Hype is an interesting, and often frustrating thing in the gaming industry. Countless games never live up to the lofty expectations of their creators, but sometimes hype can aid the success of games which did actually meet the standards of the hype. In the case of Killzone 2, expectations are quite high, ever since the now infamous E3 2005 CG trailer was shown, revealing an intense and chaotic war zone with high levels of detail. While it turned out that trailer was indeed a fake, the real Killzone 2 seems to be delivering what was promised, and in some ways surpassing it. We recently were given hands on time with the latest E3 build, and we came out yearning for more.
The level we played was straight from the Sony Gamer's Day, except longer and now with a tank to commandeer. Your team is sent to assault the Corinth River and spearhead the Helghast encampment residing there, which the mission briefing states is a rather small level of resistance. The problem however, is the term 'small' was a downright lie, as the opening cut-scene shows you and your team flying towards the beach on drop ships known as 'infiltrators', being bombarded with an enormous amount of anti-air fire. The anti-air fire kills off many other infiltrators around you, with one colliding into another up front, and flaming debris slamming into your own ship. This causes your ship to crash into the sandy beach, and through that, the cut-scene seamlessly transitions into gameplay and moving through the Helghan defences.
The first thing that will kick you is how good the game looks. Textures are high resolution, player models are chunky and full of detail, and the effects are stunning. Explosions will kick up sand from the ground and swirl within the black smoke, light will stream through the smallest of holes, and bullets will sear through walls and leave a hot residue then slowly go cold. It was all extremely consistent and ran at a solid 30 frames per second. Even at this stage, it seems Guerrilla are adamant in matching that CG trailer. The feeling of a war zone is certainly there, and at points makes games like Call of Duty 4 feel like a children's playground in brutality. Though its visual style and use of colour will be dependent on taste, it cannot be denied that Killzone 2 is a technical powerhouse.
Controls were slick and made popping shots out very easy, and the new 'cover' system in place worked quite well. By holding L1 next to almost any piece of cover, your character hugs the wall and hides behind, giving you temporary safety from enemy bullets. Enemy AI is smarter than this though, and will actively flank your position and throw grenades as you huddle behind cover in order to flush you out, so resting up is a rare thing. Your team AI is no slouch, and they'll gladly mow down Helghast soldiers if you're unable, and take cover when necessary.
After successfully penetrating the beach defences, you're dropped into an open field surrounded by buildings with a bridge in the centre. The battle that ensues here dwarfs the beach assault, and also gives you the opportunity to jump into a tank. On one side, you and your team are entrenched and hanging on for life as on the opposite end, a swarm of Helghast soldiers and tanks are rolling in to annihilate you. Your tank is quite a mean machine, and can handle most soldiers and a few tanks without much of a problem. You're soon almost overwhelmed however, with much of your reinforcements dropping like flies and your tank taking heavy damage. Fortunately, you're saved by an air strike, which decimates the remaining Helghast forces and leaves you and the survivors in the clear. You're then picked up by drop ships and fly off into the murky skies, and the demo ends.
With breathtaking visuals, a solid gameplay system and high production values, Guerrilla seem to be on the right track. The glaring question that remains however is will they keep the game as consistent as it was in the demo we played. Though fantastic in many ways, the future of Killzone 2 is cloudy in this regard, and like a pop stars album, could have the hit track that everyone loves, but the rest of the songs are average at best. The level was also quite linear much like the original Killzone, though the dynamics of the combat and unpredictable AI redeem this. This time around a game might just beat the hype that it set for itself.