It might be hard to believe, but it’s actually been about 12 years since Killzone 2 released on the PlayStation 3 and blew gamers away with its expertly-realized hot war between the Vektans and the Helghast. The game accomplished its goal of not only being a great sequel to the flawed-but-promising Killzone on PS2, but it also launched the series into actual franchise status, where players could actually see the world of Killzone for what it was; a melancholic 24th century war-torn era for humanity, fueled by escalating dark technology. It was a vision of our future that was just as intriguing as it was hauntingly believable. The game would of course go on to sell quite well as a premiere 1st party exclusive for the PS3 and a damn fine reason to own the console. While the series would wind up screeching to a halt later, the PS3 era was a great time to be a Killzone fan as its sequel, Killzone 3, would also be excellent for many of its own reasons. But today, we’re just going to focus on that first major sequel for the series.
Killzone 2 takes place just a couple years after the events of the original game on PS2. The Helghast are continuing their assault on Vekta and the ISA is continuing to push them back – with varying levels of success. As a result, an elite squad of badasses are sent into the capital city of Helghan to arrest Emperor Visari. This is what brings me to the first point of what made Killzone 2 so great; its story. While the first game certainly didn’t have a bad story, it was also somewhat clumsily told with too many main characters with too little of an idea of what exactly they were doing much of the time – other than fighting the bad guys with the glowing eyes.
That might have worked okay for 2004, but it’s good that Guerilla stepped it up a bit for the sequel. Tomas Sevchenko and Ricardo Velasquez certainly weren’t hallmarks of character development, nor were they particularly deep, but they worked well for what the game was and had a fair amount of chemistry between each other. You could sense that these two had been through many ups and downs and were close friends as a result. While I perhaps would have liked to have seen that friendship tested and/or built upon in more meaningful ways by the end of the game, it was still more than enough motivation to see where the story took them, and I suppose that was the point. In the grander scheme. The Helghast were so interesting and well-realized that I and many others were often more interested in them than the ISA when it comes to the narrative. Why we never got a Killzone game that put us in the boots of the Helghast side of the war is beyond me, but that’s a topic for a different day.
Aside from the story and characters, Killzone 2 presented itself with top-notch graphics and sound that still hold up incredibly well today. Going straight from Horizon on your 4K TV to Killzone 2 definitely wouldn’t be a seamless transition, but it’s also not as off-putting as you might think. Killzone 2 was one of the first games to really utilize the PS3 and properly wield it’s cell processor; a part of the PS3’s architecture that threw a lot of early multiplatform games off, but for Guerrilla, and eventually other first-party PlayStation studios, it would give their games an edge over the competition on the 360 as well as much of what was coming out on PC at the time. To put it bluntly, the game looked incredible. While the drab, industrial surroundings of Helghan left a bit to be desired in terms of variety, those browns, greys… and darker browns and greys… still popped well with the game’s 720p resolution and 30-ish frames per second. Specs that seem laughable now, but given all the detail in Killzone 2 and the limitations of that generation, it was and still is a sight to behold. Audio wasn’t far behind with guns that sounded nice and punchy and a musical score that pushed you along with thumping percussion, epic orchestral melodies, and some deep brass backing up the strings most of the time. It was a great soundtrack that almost rivaled what we were getting out of the God of War games at the time.
Of course, that somewhat heavier movement from Killzone certainly stayed true in Killzone 2. This was a detriment to some, who were perhaps more familiar and comfortable with the less realistic but much quicker movements of other shooters. While that is totally understandable, I would argue that the weightier feel of Killzone also gave a sense of realism. It really felt like you were covered in armor and carrying heavy weaponry that took actual strength to operate. It also required you to think ahead a bit when reacting to threats, as running to cover, switching your weapon and reloading it were all decisions that maybe you had breathing room for or maybe not. Decisions on whether you should run to that other area for cover, pick up that other gun, or stay put where you are were far more consequential in Killzone 2 because they required a far more realistic amount of dedication and perhaps more time being exposed to fire than they would in most other shooters of the time.
Outside of that, the variety of guns was good with heavy weapons, shotguns, pistols and a few different automatic rifle variants, grenade arcs were solid and consistent, and the enemy AI was smart and aggressive. All top-notch graphics and superficial stuff aside, it was the moment-to-moment gameplay of Killzone 2 that truly set it apart from its competition for better and for worse, and made the game its own unique experience. The addition of online multiplayer really sealed the deal for Killzone 2, though. Having many of the modes an FPS game was expected to like team deathmatch was of course nice, but the real draw to Killzone 2’s multiplayer was its warzone mode, which put players in a map with different objectives cycling through in real-time. In one match, you could play a round of standard deathmatch, then a round of capture and hold, then assassination, then search and destroy, etc. The winning team would be the one that won the most rounds, and it was a blast to play. Matches could last half an hour or more and never get old because of the dynamic nature of warzone, and while it would arguably be done even better in Killzone 3, Killzone 2 did a fine job with it and it served as a nice cherry on top of everything else Killzone 2 got right.
While many shooters from this era struggled to find anything that really made them unique experiences, Killzone 2 had no such problem. It looked, sounded, and felt like nothing else on the market, and while some of its design choices certainly cut it off from other shooters’ audience, it still garnered a sizable fanbase nonetheless – despite being a console exclusive title. The game would sell over a million copies in just a few months, despite, again being a console exclusive and being a first-person shooter in 2009, a time when the genre was far more saturated than it is now. Despite a bit of a rough start on the PS2, the Killzone franchise really stepped it up for Killzone 2 in a way that many fans would say the series would never be able to eclipse. It certainly wasn’t for everybody, but it was just as certainly one hell of a game.
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