Words: Daniel Dawkins
After one pre-rendered trailer, 135 developers, 40 million dollars, and a typhoon of internet abuse, Guerrilla has finally done it - they?ve proven to the world that Killzone on PlayStation 3 not only exists in playable form, but looks just as good as the ?target footage? shown at E3 2005. At an exclusive unveiling in Los Angeles, we were treated to a live 30-minute demo of the game in action, with director Mathijs De Jonge and producer Steven Ter Heide playing a level in real-time, with a Sixaxis, on PS3.
The rest, as they say, is history. From the instantly gripping descent on the Vektan dropship - tinged with the fear that somehow this might still be all pre-rendered footage - to the frenzied landing and shiver-of-relief comprehension that, no, this is real, as bullets rain in with terrifying intensity; to the rifle?s jaw-dropping HDR and zoom effects, to the dazzling rain-lashed rooftop where we?re unnaturally thrilled at the sight of windswept wires: we were gripped in our seats, absolutely, honestly, astonished - and, well, more than a bit relieved. The E3 2005 trailer was a lie, but PS3?s power, and potential, is faith re-affirmingly real.
Highlights? Watch it. In fact, watch Gundam: Target in Sight first, then Killzone 2. Are they really running on the same machine? The demo begins in the realistic, intricately-rendered clouds high above Helghan, the home planet of the evil Helghast army. You and your squad, a troop of ISA Special Forces soldiers called The Legion, are flying towards the planet?s surface on the back of a Vektan cruiser. The scene is almost identical to the one shown in the 2005 trailer and it looks absolutely incredible. The soldiers are particularly impressive, with detailed clothing textures and expressive facial animations. You can actually see them psyche themselves up for the battle ahead and, according to the developers; a single character model has the same amount of polygons as a level in the first Killzone.
But of course, this being a war game, the peace doesn?t last. Suddenly one of the cruisers flying alongside you is struck by a lightning bolt and explodes, evaporating the soldiers on board. Your squad springs to life and the clouds below you part to reveal the Helghan capital city of Pyrrhus and its war-torn streets. It?s an imposing sprawl of burned-out buildings, storm clouds, explosions and smoke stretching endlessly into the distance. And while all of this is happening, your team primes their weapons and prepares to land. It?s like Saving Private Ryan meets Blade Runner.
When your cruiser hits terra firma the level begins proper. The transition is seamless and the game looks just as good from a first-person perspective as it does in the intro. The Legion charge into battle, running down a wide road scattered with debris, dodging gunfire from entrenched Helghast troops. A vehicle explodes and its driver spills out engulfed in flames and lightning bolts tear through the sky. It?s utterly chaotic, and the game?s 7.1 Surround Sound support makes it overwhelming not only for your eyes, but your ears as well.
It?s here that we begin to understand how Killzone 2 works. The player cautiously makes his way up the street, taking cover behind anything, slowly but surely making his way towards a commander up ahead to receive his orders. He safely makes it behind a barricade and ?objective completed? flashes at the top of the screen, confirming that this is in-game, real-time, and with zero lull in intensity when you?re being given orders by lavishly animated comrades. You find the commander crouched over a map. He orders you to push ahead and take out an anti-aircraft gun called an ?Arc Tower? that?s blasting ISA cruisers out of the air before they have a chance to land. It?s familiar first-person shooter fare, but the atmosphere and visuals make it a lot more interesting than another gloomy trudge through wartime Normandy.
You break cover and continue, only to be immediately confronted by a Helghast hopping over a wall. The animation is scarily realistic; with motion-captured movements so natural, you almost can?t believe he can be shot. But, as dazzling as it is, you have to ventilate the masked swine with your M-82 assault rifle. Zooming through the rifle?s emerald-tinged sights, the depth of field effects are amazing. Everything around the reticule blurs and it mimics the behavior of the human eyeball remarkably well. Fire the rifle and the muzzle flash lights up the walls around you, sending the Helghast tumbling backwards in a macabre dance of death, blood exploding from his chest. It?s some of the most vivid and intense FPS action we?ve ever seen. There are dozens of different Helghast types, ranging from the familiar black-helmeted variety to enormous heavy duty chaingun-toting guys whose hefty armor seems impossible to penetrate.
It?s instantly clear how different Killzone 2 is from most other first-person shooters. Not in terms of concept or gameplay, but in that it?s so robust and dynamic. Surfaces shatter and crumble when your bullets hit them, characters move realistically through the environment with weighty animations and the levels are densely packed with detail and spot effects like power lines wobbling in the wind. While a lot of the set-pieces in Resistance and Call of Duty 3 were amazing, it felt like more like you were a spectator rather than actually taking part. Killzone 2 changes all of this.
Guerrilla isn?t focusing entirely on flashy visuals - they?ve also released details about Killzone 2?s story. Not only will heavy weapons expert Rico Velasquez be returning, but special ops lady Lugar and Evelyn from Killzone: Liberation also show their faces. The plot focuses on the ISA taking the battle to the Helghast?s front door after weakening them in the first game. You could also hear Scolar Visari?s rousing speech from the first Killzone?s intro movie blaring through speakers on the streets. He?s the Helghast?s evil dictator and we?d be very surprised if he doesn?t return to cause us more bother in KZ2.
The beady-eyed Helghast are more inventive than the ISA could?ve anticipated. Somehow, they?ve managed to harness Helghan?s atmosphere and, amazingly, use it as a weapon against invaders. Those Arc Towers we mentioned earlier play a key role. They use them to - we think - pull storm clouds from the sky, absorb their power and use the collected lightning energy like a laser beam. At the end of the demo we watched the developers destroy one of the towers. First, they fought their way through lines of Helghast to reach it, again showcasing the fluid animation and muzzle flash effects. When they reach the Arc Tower they push a button to open hatches on its side. This exposes a glowing red core, which is fired upon resulting in the tower?s epic, fiery destruction. And then nothing. The demo ends.
Killzone 2 was almost everything we?d hoped for, and miles ahead of what we secretly feared - not bad, for a relatively tame third level. The primary emotion, relief, was soon replaced with a tingling delight that Sony had lived up to the standards of that E3 2005 trailer. In 30 minutes, Sony transformed the perception of PS3 from an overpriced extravagance populated by me-too Xbox 360 ports, to the most exciting, important console in the world. It doesn?t have any gimmicks - time travel, performance-enhancing drugs, or gravity guns. Its ?novelty? is good looks, intensity, and how it single-handedly shames absolutely almost everything rival consoles had to offer. That said, it?s the second time a Killzone 2 trailer has ruined E3 - this time for making almost every other game look so terrifyingly ordinary.