Killzone 2 - Hands-on

First play with the PS3's technical masterpiece

Believe the hype; Killzone 2 is the best looking game we've ever seen. Stunning facial animation, huge detailed environments and no loading screens what so ever - and the PS3 makes it look as easy as snapping a photo of Pete Doherty looking rough.

But how does it actually play? This question has gone unanswered since those naughty chaps a Guerilla swindled us with CGI over a year ago - until now...

We managed to get our hands on the SixAxis controller at Sony's Games Convention booth and play the stunning PS3 shooter for the very first time. The level we played was the third mission in; a chaotic and intense invasion of the Helgast homeworld - it looks bloody good.

This is the same demo from E3 earlier last month. You've probably seen the videos; it kicks off with a cut-scene near-identical to that of the CGI trailer from last year's E3 - and amazingly, it looks almost as gorgeous in real-time. The facial animation on each character is on par with Half-Life 2 and the scale and detail of the dark, gritty environment is just ridiculous.

Lightning - properly rendered in 3D - shakes the sky. Clouds and smoke travel with the wind, explosions whisk floating embers into the air and groups of tiny moths dance on dusty light bulbs - these are all little touches that make Killzone 2 the PS3's real technical masterpiece.

In feel, it plays similarly to the original Killzone; R2 fires your weapon, X is the action button and so forth. The cinematic flair however has gone through the roof; subtle focus blur on your weapon and nearby objects adds to the realism greatly, and the HUD is near non-existent; ammo count only appearing when you fire your weapon and visual colour-bending cues indicating your health.

The most exciting feature of the PS3 Killzone however is the new first-person cover system, which works a lot like Gears of War but without taking you out of the experience. Holding L2 latches you on to walls similar to Epic's shooter, then the left stick allows you to pop out with your gun and fire off a few shots. You can even blind fire with the R2 fire button; it's works very well and is even more visceral than the stuff in Gears.

Some of the encounters we experienced in our demo whiffed of that "cover shooter" gameplay as well; in one scene we darted easily from box to pillar with the sprint button, trying to flank around the side of a chaingun-toting mini-boss and shoot him in the back. It works flawlessly in first person, and should add some much needed variety to the Killzone formula.

Thankfully the real meat (that's the shooting) is an enjoyable venture as well. A combination of animation and physics make the Helgast satisfying to shoot; properly rendered blood splatters out realistically while Guerilla's excellent motion capture work creates some great looking death routines, complete with flailing arms and dives to the floor.

The rocket launcher - again looking near identical to the one seen in the CGI trailer - too is a rather satisfying blasting experience - though it desperately needs to support the heavily-rumoured rumble SixAxis to feel as lethal as the RPGs in other console shooters.

The AI seems to be a bit of hit and miss at this point; they're not afraid of jumping behind cover - and indeed hold their ground aggressively - but half the time they strut around like slow guerillas getting shot in the face - and while we're at it the player's own walking speed could do with an increase as well. That said, we expect a demo without god mode turned on might be a more faithful example the AI's behaviour...

It looks amazingly next-gen, but to play Killzone at the moment feels very similar to its PS2 predecessor. We'll reserve judgement though; the cover system has been implemented perfectly and works fantastically in Killzone 2's many stand offs, and if Guerilla's word is to be believed there are still plenty of surprises on the way...