It's not very often that a trailer generates hype to a massive degree, but when the first 'gameplay' trailer was released for Killzone 2 back in 2005, gamers and critics alike didn't quite know what to think. Was it real? Was it actual gameplay footage? The reason why people had so many questions, for those who haven't seen the trailer in question, is that the footage looked freakin' good. Almost too good. Whether it was a positive and a negative, it certainly had people wondering just how good the game was going to be, and quickly turned it into one of the PlayStation 3's most anticipated titles. Nearly three years later, we got our hands on the game at PlayStation Day 2008... so just how does Killzone 2 stack up to the other shooting games on the market, and is it worth holding your breath until February 2009 to play it?
The first Killzone left off with players finishing the fight successfully, ridding the Helghast back to their home world of Helghan. In Killzone 2, you'll be travelling to Helghan on a mission to capture the Helghast leader, Emperor Visari, in an attempt to finish the war against them once and for all. They're not happy that you're invading obviously, and will do anything in their power to stop you, and given that they've adjusted to the planets conditions very well, you and your special forces unit known as the Legion are going to have to adjust to those same conditions much faster if you're going to have a chance at victory.
One thing that shooters need to be careful of nowadays is falling into a predictable pattern; with so many games of the FPS persuasion hitting store shelves on a regular basis, you're going to have to do something pretty interesting to stand out in the crowd. Luckily, Killzone 2 has some of the most effective production values in both visuals and audio that we've seen in a very long time. What the developer's like to call a 'theatre of war', it really does feel like you're playing in a part of some epic action movie. Lots of yelling and gunfire, explosions happening around you, and the 'cut-scenes' we experienced played out in the first-person perspective as well, so it's fun and enthralling just keeping an eye on the madness that's always happening around you. The level we played didn't have the most interesting environment; lots of dark colours featuring debris and lots of crates, but we're hopeful that there will be more variety in the finished product.
The level we played starts with you sitting on the back of a truck with the rest of your squad-mates, getting ready to jump into the action. Things get rocky rather quickly as you're attacked, and the battle against the Helghast begins. The game handles quite smoothly even at this stage, and the controls are fluid enough that you'll feel right at home picking it up. You'll be able to take cover against almost anything and then shoot over your choice of wall, debris, vehicle or whatever else, as well being able to lean out left or right to get the right shot. It was within almost no time at all that we were taking down opposing soldiers all over the place, which is actually made more difficult by the fact that the AI is much improved over the previous iteration of Killzone. If you're shooting at an enemy, they aren't likely to stay in the same position - they will always be on the move, trying to find a better piece of cover or changing their angle completely. If you're not careful about where you're standing, they'll even find their way around the side and flank you, which doesn't leave you in a very good position in the slightest; it certainly keeps you on your toes.
Of course, there are elements of Killzone 2 that do feel somewhat generic. Only two slots to hold weapons, the now-standard health that regenerates as long as you stay away from gunfire, and of course it features the usual FPS logic that if there is a red barrel, it's going to explode if you shoot it, and they're always placed in just the right place to take out a couple of your opposition if you wait for the right moment. Not that this is a major problem, as explosions in the game also happen to look pretty sweet (no, there's really no better way to describe it). There are also gas canisters, and when you shoot them, a hole will penetrate the surface and send the canister quickly rolling away, before exploding after a few seconds. If you're creative, this is a good way of taking out enemies behind cover, but it's also a potentially risky move if you're standing nearby, as it might bounce your way before blowing you to bits.
We also experienced some moments where you'll need to do more than just shoot a lot; the game takes advantage of the Sixaxis during certain moments of gameplay. The one we got to try during our playthrough involved the simple task of grabbing and turning a steering wheel. To do so, you need to hold down the R1 and L1 buttons to grab it, and then tilt your controller from left to right in a turning motion, before letting go of the buttons, turning the controller back to the right and then repeating the process. We had plenty of time to complete this task without interruption in this particular level, but we've been assured that there will be more Sixaxis usage in the full game, and you'll be under much more hectic time restraints. There are also moments with the main partner in your squad where you'll need to help each other climb up onto high ledges, among other things, and these moments will occur at numerous points in the game.
Hype is always a very dangerous thing. When a game has as much potential as what was seen in the trailer of 2005, it's likely that there are always going to be people who are disappointed with the end result. We feel in this case however, that the end result is going to be very positive. There's still plenty of development time left, and although at this stage it doesn't strive to do anything majorly different than what has been seen in past shooting titles, Killzone 2 has high production values and a few good ideas of its own that it will likely be well worth your time once the dust has settled from the Resistance 2 and Gears of War 2 battle that will take place in November. Does it look as good as the aforementioned trailer? Maybe, maybe not... but to be honest, we don't really care - we just want to play more of the game as quickly as possible.