Having never played the original Killzone, I had no idea what to expect with the sequel. If the previews were anything to go by then it would be a graphical powerhouse, but catching up in the middle of the plot is always a bit difficult. Something to do with some gas-mask wearing, red goggled pseudo-Nazis... or something? By the end I can conclusively say that yes, Killzone 2 looks amazing. No, I still have no idea what on Earth was happening... and there was a perfectly decent shooter in there as well.
Killzone 2 takes place on the planet Helgan as the ISA (the good guys) are launching their major counter offensive after the Helgast (the gas-mask wearing, red goggled pseudo-Nazi bad guys) had invaded the planet Vekta (the setting of the first game). You play as Sev, a hardened veteran under the command of Col. Templar (the hero from the first game). Along with your Alpha squadmates Rico, Garza, and Natko, you are amongst the first in.
Apparently the Helgast are a 'race' of humans that evolved to be stronger and faster by the harsh environment on Helgan. Not only are they well adapted, but the also have the home field advantage and a rather fierce sense of nationalistic pride hammered into them by their leader, Emperor Scolar Visari. Under his orders Colonel Radec, the leader of the Helgast forces, will do anything to defend their home soil.
While the story is a pretty predictable and straightforward war parable filled with generic characters spouting familiar lines, the invasion and pitched battles are shown in an epic scale. Sev and his team get thrown into the meat-grinder in one frantic firefight to the next, the intensity getting ratcheted up at every turn. The story never really goes anywhere and the ending is ridiculous, but it's all really just an excuse to shoot stuff so we can let that go...
Graphically Killzone 2 is very impressive. I still think it's one of the best looking shooters out there. Hell, I was completely blown away by the opening cutscene the first time I saw it... but how often are we blown away by a cutscene only to be let down by the game itself? No worries, Killzone 2 looks great in-game as well. While the color palate is a bit drab and "end of the world"-ish, everything from the environments to the animations look fantastic. The explosions in particular are eye-catching, especially considering that is usually the preferred method for accessing new areas.
Being a 'shooter' in every sense of the word, Killzone 2 creates some wonderfully intense firefights. Your arsenal choices are fairly standard, and they have great "heft"... you can almost feel the weight during the kickback. As with similar shooters you'll probably find yourself relying on dropped enemy weapons because you'll run out of ammo. You'll run out of ammo because the Helgast make tricky foes. They are fast, and enjoy making weaving runs into cover.
All that said, I had a couple of random issues with the gunplay. The oddest is that for some incomprehensible reason, someone thought it would be a good idea to incorporate a motion blur effect when you pan the camera. This is only exacerbated during firefights when you try to track a target... it's almost nauseating, inducing a weird sense of vertigo when you try to look along the vertical axis. I don't why this is more noticeable with Killzone 2 than other games in the genre, but I found it hard to ignore.
One possible reason for this is that the camera pans a bit too slowly using the default presets. When you take into account the speed of the enemy, this is one of the few games where I actually adjusted the sensitivity of the aiming reticule.
Another weird thing with Killzone 2 when compared to other shooters, is it seems to take just a fraction longer to pop into and out of your sights when you want to aim down the barrel. This is compounded by the fact that when you are looking down the sights, the actual gun takes a disproportionate amount of the screen. It will even hide your target if you are aimed too high! Gunning from the hip actually becomes a usable strategy, something I rarely do in these sorts of games.
While the soundtrack and voice acting are par for the course, the sound effects are really good. The guns sound great, and so do the explosions... and considering this is all about shooting bad guys and blowing sh..tuff up, then that's a plus.
Apparently one of Killzone 2's main draws was the multiplayer, specifically centered around large scale battles. I don't play online multiplayer much, but from everything I had heard it was excellent, and if I was into that stuff then I'm sure my score would probably be higher.
Killzone 2 doesn't reinvent the FPS, but it's certainly one of the prettier looking ones (if you consider war torn brownish, greyish ruined cities to be pretty) and has some memorable moments. But the story and characters really didn't hold my attention, and the bizarre motion blur did nothing to endear me to the game either. All in all, it's worth playing (especially now since it's so cheap), but there are newer, shinier shooters out there, including Killzone 3 which just came out as I was writing this...
Score = 7.7 / 10