March 19, 2008

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Killzone 2 (PS3)
Guerilla Games, Feb. 27, M

In the lexicon of first-person shooters I’m not very good at, Killzone ranks near the top.

Taking second only to its spiritual ancestor Black (PS2, Criterion), Killzone 2’s tight controls, smoke-and-darkness aesthetic and brutally real-ish bullet fetishism reward exactly the type of tactical thinking and combat momentum that I lack. Turtling myself into a dark crevice to snipe, while temporarily effective, inevitably ends in my being outflanked and gunned down in my alleyway grave. Run-and-gun spazzerry that served so well in my college dorm Goldeneye (N64, Rare) heyday fares notably worse as an agile use of cover, suppressing fire and squad maneuverability rule the day.

The hard sci-fi backstory of Killzone 2, where the Helghast — mutated gas masked and glowey-eyed descendants of former human colonists — engage in a back-and-forth ground war against the I.S.A. (you and your buddies) who have recently attacked the red-eye homeworld, provides just enough futurism to enliven the svelte shooter mechanics. Character and backstory serve no one well here as squad dialogue in solo play consists of thick neckmeat machismo, and barked technobabble and spiced with the vulgarities of your personal sidekick’s eighth-grade sense of sexual humor. But who cares, the red-eye guys are bad and you shoot them. The brooding dark cityscapes are so dense, industrialized and fascistly futurey that the sheer embroidery of detail elevates it from the standard space gothic or crumbling urban shooting grounds. It is a shame, though, that such fine visuals, which are among the best available on Sony’s Kubrickian monolith, are marred by such tepid attempts at storytelling. Just aim ahead and skip the cutscenes. Can I just ask why we bother trying to make a story out of any game, especially FPS ones? It’s akin to believing that every album needs to be a Rush 2112 or Willie’s Red Headed Stranger. Sure, sometimes that’s a bold and exciting idea, but most of the time you end up with MJ’s Ben or a Styx opera.

As in all the great FPS titles of the past half decade, where Killzone 2 shines is in multiplayer. The mobile cover and peek gameplay maintains a good pace in online deathmatches and allows truly skilled teams to run the match even at 32 players. Dynamic objectives keep each round on fresh footing as the round shifts force strategic changes. While this chaotic flow might put dedicated headshotters off the deathmatch, the mutable badge system of class customization allows you to adapt to each ebb of the battle. Mixing and matching class attributes like heavy weaponry, medical gear or repair abilities offers a vast array of playstyle options and the ability to swap them at each spawn one-ups the prior class sytems of the Battlefield (PC/360/PS3, Dice) franchise and even the frantic tactical see-saw of Team Fortress 2 (PC/360/PS3, Valve Corporation).

I’m shaving a letter grade off for superflous story from here on out; sorry, Killzone 2, you’re just the first one on the new chopping block. But let’s not let that distract from the overall polish and craftsmanship within. If you can look past the plot this is your new shooter gem. BGlenn Given