Killzone 2, as evidenced by the recent demo, has two problems. One of them is fixable. The other is not, though being someone besides yours truly may lessen the sting. The fixable problem is a trifle, the sort of thing you’d know if you watched a human being play the game for more than zero seconds. A good game wouldn’t have something like that, right? Then again, Burnout Paradise needed a “Retry” button since January of 2008 and we have only now received one. Criterion is a saint among game developers, so fixing the obvious may not be, um, obvious. I am not hopeful.
Let’s get the intractable issue out of the way first so everyone can have a few laughs. The PS3 controller, whether you have the backronym or the rumbler, is still awful at shooters. Mushy triggers and a layout optimized for 1995’s 2D games make it a chore to sight targets. Only Ben Heck and his leet controller-stuffing skills can save us from Sony’s mindless backwards compatibility. I am aware there are human beings who can manage to play modern shooters on this vibrating gyroscope. They are on other websites, screaming spittle in the feedback sections, sites in dire need of YouTube’s XKCD “read your comments out loud” feature.
One problem Guerrilla can actually fix is the main menu. Oh, the music is appropriately bombastic and the options are intelligently labeled and easy to read. It has this slow, retro TV redraw that’s kind of cute. It also shakes every time you press a button, so actually looking at the screen while you navigate is a pain. Did nobody notice the testers blinking so much during beta? What did the developer who came up with this brilliant nuisance say? “Yep, this will never get old.”
I wonder if he’s the one who stole Smash Brothers’ stupidest feature and pasted it on the Sixaxis. In the loading screen you can tilt the controller to angle the screen slightly. There’s no point to doing so, but the problem is that they don’t tell you about this ability. You’re on the couch, holding your PS3 controller, all psyched up to play, but you’re looking at the loading screen and wondering why it’s jumping around uncontrollably. And when you figure it out, you’ll understand how bored the menu programmer was during the long development cycle.
Everyone else at Guerrilla was clearly working their tails off. Well, everyone except the writers, making dialog for a squad of six guys with only two brain cells between them. But full credit for the introduction of the word “unass,” which apparently means “unload.” Anyway, the first thing you do after crashing into the beach is unass your lifter and stare at your huge freaking gun that takes up a quarter of the screen. It looks like a standard rifle, but the attention to detail surpasses even Black’s gun fetish. I love the full-screen reload animations. In confined spaces the muzzle flash lights up the room and creates shadows. Even ten feet away on the sofa, you tend to wince as your gun goes off. Very impressive.
The people you’re firing this gun at are a little less impressive. Monolith’s F.E.A.R. must have been a big inspiration to the team, as you’re basically fighting the same dudes over and over again. Thank goodness they also copied that game’s great AI. The Helghast smartly move between cover, throw grenades, flank you and are good shots. You can even knock their helmets off and reveal the pasty, Darth Vader worm within. I just wonder about the commanders of this army, addressing the troops, not even the least bit concerned about the glowing red eyes on their millions of factory-made helmets. Every soldier wears an outfit that’s the same gunmetal gray as the environment. Without those obvious crimson peepers it would be like fighting chameleons. Dead Space had this problem with its health bar on the spine, making it impossible for the last man on earth to know how healthy he is. Some concessions to gameplay are fine, but it’s a bad sign if your unique fashion mandate falls apart after two seconds of thought.
And when you think about it, isn’t this game just a first-person Gears of War? While the cover system works great and looks interesting, we’re still running from chest-high wall to chest-high wall. Not that there isn’t some cool stuff to do even in the demo. You blow up a bunch of enemies on a bridge, showcasing the game’s outstanding explosion and smoke systems. And there’s this adorable Army of Two moment when a pal gives you a boosty-up to a ledge. They even have multiple lines of dialog recorded for that one little event.
Lots of little touches impressed me in Killzone 2. Blood pools out of dead soldiers and appears to dry on the ground. Tossing and cooking grenades is remarkably intuitive, as they have visible timers and obvious beeps. File cabinets even have individual drawers that slide out realistically. That one particularly stings given how much time I’ve spent in Fallout 3’s Capitol Wasteland.
After you beat the demo (about ten minutes for a gargantuan 1.2 gig download), they play a video designed to get the ragdoll programmer off their back. It’s two minutes of opera music and guys falling down stairs, crumpling against walls and being thrown by grenades. What you learn is that the lightning gun looks stupid in slow motion, the flamethrower looks cool, and Sony has 5⁄5 reviews baked into a video for a demo that comes out a month before the game ships. Not that I would ever bow to that kind of hype.
Rating: six stars of a possible four.