Killzone 2's biggest stumbling block isn't the weight of expectation, but its level of assumption. Right from the intro, it assumes you hate the Helghast as much as the legions of internet fanboys who've been tracking its every movement since 2005 - so much so, one PSM3 team member mistakenly thought the beady-eyed Helghast were secretly the good guys when their leader, Colonel Visari, appears in the intro movie banging on about the 'evil ISA invaders' ie. the goodies.
It assumes you care about identikit ISA hero Sev, without taking time to humanise him, or make you genuinely hate the Helghast by showing their evil deeds. It also assumes you'll care when the first game's hero, Templar, cameos as a Colonel, without explaining his significance. Yet for all the assumption of its own importance, Killzone 2 delivers where it really matters - and so very nearly, lives up to all the hype. But not quite.
It looks stunning. That 2005 E3 trailer was indeed a lie, because it arguably looks better in-life than 'target footage' CGI. From the fantastic views of planet Helghan on the Cruiser - as realistic sunshine, clouds and spacecrafts fill the sky - to the way detailed weapon components click and move into place as you reload, it teems with cosmetic glitz. Even the small touches, like the motion blur when you turn, adds to the overall polish.
The enemy AI steals the show. There's a moment in that old E3 trailer where a Helghast troop is knocked off a bridge, only to cling to the side in an attempt to dodge death, and these subtleties are present throughout.
The Helghast's tactics demonstrate rare and refreshing intelligence. Sit behind cover for too long and they will flank you. Pepper the pillar they're hiding behind and they will fire blindly at you until you reload, then scoot off to another spot. Special Forces troops will even somersault away from gun-fire and, even more impressive, flick out a knife if you're too close. The mixture of free-spirited enemies and your punchy arsenal (see The Gun Rack) means that the combat is akin - possibly even better - than current FPS leader, CoD4.
The intuitive cover system - hold p to lock to cover - make fire-fights into a fine balance between twitch and strategic positioning. Initially, automatic weapons tend to 'spray' foes - as their recoil wrenches your aim - but after practice with the pop-up laser reticule, you'll be popping pinpoint head shots at range. The realistic juxtaposition of frantic, and precise, styles - even a missed reload can mean death - gives Killzone 2 it's edge.
If Infinity Ward's game set the benchmark for immersion, Killzone 2 is definitely the new yardstick for visuals. It's so good that some developers will be worried about their games that are still years away from release. It's all the more painful, then, that Guerilla assumed the eye-candy would hold the experience together - without gelling the action to a worthwhile story. Well, that or they were incapable, or plain forgot, leaving you gaping at the technical achievement, but dispatching foes without context or heartfelt motivation.
Short but sweet
Six hours, 33 minutes and 28 seconds. That's how long it took us to finish a game that's been nearly five years in production, so forgive us for feeling deflated. And, for the record, we played on the Normal difficulty. We'd like to say that the story drove us on to tear through the game, but we'd be lying.
To recap: The Helghast invaded Earth (in the original game) so the humans launch a counter-attack to bomb the bejeesus out of planet Helghan. Their leader, Scolar Visari, is like a cross between Julius Caesar (minus the orgies) and Bin Laden (minus the penchant for cave-dwelling). He wants nuclear weapons and freedom for his people - though liberation from what isn't exactly made clear - so he sends out Colonel Radec (a Helghan with a cloaking device) to do his bidding.