Crispy Gamer

Killzone 2

Sony Computer Entertainment America (SCEA) on Friday held a hands-on pre-E3 media day in the penthouse suite of L.A.'s posh Hollywood Roosevelt hotel.

A persistent swarm of journos hovered around the two 40-inch HDTVs showing Killzone 2, the third in Guerrilla Games' futuristic 3-D shooter series and the first to make an appearance on the PlayStation 3. Not to conflict with other first-party shooters, namely the next SOCOM and Resistance titles, both due out in November, Killzone 2 is slated for a February '09 launch.

We wanted to see if the gameplay lived up to its purty graphics, so we tackled the intense 20-minute demo, taken from the second level in the game (which will take about 45 minutes to complete in total).

The game takes place a few hundred years into the future on the planet of Helghan, the home of the nasty Helghast race. You play as Sev, a new character with the Interplanetary Strategic Alliance (ISA), who crash-lands on the planet in a flying Intruder vehicle. Your goal is to work with other ISA convoys to preemptively strike the Helghast and capture its emperor, Visari. Naturally, this isn't going to be a cakewalk.

Similar to Killzone and Killzone: Liberation, as well as other first-person military shooters like Call of Duty and Medal of Honor, the action in Killzone 2 is frantic, complete with soldiers running past you and screaming for cover (including some bodies on fire), bullets whizzing past your head, and deafening detonations going off, lighting up the sky with fiery explosions and thick black plumes of smoke. You'll start this level assisting other ISA troops, activating switches and turning wheels to open floodgates, crossing canals and securing a warehouse -- all the while fighting off resistance with weapons of mass destruction including machine guns, hand pistols, grenades and such.

Speaking of weapons, we encountered a scenario where you can use your gun to pick off Helghasts on a bridge firing at you behind stationary gun turrets, but new Helghast enemies will simply take their place, get behind the trigger and continue shooting at you. (Sometimes you can pick off their helmets first, which is fun). In order to cease their attacks, however, you need to find a nearby rocket launcher to take down the entire bridge barricade.

Visually, the game looks great thanks to its high-definition and detailed soldier models, special effects and huge environments. Even subtle touches stand out, including the reloading animations, sunlight pouring into a dusty warehouse, water dripping from the ceiling, and bits of blood splattering on the "camera" as if you were watching documentary of a war zone.

Fans of the original might see familiar faces from previous games, such as Sergeant Rico, but you won't step foot on Vekta, the homeland of the ISA and where you spent your time in the first couple of Killzone games. If this level is any indication, the color palette remains dominated by dark and earthy tones, mixed with lots of silver. A blur effect helps keep the action dramatic while you run past a heated exchange between the ISA and Helghast. The frame rate was a bit choppy at times, including a couple of video stutters and the odd crash, but the developer has plenty of time to fix these bugs and optimize performance.

The artificial intelligence has been rewritten from scratch, according to the Guerrilla Games rep who walked us through the level. Neat touches include a soldier helping you up onto a steep ledge, after which you turn around to do the same; if you fall back down accidentally, the AI knows to help you again, so you'll see the computer-controlled soldier reach down with a helping hand. Enemies also use cover in a more clever fashion and can flank ISA soldiers if you remain in one place for a while.

We also got a taste of how the Sixaxis motion-sensing feature built into the PS3 controller will work in Killzone 2. In one part of the demo we had to turn a heavy wheel: The way to do this is to press L1 and R1 to grab it with both hands and then turn the controller in a counterclockwise fashion as if you were really turning a stiff wheel. Oh, and thankfully the DualShock 3 tactile feedback was back in this PS3 controller, which was sorely missed, especially in these types of military shooters.

While the game will have a lengthy single-player campaign and multiple game modes, Guerrilla Games and SCEA were mum on details, but promised to reveal at E3 in July more of the story and the number and types of cooperative and competitive online modes.

Killzone fans should be happy the developer hasn't toyed with the formula much for Killzone 2. The expanded fiction, high-resolution graphics, improved AI, and tilt features compliment the intense first-person gameplay, and we only saw a fraction of what the final game will offer.

This preview was based on a publisher-driven demo of the game.