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Old 07-12-2007   #1
Shadow Conception
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Killzone 2 Hands-On

After two years of intense skepticism (see our next post for a more thorough airing of the backstory), Tuesday night's first showings of Sony Computer Entertainment and Guerrilla Games' Killzone 2 to journalists have generally produced extremely positive reactions. But having cleared that first high hurdle, the next question everyone wants to know is: how does it play? We were fortunate enough to be the first to play Killzone outside of the folks at SCE and Guerrilla, so allow us to give you our hands-on impressions of Killzone 2's gameplay elements; our close-up look at the game's visuals, along with some exclusive first details on the title's design choices and story elements, will follow shortly.
Once our intruder landing vehicle hit the ground, it was time to go to work on what we were informed was the third level of Killzone 2. We immediately took refuge behind a berm, hit L1 to drop into a crouch, shouldered our standard-issue ISA assault rifle and started shooting at our Helghast opponents. Pushing in R3 on the right analog stick gave us the iron sight view through the assault rifle's scope--which, when we informed our Sony and Guerrilla hosts was the aspect of the demo which had most impressed us, gave them a bit of pause, followed by minor hilarity, until we explained ourselves further. It's not that there aren't several other impressive aspects of the game. It's just that the focus blur on the outside of the rifle scope, the scope's green tint and curved glass feel, and the green laser dot that indicates where your bursts of ammo should land--all combine for a wonderfully immersive view of the game that sucked us in both as spectators and active participants.

As we cautiously picked our way through the ground combat's opening moments, game director Mathijs de Jonge gave us the first official explanation of the game's cover system, which many of our observant peers picked up on during the Tuesday evening previews. You can always simply crouch behind obstacles, as you would in any other shooter, but Guerrilla has added something extra. When you hit L2 near cover, the game puts you into cover mode. Once you're in cover, you can use the left analog stick to pop up, lean left or lean right to take precise aim at your Helghan enemies. Alternatively, you can blindfire by simply pulling the trigger (R2) on your weapon. You're completely safe behind non-erodable cover as long as the enemy is on the same plane as you; if they've got the high ground, they can hit you if they have the right angle. We didn't ask Guerrilla directly whether the use of cover would be all-but-mandatory, as with Gears of War, or optional; regardless, it adds a tactical element to the game that fits seamlessly with the Killzone mythos. Overall, the cover mechanic works extremely well, without ever having to switch the gamer into a third-person view as does Ubisoft's Rainbow Six Vegas, and we won't be surprised when we see a number of Guerrilla's peers paying homage to borrowing stealing this idea after they get their hands on it.

We also appreciated Guerrilla's decision to go with a minimal amount of screen clutter. Right now, all you'll see onscreen is the aiming reticule and an ammo counter. Don't expect to see the ammo counter in the final product, however. Guerrilla wants to eliminate the HUD entirely by putting the ammo readout on the weapons themselves, as certain other games do with some of their weapons. (One thing we missed from the first Killzone was the visual countdown system that let you see how long your grenade had been "cooked" before you threw it--right now, hitting R1 just throws the grenades with a not-particularly-interesting animation--so we're crossing our fingers hoping that they'll bring the Killzone 1 grenades back.) The health system is similar to games like King Kong and Gears of War: you can take a few shots without any problem, but once you start taking a significant amount of damage, the screen shifts to a striking black and white filter, warning you to take cover. It's simple, it's distinctive, and it works.

The other moment worth highlighting from our hands-on time was our confrontation with the level's mini-boss, an armored Helghan heavy gunner who shares a passing resemblance--and an equally high intimidation factor--with the Big Daddy enemies in Irrational Games' BioShock. Like the mini-bosses of old, there's a trick to killing him, which is to shoot the energy pack on his back until it explodes. You can try to flank him while your AI-controlled squadmate Rico engages him from the front, or you can shoot his visor, which causes him to turn around, briefly exposing his energy pack to the rat-tat-tat of your assault rifle. We couldn't kill him to save our lives, but it was a pulse-quickening enough firefight that we gave it a good ten or so consecutive attempts before finally asking de Jonge to take care of him so that we could continue on with the demo. Unfortunately, we weren't able to get much further than that before our hands-on time came to an end.

If we have a single reservation right now, it's about the level of recoil that Guerrilla has implemented on the weapons. We know that Guerrilla has months to go before they have to bear down and properly tune the game; still, we found ourselves babying the aiming reticule in order to compensate for the amount of drift from each burst of fire. We know from the time that we've spent with the folks from Guerrilla in the past that they're interested in a sense of heightened realism when it comes to their weapons--that's why there aren't any laser guns or energy blades--and we're certainly willing to attribute this to our poor aim or easily panicked demeanor when confronted by waves of armed Helghast. But we suspect that Halo-weaned masses will want to be able to hold down their triggers just a wee bit longer before the reticule starts rising. Nevertheless, we were thoroughly impressed with our single-player hands-on time with Killzone, particularly the first-person cover mechanic, which we provides an excellent tactical option for more deliberate gamers like ourselves, who prefer to hang back rather than rush ahead. If the company continues to design enemy encounters around the optional use of cover, it bodes well for Killzone 2's future depth and replayability.

Gameplay looks up-to-par. I'm definitely looking forward to the game, although the recoil seems a bit annoying.
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