Wednesday 11 July 2007
Before seeing last night's Killzone 2 showcase I said that it couldn't afford to fail. It didn't. In a screening room behind Sushi Roku in Santa Monica the men from Guerilla played through the entire third level of the game - set, as predicted yesterday, on Helghan, the rain lashed slum world of the evil Helghast. What we saw was a hugely impressive showcase of both the raw power and future potential of the PS3 hardware.
For graphics porn obsessives, the demo must have felt like a particularly unhinged orgy. Thanks to the smoothing effects of full-screen anti-aliasing everything is drawn with flowing lines, and in combination with some very complex lighting, the game instantly looks a step ahead of other shooters in terms of richness and gloss. Other visual highlights: the flickery shadow of a Helghast trooper flaring against the wall as he leapt over a barricade, beautiful Call Of Duty-style depth of field effects as your character shoulders his ISA assault rifle to aim, soldiers screaming as they're engulfed in fire and uncannily convincing interplay between the team mates as the Intruder gunships fly through heavy flack to their landing zone.
Ah yes, drop ships... Remember them? The opening cut-scene (all in-game, natch) is of course a a riff on that controversial trailer, unveiled at E3 2005, then later hysterically denounced for being entirely pre-rendered footage. Watching the demo last night, the feeling was relief as much as anything. Two years on, Killzone 2 looks astonishingly close to the original video. Basically, it had to. Anything less and the internet would have shrieked itself blue. Guerilla has clearly spent the intervening time ensuring it hit that graphical mark. So, barring a few loading pauses that should be easily eradicated, on a purely technical level Killzone 2 is a triumph. The art direction is as strong as it ever was, with the fascistic, gas-masked Helghast making for instantly unlikeable enemies. They now die with more feeling too, thanks to a location-specific hit system that makes them go down clutching knees and chests. The one criticism you could make about the visuals is that the they're unremittingly bleak. Killzone 2 is a rhapsody in grey, but hey that's dystopian future wars for you.
So what of the actual gameplay? Well it looks remarkably similar to the original - gritty and noisy, with verite style used by Saving Private Ryan and relentlessly copied ever since still very much an influence. There were a few new features to be gleaned, such as the inclusion of an nine foot tall miniboss (called the 'heavy trooper') protected thick armour and armed with a minigun type weapon. Taking him involved shooting fuel cells hidden on his back (almost exactly like that flamethrower-wielding lummox in Resistance.) I also noticed the lead character poking his rifle over a low wall during one exchange, suggesting some sort of blindfire.
We're also told the environment itself will be hostile, due to the fact the Helghast have harnessed the power of lightning to create experimental weaponry. (Just issue the ISA lads with rubber-soled boots, surely?) In the demo the only way this manifests itself is during the closing encounter, in which you have to take down an 'arc tower' firing forks of electricity across the sky. It's actually slightly anticlimactic as switches are flipped and the static structure is hosed with bullets.
During a brief chat with Sony's president of worldwide studios Phil Harrison outside immediately afterwards, he tells us that Sony wanted to show an entire level rather than just a montage of the best moments, and promises there's plenty more still to come. Clearly a huge amount still rests on Killzone's black-clad shoulders. With third-party platform exclusives an increasing rarity, the onus is now on in-house software to show what each console can really do. As such, Killzone 2 is one of Sony's biggest guns. Last night, in order to 'not fail' all it really had to do was be noticeably more impressive than Resistance. It did that comfortably. The real win was the fact that it provided clear proof of concept to the idea that PS3 is a significantly more powerful machine than it's rival. What the game doesn't seem to be, though, is a paradigm shift that will redefine how we play shooters. Perhaps that would have been too much to ask. We'll know for sure once it's playable but, having seen a whole level, the core gameplay seems like a logical extension of the fist Killzone, but with a stunning HD makeover and Hollywood production values. So how excited you should be probably hinges on how you felt about the first game. But for now, this is job well done for Guerilla. Or as the final screen said: mission accomplished.
To read part one of Tim's blog click here.