Sunday, 15 February 2009

More Impressions: Killzone 2

Another Killzone 2 post? What's the Tree house come to? S1n's already given his demo impressions, but I recently had a chance to play the full game, or at least the first act, so it would be remiss of me not to add in my 2 cents. I played for a good 4 hours or so on normal mode, reaching the 2nd act and taking in a boss fight or two. So this is not a review, which will be along shortly once we've properly digested all it has to offer. Bear in mind, I'm the resident Xbot in this outfit, which should convince you my words are objective when you see how nice I am..

So what's good?

Visuals. Stunning. We're looking at the peak of video gaming visuals for sure, animation and lighting and sheer attention to detail are second to none. Motion of enemies is fluid and varied, and very realistic. Smoke and dust kick up and whirl to create a very convincing environment that's toxic and nasty. Colour palette is not an issue, I saw plenty of other colours in there besides grey. Although it is not, of course, visually up to what we were shown back in 2005, (but I think we knew that by now didn't we?) all the elements shown in that trailer are all largely intact, albeit in a "this is as good as technology really is so far" kind of way.

Sound. Up there, although lacking a surround sound setup is a bummer. Guns give meaty register, and close up shotgun blasts produce sloppy gibbage. Tasty. The wind whistles, and explosions thunder. Not sure why the Helghast are all cockney geezers though.

Environments. Are very solid with lots of nice interaction, which is at the level when you get disappointed that you can't do something else, like blow holes in walls, because the types you have seen are so good. Explosive gas cans litter the place and produce satisfying asplosions with much gusto. Kablooey. There's also some terrific set pieces in which shit really gets blown up.

Level design. So far, linear, but appropriately so. Just interesting enough to keep from being completely derivative, despite not (yet) showing us anything remotely new. Helghan kind of reminds me of that city I invaded in COD4? Missions are broken into sub objectives as usual, and keep the action chugging along nicely. The first act sees you defending a convoy along its path to the centre of the city, but it's all fairly incidental. Missions boil down to blow up that building, secure that turret, lower that bridge and so forth. Come to think of it, that is kinda derivative isn't it?

Weapons. Varied and fun, again if unoriginal. A few decent rifles to choose from, the standard grunt rifle being very similar to one from COD4 with its square iron sights. The bolt gun is a lot of fun, and the sniper rifle, always a good measure of a designers smarts, is spot on, if quite hard to master. Turrets are boss. It also features a top notch flamethrower with which you may guiltily toast your screaming enemies. There's generally a lot of each gun lying about the place too, so you can chop and change and try out a good selection without fear of reprimand. It's very generous with the rockets too. The short fused grenades are essential in beating back flanking Helghast, and provide a satisfying treat when they find their target. There's also a nice tank that you're disappointingly not allowed to drive anywhere. Maybe they're saving that for later?

Enemy AI. Is very convincing and generally challenging. They charge, they flank, they retreat when you shoot them in the face. They seemingly talk to each other and coordinate. They show intelligence beyond your expectation, sneaky little buggers. And they come for you when you're on the back foot. Scary stuff. Oh and they're also really tough, especially the big fat ones.

Sixaxis integration. Really nice touches! Set charges and turn valves with turns of the pad. I love this sort of thing when implemented well, and here it doesn't seem forced or gimmicky. Wonder what else you get to twist later on?

So far so great, so what's bad? Proper bad? Not a lot! But there are some niggles:

Script. Not high on my list of expectations, but steel yourself cos the script is dross. Cookie cutter marines lifted from Gears of War, Aliens, Starship Troopers, take your pick, shout ooh ra and expletives at each other. After 4 hours of playing I still wasn't 100% on which one I even was! The one with the daft haircut I think. They're all equally bland and foul mouthed, and weirdly ugly with it, in a "my face isn't
actually very well designed" kind of way - perhaps the game's only visual failing. In the first act at least, there is no plot to speak of. We're invading the planet, they're not happy about it. I guess we really don't need much more than that. Some semi decent dialogue would be nice for a change, but then again I guess marines are never going to be chatting about the architecture.

Controls. Pretty solid for the most part, but the default settings are crippled. Surely everyone agrees the left trigger to aim and right to fire is a convention we can all embrace? So where does Guerrilla get off mucking about with it? But seriously, I'm personally so familiar with it it's a no brainer. Fortunately it's available as an alternate setup, but as a result some of the other design choices, it can cause problems at times, which brings me to ..

The cover system. Not a total negative, as this worked well for the most part, but it took some getting used to. Approach a wall or corner and hit L2 to attach to it as cover. You can then pop out by pushing the L stick, but you can also pop out with iron sights L1, meaning you are holding down 3 buttons just to pop out before you're even firing. If however, like me you're using the alternate (re normal fps) control setup, this can put you in situations where you run out of fingers. Specifically with the sniper rifle, you'll find you're a finger short to change the zoom level when sniping from cover. A minor niggle. More annoying is the lack of auto reload when in cover, you have to pull back to reload or you just stand there like a numpty. Probably a good idea to get in cover to reload anyway, but maybe I like reloading while upright?

Invisible walls. A necessity, granted, but some more work could have been done to justify and hide them. Take Fallout 3 where you may be clambering up a huge pile of rubble in downtown DC before you give up and realise there's no way through to that landmark on the map. It gave you a good crack though huh? Here a 2 foot wall
or small pool of water is enough to block your path.

Friendly AI. While the enemies are smart and fearsome, your team is dull and stupid, and frequently wander into your sights then bitch about getting shot. I had to pull a Christian Bale at one point. Then I remembered he can't hear me, not being real and all.

I'm very short? Seriously, we couldn't pinpoint it at first, a sense that we had slightly constricted view of the world, an odd sensation of claustrophobia? Then it clicked. We're tiny. I had to check we didn't have crouch on. In a quiet moment, get next to your buddy, level off your sights, and see where you come up to. You're a midget. Even the scientist lady towers over you. Suddenly I feel very vulnerable..

No Co-op? Boo! With AI this good we need human backup. Surely this should be standard from here on in? Split screen multiplayer would be nice too.

So that's it. On the whole, very impressive. Possibly the best looking game to date on any system anywhere, which is almost a shame as it's all so ghastly. The enemies are tough and smart, and the gun play is the most satisfying since COD4, which has clearly been a strong influence. Of course we couldn't test it yet, but with such well put together weapons and physics, its clear that multiplayer is going to be a ton of fun, and will no doubt create a massive community and fan base.

It's not revolutionary by any means, treading well worn paths with frequent nods to it's forbears and a pretty safe approach to design, it is nonetheless a highly competent if not essential shooter. I do want to finish the fight now though..

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