetation would feel out of place in such a world. But personally, this artistic direction does feel a little too narrow, and I would have preferred lush forests at the expense of script consistency. As I'll mention again later, script is not one of the game's selling points anyway.
The action of the game is paced perfectly with a good variety of battles littered throughout the entire campaign. What Killzone does very well, and which other games should take a lesson from, is the sense of pacing. By having the appropriate lulls throughout, the peaks in the action seem much more convincing and grand when they appear.
COD:WAW and FEAR both had problems with pacing and variety. Neither had any lulls or variety in the action, and consequentially the games felt like an endless repetition of doing the same thing in different locations. Killzone elegantly avoids the same pitfalls by having a small but extremely unique set of weapons.
Every gun has situations that it shines in. The ISA and Helghan standard assault rifles are effective in a wide range of circumstances while more specialized weapons such as the sniper rifle and shotgun are useful in only very specific situations. The campaign is carefully designed with the weapons in mind and forces the player to accustom themselves with every weapon to survive.
The only complaint I have is that the weapon damages are different in the online multiplayer than in the single player campaign. The guns are better balanced I feel in the multiplayer portion, and I was frustrated to find that my favorite gun in multiplayer (the Sta-11) is almost useless in the campaign.
The story is the weakest aspect of the entire game in my opinion, and I paid little attention to it. The plot is simple and straightforward but never manages to engage the player. Many first person shooter campaigns attempt to weave varying objectives and missions into the plot but ultimately still end up feeling like "go from point A to point B to point C etc" and Killzone 2 is no exception.
The dialogue and script is borderline tolerable when the characters are not swearing every second. Guerilla Games adhered to a firm the-more-swears-the-better policy when writing the script. And consequentially some of the characters sound like grade school children experimenting with newly learned profanity.
The multiplayer portion of Killzone 2 is a fun experience that I have personally sank in at least a few hundred hours in. Because lag is an inevitable factor in online gaming, Killzone 2 employs some unique network handling to ensure an enjoyable experience for everyone. The most noticeable feature being the way kill notification is handled.
If you have played Call of Duty before, you'll notice that game hosts have a significant advantage over other players. This is because it usually takes up to 500 milliseconds for information from the server to reach the clients. What this means is that the host has a 500 millisecond reaction time advantage over other players. If the host turns a corner, spots you, and kills you within 500 milliseconds, you would be dead before you even see your enemy on the screen. This is a source of great frustration that makes even great games unbearable.
Killzone 2 handles this situation differently. Even if the host sees you and kills you within 500 milliseconds, you will not die until 500 milliseconds after the host appears on your screen. This gives you 500 extra milliseconds of life to retaliate, which is often enough to kill your attacker. So on the hosts screen, he has killed you. And on your screen, you have killed him. The result is that both of you will die. This system makes it harder for any one player with a good connection to dominate over the rest.
The consequence of this system however is that it puts an artificial skill cap on good players, as attackers effectively have a 500 millisecond invincability period before they die. Suicide attacks, where enemies run recklessly at you firing their gun, is a common and effective strategy. Maintaining a 1 to 1 kill to death ratio in Killzone is not hard, but getting well above it is not easy either.
The weakest part of the multiplayer, in my opinion, is also ironically one of its advertised selling points: up to 32 player matches. I find that even though Killzone allows you to create a 32 player game, the engine in all honesty can't support it. The framerate drops noticeably and lag becomes much more apparent. Even the map themselves didn't seem to be designed with so many players in mind. Narrow corridors and an over abundance of grenades and missiles turns 32 player games into chaos. I find that smaller games (from 16 to 24) promotes much more strategy, runs smoother, and is on the whole more fun. Perhaps it is good that Guerilla Games left the choice to have 32 player games open for those players that prefer a faster-paced and more unpredictable match.
Killzone 2 is a solid game with a great campaign mode and a multiplayer mode that's cost me a few days of my life. It's definitely worth a purchase. However, I feel that the small details littered here and there prevent the game from becoming a great classic. To me, it had the potential to become one of those games that you could play for years without becoming bored, but the few flaws it has prevented Killzone from fully reaching that potential.
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