Tuesday, May 4, 2010

PS3 Look - Killzone 2

As much as I'd like to pretend otherwise I have a certain fondness for mainstream games. If there's one quality they all share it's consistency. Elements that seem out of place are rare and overall the experience is solid though more often than not mediocre. In the end these games are predictable but they serve a purpose and are usually set at a difficulty that anyone can complete.

For all its hype Killzone 2 comes off as just another first-person shooter. It knows its inspirations and emulates them well through a competent single-player campaign and a multiplayer mode that unfortunately I won't be able to talk about because my internet connection is bunk. Regardless it covers all of the good and bad elements we expect from modern shooters.

First off is the storyline and the bland characters involved. It's war out there and the ISA is about to take the fight to the Helghast in a destructive finale. You the player take the role of Sergeant Sev. He seems like a decent enough guy except for that unfortunate haircut and is probably a foot or two shorter than everyone else he runs into. Along for the ride is his bestest buddy Garza, the obligatory guy who talks about everyone else's momma, and loose-trigger Rico. I guess you're supposed to develop some sort of connection to these guys but even Gears of War produced a more memorable cast and at worst they still managed to deliver memorable lines that weren't buried in expletives. Under their cool armor and glowing red eyes the Helghast army doesn't have much in the way of dimension. That is their goals are limited to killing and getting killed. I imagine this fight is over some particular ore that can make powerful weapons which again seems like a pretty shallow reason to go to war but I guess it's realistic. There's also a token female character on the side of the good guys, shame there isn't one on the bad guys' side as well.

The campaign is pretty standard stuff as far as the genre goes. Expect to move from set-piece to set-piece as your allies give out status updates about events that never really concern you. At each set-piece you will face off with a certain number of enemies all wielding various weapons in a variety of level designs. Upon killing all of the bad guys your ally will point out where to go next and you'll continue. There are token vehicle sections as well as moments that require the usage of the Dualshock's six-axis controls(like turning a valve or setting a mine). There are also a few bosses for y'know...variety. Oh and before I forget there are some objects you can pick up or shoot that'll unlock some trophies if you're into that sort of thing.

In keeping with tradition our hero carries both a main-weapon and a sub-weapon. The main-weapon can be anything from an assault rifle to an experimental lightning-gun while the sub-weapon is almost always a magnum or pistol(though don't expect to see much of the latter since only bad guys carry it). There are many places to switch weapons depending on conditions of the set-piece and/or player preference and offensive capabilities are bolstered by old-standbys like two types of grenades, a knife, and easily accessible melee attacks.

Where Killzone 2 shows some semblance of uniqueness is in the controls. They take some effort to get used to and if you're used to something like Call of Duty expect to have a bit of trouble adjusting to this game's setup. I don't usually play games in this genre and even then it was a bit more trouble to get into aiming and even late in the campaign I was still over-shooting targets if my sensitivity was turned up and not even getting close if my sensitivity is down. More than one person has been turned off by the controls in this game I'm well aware.

The biggest problem during combat isn't the controls so much as the lack of visuals. For a game that prides itself on being a visual showcase it takes far too much opportunity in obscuring the player's vision. Blurring is a constant when turning to face enemies and it seems there's a constant level of dust, smoke, or other factors designed to obscure the vision of the player. Whether this is intentional or not is irrelevant since it has no effect on the enemy. Things are made even worse after the player takes a certain amount of damage. As per the genre when the player is near-death they're practically blind and must get away to recover. This is a critical problem because it's easy to entirely lose track of ones bearings and end up rushing right into the enemy. On easy or normal this is less of a factor do to lessened damage but I can't imagine attempting some sections on the Elite setting.

Thankfully your allies tend to be somewhat decent eyes when yours aren't up to the task. They'll point out particulars like incoming RPGs or grenades and every now and then they just might save your life by gunning down whoever is shooting at you. Showing any level of competency is asking a bit much from your AI partners though as they will freely decide to take cover in tactically inefficient places and take potshots at walls or floors instead of the Helghast. There's this one guy by the name of Natko who uses a shotgun. A shotgun isn't much good from far away yet more often than not Natko will be within sniping distance of an enemy but not much closer while he fires away. Being able to give some rudimentary commands like "go here" or "cover my back" would have done wonders here since for a good 90% of the game there's somebody with you. At best these guys will follow you around and serve as bullet-sponges. They can also take multiple RPG shots in the face and still live, a luxury the player can't get even on normal.

The campaign itself has its ups and downs as some of the set-pieces can be really good like the areas towards the end or they can just be rage-inducing like the terribly done ATAC fight on the roof-top. If you've played some of these modern shooters before you'll recognize battles where you have to use the environment to your advantage which means shooting certain objects to stun the enemy. Again they serve their purpose but they don't reach anywhere beyond mediocrity.

One of the few things that actually sets this game apart from the mountains of similar titles is that it's actually quite satisfying to gun down foes. Many of the death animations are scripted but to me that's a vast improvement over people fumbling around like puppets on strings that got knocked over by strong winds. The huge splurts of blood that appear when people get shot is laughable at times since this extends to your allies and even to when you shoot at them by "accident". Killing via melee is a bit clunky though as there are times when you'll lunge in and manage to miss your foe entirely. It's not that they dodged the attack or anything it's more that the attack just didn't quite register. Then again I guess that's just more of a reason to stick with the knife when going for a close-combat kill and save the other melee attack for when you're caught reloading.

Most likely the best reason to pick this game up will be for the multiplayer as from what I can tell it's certainly developed. It reminds me of Team Fortress in that there are a handful of classes to choose from like the medic(revives people and heals), the engineer(builds turrets and stuff), the sniper, the demolition expert, and so on. The matches are really neat in that they take place on one map but they're broken up into multiple rounds that have different objectives like capture the propaganda(flag), assault, and plain ol' deathmatch. At least for guys like me there's a skirmish mode that supports bots. It's good practice at least for those with decent online access and otherwise it's better than nothing.

I can't give a good reason why anyone should pick this title up though. It does everything we expect from a competent shooter but it never goes beyond that. Granted aside from the controls it doesn't really fall short either but if you've already found the shooter you plan to invest a good portion of your time to there's no reason to bother with this one. This is the kind of game that gets lost in the shuffle while fps gamers seek out that next Doom, Quake, Half-Life, Halo, or Modern Warfare. A game that is not a mere pretender but will be the biggest influence on the next wave of titles that proceed it. Still I've done worse, that has to account for something.

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