In a little over a month, one of the great burning questions of the current-gen console war will be settled: Does Killzone 2 live up to the hype that Sony started when it unveiled that infamous “target footage” at the 2005 Electronic Entertainment Expo? For that matter, is it any good at all?
To help answer these questions (and pour a little more fuel on the fire), we’ve decided to pit Killzone 2 directly against three of last year’s biggest shooters: Gears of War 2, Resistance 2 and Call of Duty: World at War (Left 4 Dead, meanwhile, was judged simply too awesome to participate). To ensure a fair comparison, we’ve assembled a debate team consisting of Mikel Reparaz (defending Killzone 2), Charlie Barratt (Gears of War 2), Paul Ryan (Resistance 2) and Chris Antista (Call of Duty: World at War). All four editors have played (and in some cases even enjoyed) all four games, and are now primed and ready to rip each other to shreds.
Why Killzone 2 will be better: After a couple of years spent comparing PS3 and 360 versions of multi-platform games, we’ve noticed one recurring issue: 360 games tend to be slightly sharper, with a greenish tinge, while PS3 games are slightly blurrier, with softer lighting and more orange hues. Gears 2 and Killzone 2 have the same issues, but each game is built with its system’s strengths and weaknesses specifically in mind. Gears 2, then, is extremely crisp, but it doesn’t have the raw, organic feel that Killzone 2’s blighted environments do. All those grays and browns add up to make planet Helghan look thoroughly blasted, both by war and its own weather. It’s ugly, but it’s richly detailed, weathered ugly. It’s appropriate for a war game. In Gears 2, meanwhile, everything looks pretty to the point that it’s almost plastic.
And then there are the actual characters, who are rendered with about the same level of detail in both games. In Killzone 2, however, they’re proportioned like normal men, not linebackers. They’re also capable of displaying a range of emotions beyond “grimacing,” “grimacing meaningfully” and “grimacing while grunting meaningfully.”
- Mikel Reparaz, Senior PlayStation Editor
Why Gears of War 2 is better: You’re right – Gears of War 2 is pretty. A next-gen game actually managed to transform that ubiquitous gray-brown palette into something both unique and pleasing on the eye. Is that a bad thing?
Personally, I appreciate the occasional dash of color or splash of sunshine in my bleak, apocalyptic sci-fi shooters. When you glimpse a picturesque mountain village sparkling on the horizon, or notice the intricate architecture of a crumbling city, you’re reminded of what the universe might look like if humans and Locust weren’t so busy tearing each other apart. Yes, Gears of War 2’s visuals are beautiful, but poignantly and hauntingly so.
Killzone 2 isn’t ugly. The visuals are something far worse – generic. I couldn’t tell one war-torn landscape or dilapidated warehouse from the next. Same goes for the normal (i.e., forgettable) characters. Marcus and crew may be comically inflated, but at least they stand out from the crowd.
- Charlie Barratt, Senior Microsoft Editor
Why Killzone 2 will be better: Marcus grunts a lot, Dom wants to find his wife, Baird is a whiney asshole, Cole is a one-note stereotype and Carmine is just whiling away the hours being earnest and awkward until he’s Locust chow. Did I miss anything? Was there any subtle character development I’m overlooking? The characters in Gears are walking action figures, and despite the best efforts of the designers, it’s difficult to really care when bad things happen to them. Same goes for the setting – did Jacinto ever really feel like a city on the edge of civilization? In the end, was there ever really a sense that you were in a desperate struggle for the survival of the human race? What was really at stake?
Killzone 2 isn’t that much better, but it’s helped along by its characters having at least a second dimension. Your squad depends on you; there’s a real sense that they’re actually pretty vulnerable, even though they can soak up bullets like sponges. The world is more believable (not too surprising, since Killzone has always taken its inspiration from World War I and II, rather than from traditional sci-fi), and the characters’ personalities go through noticeable, permanent changes as the game progresses and horrible things happen. Oh, and the enemies can actually speak to each other in multi-word sentences. That makes a difference. - Mikel
Why Gears of War 2 is better: While Marcus, Dom, Baird and Cole’s personalities can be summarized in a few phrases, that’s exactly what makes them so iconic. They’re superheroes – gritty, foul-mouthed, rough-edged superheroes, but superheroes nonetheless. Just as we adore Superman for always being a no-nonsense square or Spider-Man for always being a witty smartass, we love Marcus for his world-weary grunts and Cole for his stereotypical raps. Given the choice, I’ll play with the Gears 2 action figures and not the Killzone 2 everydudes.
As for setting, which game enables you to cut a giant worm’s bloody and beating heart out of its body from the inside? Case closed. - Charlie
Why Killzone 2 will be better: Well, it’s first-person, which makes a big difference for some people and means you don’t have to zoom in with the “aim” button just to draw a steady bead on your targets. If you’re in a tight spot, slashing dudes with your knife – or just rifle-butting them in the face – will get you out a lot quicker than a chainsaw bayonet will, albeit less gruesomely. And although a lot of people are guaranteed to bitch about how you have to hold down the crouch button in order to stick to cover, being able to flatten yourself against crates and peek around the edges works surprisingly well, and it avoids the old “I meant to run ahead but instead just pirouetted to another cover point and now look I’m being sawed in half” issue common to Gears. - Mikel
Why Gears of War 2 is better: Guess what. I’m one of those people that is guaranteed to bitch about how you have to hold down the crouch button in order to stick to cover. It’s awkward, painful and, thanks to the PS3’s spongy trigger button, often impossible. The thing will just slip out of your grip sometimes, instantly exposing you to enemy fire.
The real problem, though, might be the first person view. After all, the Rainbow Six Vegas series also asks you to hold down a button to take cover, but makes that design choice work by switching to a third person perspective. In that game, as in Gears of War 2, I can clearly see my position in relation to the rest of the environment.
In Killzone 2, I can see a wall. Or a crate. Or, basically, the blank surface of whatever I’m hiding behind. Until I pop my head out, I won’t know exactly where the enemies are located. Realistic? Maybe. Fun? Ehh. - Charlie
Why Killzone 2 will be better: Your squadmates are really an integral part of Killzone 2 – so much so that it’s surprising that co-op wasn’t included in the final game. They’ll watch your back, help lift you over obstacles, point out enemies and – most important of all – soak up bullets. Your squadmates in Gears, meanwhile, don’t do much except revive you when you’re down.
The Helghast, meanwhile, are a lot more believable than the bulky Locust, and they’re slightly smarter (except when confronted by charging, knife-wielding maniacs). They’ll blind-fire from behind cover, run from grenades, gang up on you and retreat if it looks like you’re getting the upper hand. And while the Locust do a lot of that, too, it comes down to what’s scarier: a few lizard-faced albino thugs, or massed death squads with gasmasks and glowing red eyes? - Mikel
Why Gears of War 2 is better: For the “friends” side of the argument, I’m tempted to point out the difference in co-op and declare myself (er, Gears 2) the automatic winner. One game has none. The other - even when compared to new contenders like Left 4 Dead, Resistance 2 and Call of Duty: World at War - has perhaps the best cooperative play of any game ever.
In Gears of War 2, co-op is more than a shared shooting gallery. You and your buddy must learn to work as a team, or fail over and over. You must cover each other’s backs while running for ammo. You must coordinate your angles of attack on a swiveling turret. You must take the sniper rifle when he or she takes the shotgun, and vice versa. Most importantly, you must revive your fallen comrade - an ability that builds trust and encourages communication like no other in gaming. In Killzone 2, you’re doomed to die alone... while you can heal AI squadmates, they cannot heal you.
As for the “enemies” argument, I’ll concede the entry level grunts to you. Nothing in Killzone 2, however, can match up to the oh shit scale of a towering Brumak, mammoth Reaver, gargantuan Corpser, colossal Leviathan or hulking Boomer. See how many synonyms for “big” I just came up with? That’s how many times Gears of War 2 kicks Killzone 2’s ass in this department. - Charlie
Why Killzone 2 will be better: Gears 2 would probably have this one sewed up, except that its coolest “vehicle” segment is actually just an on-rails dogfight. So what we’re left with is the Centaur jeeptank and the towering Brumak at the very end, both of which still run along linear paths, and both of which have similar analogues in Killzone 2: a tank, and another thing that, while awesome, we can’t talk about just yet.
True, KZ2’s tank makes an even shorter appearance than Gears’ Centaur, and the thing we can’t talk about doesn’t offer anywhere near the sense of omnipotence that the Brumak does. But it does enable you to wade in closer to your opponents, who actually have a fighting chance against your seemingly unstoppable engine of destruction, and that challenge – which begins the third act, rather than ending it – makes it just a little more rewarding than stomping an ant-like horde of fleeing Locust. - Mikel
Why Gears of War 2 is better: Yeah, I’m no fan of the Centaur in Gears of War 2. The Reaver segments, while way more exciting, are equally frustrating. Grabbing the reins of a Brumak in the last mission, however, was one of the highlights of the entire game. After spending a dozen intense hours in gory and grimy close-quarters combat, Gears of War 2 set the player free. Squash a formerly formidable army of Locust with one, ground-shaking step. Reduce a previously impenetrable fortress with one salvo of rockets. Murder a once terrifying Corpser with one simple flex of monstrous muscle.
Forget rewarding. This vehicle segment was cathartic. - Charlie
Why Killzone 2 will be better: I admit, it’s tough to beat a chainsaw bayonet for sheer coolness. But that aside, what does Gears 2’s arsenal really have going for it? With a few exceptions (like the Hammer of Dawn laser satellite, which you don’t get to use until the game’s final act), most of its guns are the same guns you’ll find in Killzone 2. Lancer? Two varieties of assault rifle and a light machinegun. Boomshot? Rocket launcher and a grenade launcher. Gnasher? Shotgun. The main difference is that the first-person perspective lends KZ2’s firearms a little more of a kick.
Really, though, it all comes down to flamethrowers: the one in Gears 2 is a short-ranged novelty that just blasts out a jet of flame, eventually crisping anything it’s aimed at. Killzone 2’s, meanwhile, sprays flaming napalm that can be arced across long distances if you get the angle right, sending entire squads of covering snipers into flailing, burning panic. Which, incidentally, is a hell of a lot more gratifying than just watching a Locust glow a little before falling over. - Mikel
Why Gears of War 2 is better: The crucial difference here isn’t the weapons themselves - it’s the blood. Sure, both games have assault rifles, but only one has an assault rifle with an attached chainsaw. Both games include shotguns... but only one shotgun has enough force to pulverize an enemy into instant dog food. Both games have high tech energy weapons... but only one can literally microwave a bad guy into unrecognizable red gloop. Killzone 2’s gore consists of some blurry red pixels, scattered timidly across the screen. Gears of War 2’s gore is nothing short of a masterpiece. - Charlie
Why Killzone 2 will be better: True, Killzone 2 doesn’t have Horde mode. It doesn’t even have co-op. But what it does have is a fairly complicated, rewarding, class-based Warzone mode that cycles through a series of objectives (capture the flag… er, propaganda speaker, base defense, control points, assassination and straight-up team deathmatch) during each lengthy round. Oh, and it supports up to 32 players. How many does Gears 2 support again? 10? Pfft. KZ2 kicks its ass on volume alone. - Mikel
Why Gears of War 2 is better: Capture the flag? Control points? Assassination? Team deathmatch? Throw 32 players or 320 players into those tired old game types and the hardened multiplayer addict still won’t have a reason to care. At this point, with every console and nearly every title offering some form of online combat, we need fresh and original ways to engage each other. Horde mode accomplishes just that, challenging you and four friends to survive a smothering 50-wave onslaught of literally hundreds of increasingly vicious enemies. Sounds a bit more interesting than “base defense,” wouldn’t you agree? - Charlie