We're not the biggest Killzone fans at VideoGamer.com. Unlike what the rabid forum posters believe, this isn't down to a hatred for Sony and the PS3, but simply a dislike of the first game. It was an FPS plagued with technical issues, it lacked intelligence (both in game design and AI) and was rather dull in comparison to the best the genre had to offer at the time. We were, as are many people, weary of developer Guerrilla Games' ability to make the sequel gamers want Killzone 2 to be. It's a perfectly valid concern, especially as the game's first public unveiling at E3 2005 was nothing more than a pre-rendered video masquerading as gameplay, but after spending a good 30 minutes getting hands on with Killzone 2's multiplayer mode at GC 2008 we're starting to believe the hype.

The biggest surprise is just how complete and feature rich Killzone 2's multiplayer is going to be. Guerrilla Games has focussed on four design goals: Everyone should be able to play, people should be able to play however they want, team play should be a priority and a strong community is essential. Perhaps not the most original design goals, but it's not until you see the extent to which these have been worked towards that you realise the saying 'everything but the kitchen sink' might not even be accurate.

Something many modern first-person shooters don't include is bot support. Killzone 2 will include a full offline practice mode where you can play against bots, which Guerrilla says is an ideal way for newcomers to get to grips with the game types, or missions as they're called in the game. Bots can also be used to fill out online games that don't have the desired number of players. We won't know for sure how good they are until we've sunk hours and hours into the multiplayer, but they're said to mimic the play of human players, working towards the mission goals, using abilities and weapons in a realistic manner. It sounds very promising indeed.

Core to the multiplayer component of Killzone 2 is the progression system. There are 12 ranks in the game and 46 ribbons to be earned, plus six badges (effectively character classes) with two abilities each. As is the way in modern multiplayer shooters, you'll unlock things as you progress. It's a cheap analogy to make as Killzone 2 doesn't feel very much like CoD4 at all, but the ranking system has similarities. Where Killzone 2 looks to differentiate itself is in its badges system and the ability for the player to make custom character classes.

There are six badges (engineer, medic, scout, assault, tactician and saboteur) as well as the default rifleman badge. To begin with you're given the primary badge ability for the class you play as. So for example, an engineer begins with the ability to set up an automated turret, with a second badge adding a repair ability. Medics on the other hand start by being able to revive downed team mates, but earn the second badge and you'll be able to throw health packs out for other players to use. Our favourite abilities include the scout's invisibility cloak and enemy tagger, and the tactician's air support sentry bot.

Again, this doesn't sound all that different to the majority of good online shooters, but things change a lot when you start combining badges. You can combine however you like, with your custom class taking the primary ability from the first chosen badge and the secondary ability from the second chosen badge. So for example you could become an assault scout, wearing armour twice as strong as normal and able to tag all on-screen enemies with a hidden marker. As is always the case, and even more so with a deep multiplayer shooter, we've only been able to scratch the surface of what's on offer, but the potential possibilities are very exciting indeed.

Killzone 2 will ship with eight maps, designed to offer a good selection for small games all the way up to the full 32 players. Using the custom game tool you're able to pick and choose the options you want. The map and number of players are obviously the basic options, but you're also able to choose which mission types you want to play (multiplayer games can dynamically switch from one type to another without exiting the game), the weapons allowed, the badges allowed and even small details like how long it takes to plant or disarm an explosive charge.

During gameplay we got a chance to see how a few of the other mechanics play out. Spawning isn't something you give a second thought to, but Guerrilla has. When you die you're taken to the multiplayer menu screen and shown a number of available spawn points. The key here is that you're shown the current action from a camera placed at each spawn point, enabling you to see if it's a wise move to spawn on top of a group of enemies or not. The idea of squads is also rather unique to Killzone 2. At any point during a game you can form a squad of up to four players. This lets you see the health status of those in your squad, communicate on a private voice channel and spawn on the position of the squad leader. Again, it's something that seemed to work in our short hands-on time, but how useful it really is will only become apparent in time.

The final element of Killzone 2's substantial multiplayer package is the community. This comes from a robust website (which lets you track 100 stats, talk to friends and check out community highlights) and the in-built clan support. Guerrilla is pitching clans as the long-term version of squads. Up to 64 players can join a clan and the game supports clan matches of 16v16. Something that could well give the game's clan tools the kickstart needed to get off the ground is the valour betting system. Clan matches can be betted on, and with each clan starting with the same basic amount of valour it won't take long to figure out who has what it takes. With the game supporting massive tournaments for up to 256 clans, there's going to be an awful lot riding on victories.

These features are all well and good, but how does the game actually play? We're pleased to report that it's shaping up very well indeed. What's initially most striking is just how good the game looks. It's fair to say that we haven't seen an FPS that looks this impressive, be it single or multiplayer. It's hard to put into words, but everything in Killzone 2 looks big, bold and detailed. From time to time the frame rate stumbled, but we were playing a game that's not due for release until February 2009, so it's more than forgiveable.

The only real negative we could level at the game in its current state is the excessive use of motion blur. We're all for the use of motion blur in single-player cinematic experiences, but in multiplayer, and at this severity, it often made it hard to see what was going on. Hopefully this is something that can be tweaked ahead of the game's release. Other than that we're extremely impressed by what we've seen and played.

On its release early next year Killzone 2 will have a lot to contend with. It'll be coming a few months after the release of mega games Gears of War 2, Resistance 2 and Call of Duty: World at War, so it's likely to be criticised for any slight slip up. We can't say how the single-player is shaping up (we haven't seen it for a few months), but the multiplayer offering looks to have all we wanted and more.

Killzone 2 is due for release exclusively on PlayStation 3 in February 2009.