Killzone 2 ImpressionsS

Yes, impressions. Not the review.

We decided to hold off on our formal review until we can play the Playstation 3 game online under more typical conditions. Instead I've written up some of my initial thoughts from playing through the entire single-player campaign on the average difficulty setting.

It's easy when playing a game in an over-saturated genre, like first-person shooters, to judge the title not by what it is, but by what it isn't. Games like Halo 3 and Gears of War 2 both suffer from that same problem.

What do these games do that no others before it have? What do they deliver to gamers that is unique to the genre? On their surface, nothing.

Killzone 2 also brings nothing new to first-person shooters. Instead of providing gimmicks to try and separate itself from the pack, the game wades into the thick of things and proves that you don't have to be unique to deliver an engaging experience.

There are certainly differences in Killzone 2.

The graphics, while a bit too clean for my liking, still capture the pivotal moments of the game with an almost cinematic flare. Details make the game pop. Like when you're ducked behind a concrete barrier and a chunk of cement blows off next to your head from a near-miss round. Or one of your rockets glance off a railing and instead of exploding, spiral out of control and off into the sky.

I'm still debating whether the artificial intelligence that controls your squad mates, and the Helghast you take on, is very good or sketchy.

Typically, I found the Helghast surprisingly realistic. They try to out maneuver you, even calling out to one another in battle. Enemies scramble away from you when you pop around the corner, or quickly try to slice you with a knife. When a grenade hits nearby, they fall to the ground temporarily stunned, but then slowly climb to their feet to take you on again.

But at other times I found enemies standing nearby seemingly oblivious to my proximity. Maybe I'm over thinking it, making excuses for bad AI, but it was almost as if that in the heat of battle this one didn't see me run behind him or that one didn't notice me round a corner. The thing is, the graphics, the responsiveness, the seeming humanity of these digital automatons make it easier for you to forgive the occasional tactical stupidity.

The story? The story is light, but not so light as to be distracting. There are no love interests. No hidden sub-plot. But in real war there rarely is. So I can overlook that. And what the game seems to be saying about modern warfare, about the complexity of morality in a fight, is grist for thought. I'd even argue that Killzone 2 drew some of its deeper, more subtle meaning from what's currently going on in our world.

The experience of playing Killzone 2 ping-pongs between the ordinary and the sublime. There were moments when I paused in mid-play to take in what was happening around me. I wasn't just playing out a pre-determined role, triggering events by pushing forward, I was engrossed in a battle. Bullets zipping by. Friends and foe falling on either side. The intensity, the mayhem of war, perfectly captured.

It is at those moments that Killzone 2 is fully realized, when it delivers not a single-player experience, but an experience that despite it's solitary nature, makes you are part of something larger. You aren't the hero in this game, you're one of the grunts and it's just as likely that any one of you will die.

Killzone 2 is a tightly-paced shooter that walks gamers through an eclectic mix of levels in an experience that comes in at just under 8 hours. But it's also another one of those games that, because of its relatively short length and its perfect pacing, can feel more like a movie or a book than a game.

That's one of the funny things about video games. Despite their increased level of interactivity, many of them fail to be as immersive as a good read or a fun movie. But Killzone 2 dances on that line between disposable entertainment and time well spent.

Look for our full review later this month.