Bringing a building to its knees with a turret; nailing a gas canister and watching it spiral out of control; pinning a Helghast to a wall with the bolt gun and watching him writhe in agony; letting rip with the superb flamethrower; watching hundreds of bullets whiz and ping, sending chunks of concrete flying off of pillars and exposing electrical cabling underneath; marvelling at the most stunning, eye-catching war torn backgrounds and skylines your gaming eyes ever did see, makes Killzone 2 the best looking game ever made - a jaw dropping graphical showcase from start to finish.
Then there are the animations. Oh, the glorious animations. In many ways, the Helghast, or "cockney Nazis", steal the show from Killzone 2's disappointingly generic Alpha Squad. For one, you see them more often than you see yourself, the personality-starved Sergeant Sev. Two, when you do see them, you're almost always shooting them, which results in more satisfying limb jolting and spine spazzing than in a Rambo flick. The weapon reload animations are a work of art, often distracting the eye when you should be paying attention to what's fixed squarely in your targeting reticule instead. Some take what feels like ages - the grenade launcher, the flamethrower - but they're all worth it. In fact, when new weapons are introduced into the game, it's just as much fun finding out what they look like to reload as it is to discover how destructive they are.
Perhaps most impressive of all, though, is the AI. The Helghast are smart, to the point where they're actually genuinely hard to kill. Your typical fire fight in Killzone 2 plays out like this: move forward into a new area of war-torn Helghan, the Helghast home planet, get assaulted by numerous Helghast, find cover, fight for your life. The Helghast, with their creepy red eyes and gas mask-filtered voices, aren't dumb. They use cover at least as well as you do. They flank at least as well as you do. They fire at least as accurately as you do. They use grenades at least as appropriately as you do. They retreat, they regroup, they assault, they suppress, all at least as well as you do. In short, they're bastards who don't pop their heads out of cover just so you can whack-a-mole them on the head. If you try run and gun in Killzone 2 you're going to get your ass handed to you. You need to think. This is not mindless violence, just... war.
Killzone 2's stupendous graphical effects combine to provide an incredibly realistic experience, despite the fantastical sci-fi premise. Realistic and relentless. For some, working through the game's somewhat brief 10 mission campaign will feel like a slog. That's not a slight, but a deliberate move on Guerrilla's part. The game's levels are designed to play out like a series of intense fire fights that need to be battled through in order to progress, with few set pieces or breaks in pace. From the moment you're spat out onto the battlefield from one of those now infamous flying soldier carriers to the game's last, adrenaline-pumping battle, Killzone 2 is a roller coaster ride of endless death.
That Killzone 2's campaign feels like the opening 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan is in part due to the incredible graphics, but there's also a more subtle technique at play. Killzone 2's perspective is set slightly lower compared with other FPS games, to the point where you sometimes feel like a midget when you're fighting alongside other members of Alpha Squad. The view seems significantly narrower than in other games as well, almost as if someone's pressed the zoom function on your TV remote and not told you. As a result, Killzone 2 feel more claustrophobic, more intense, more heart-thumping. When the HUD drains of colour and blood covers half the screen, you feel very, very alone, but very, very involved.
Then there are the controls, which will perhaps prove to be more of a deal-breaking factor than any other for some gamers. At first, the controls feel terrible. There's an almost sluggish feel; a tiny but noticeable delay between pressing a direction with the Sixaxis thumb sticks and the shifting of the targeting reticule. Sev's not fast, and he's no super soldier. He can't jump 20 feet in the air, like Master Chief, or roadie run as if a speeding bullet, like Marcus Fenix. Guerrilla's gone for a more considered, realistic approach, grounded in a semblance of reality.
Having to snap to cover with the L2 button, (the default control set-up), forces your left hand to do things it really wasn't built for. The sniper rifle highlights this perfectly. As you'd expect, you zoom by clicking in the right thumb stick. However, to get the maximum zoom you then need to press up on the d-pad, which, when you're pressing L2 to stay in cover, can be more mind-melting than an episode of the Krypton Factor.