Joystiq Review: Killzone 2 (single player)

Killzone 2 doesn't come with a gimmick. It couldn't be easier on the eyes, but if you're looking for something outside of aesthetics that quickly sets it apart from the bevy of other first-person shooters on the market, you're not going to find it.

In its first few hours, in terms of weapons, enemies and narrative, Killzone 2 designer Guerilla Games seems as if it's constantly making the most generic choice possible, and honestly, it was enough to put me off at first. Nearly every Helghast is the same perambulating black blob with red eyes and every weapon feels like something you've played with before.

But, as I would discover in the following hours, what it lacks in bionic arms and guns that shoot portals, Killzone 2 makes up for with expertly refined shooting action that's likely to shame most of the genre's titles you'll put in your console this year.
Killzone 2's premise is technically science fiction -- after an attack by the Helghast on a human colony, the good guys take the fight to the enemy's home planet of Helghan to take out their leader -- but it's really a far more tactical game than the setting would lead you to believe.

You're not a super space marine, you're a soldier who's systematically dismantling an impossibly large military force. To rush into a situation without knowledge of where your enemies are or what your weapons are capable of is a guaranteed return ticket to the most recent checkpoint. The only way to survive is knowing where to take cover and smartly chipping away at the wall of red eyes on the other side.

"What it lacks in bionic arms and guns that shoot portals, Killzone 2 more than makes up for with expertly refined shooting action."

Once you master the game's distinct, well-balanced weapons, you feel a real sense that any situation can be conquered if only you can find the right strategy. After I got the hang of the combat and realized I would have to bring brains as well as reflexes to each scenario, I couldn't wait to see the next way in which the game would test them both. (That said, it would have been nice if some of the spicier late-game weapons, like, say, a gun that shoots lightning, could have been introduced just a touch earlier -- see that "lack of a gimmick" thing we discussed earlier.)

Luckily, occasionally failing those tests means another chance to ogle Killzone 2's gorgeous graphics. Instead of dwelling on them (and what a delightful dwell it would be), I'll simply say that while most graphics dazzle for only a few minutes before you become desensitized to them, Killzone 2's good looks continually demand to be noticed and appreciated. It's not always stunning from an artistic standpoint, but its the first time I've ever seen a glove fall into the Uncanny Valley.

Between great mechanics and being a visual treat, Killzone 2 should be easy to recommend -- and it is, to those who are willing to put the time in to discover all its charms. But a little bit of a hook or a gimmick would have been nice, even if it was something as simple as building a remotely compelling narrative. Half the time I wasn't even positive of where I was or what I was doing there.

And some of the mid-battle dialog? Yuck. What's that? An example? OK. Midway through the game, as my teammate wondered what made the train we were assaulting so important to the Helghast, he postulated that, "It's either going somewhere, or carrying something they need." Yes, friend. That about encapsulates the full range of train functions.

So, it may lack some panache, but look at the thing! Play the thing! It's gorgeous! Sure, Killzone 2 may be short on gameplay glitz, but it's undeniably rewarding and fun. And isn't that why we play games in the first place?

Still curious about Killzone 2? Check out our ridiculously informative FAQ, featuring everything from Trophies to button layout to multiplayer analysis, and more!

This article was originally published on Joystiq.