During our Best of E3 2008 Awards, we alluded to Killzone 2 doing things with the first-person-shooter genre that other developers are either unable to do or afraid to tackle. Guerilla Games is neither. The single-player aspects of Killzone 2 were on grand display at E3, but with the Leipzig Game Convention now in full swing, Killzone 2’s multiplayer aspects are coming into focus. We’ve learned some of the first details about Killzone 2’s RPG-like elements, a facet that may initially confound many PS3 gamers but that could eventually win gamers over on all known platforms.
To understand how Killzone 2 has such deep multiplayer aspects, it’s important to realize that Guerilla Games actually has two separate teams working on the game: one for the single-player game, and one for the multiplayer. This strategy worked with great success in the Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter games, and it looks to be working even better and with much more depth with Killzone 2.
Although they’re being developed by a stand-alone team, the multiplayer aspects of Killzone 2 are just as focused on fast action as the campaign, but with a significant dose of strategy as well. Don’t worry; that doesn’t mean Killzone 2 has turned into an RTS. Far from it; Killzone 2 is as compelling an FPS as you’ll find on any system, particularly for gamers who are tiring of the frag-happy players who shoot mindlessly in Halo 3. In Killzone 2, the ISA vs. Helghast gameplay is focused like a laser on team-based play, and it supports anywhere from two to 32 players, which means players who don’t strategize even somewhat are doomed to fail.
This strategy begins in the exact same place Killzone 2’s multiplayer begins: character creation. Killzone 2 uses a Badge (class) System that layers first encounter when choosing their character. Each Badge — medic, scout, soldier, engineer, saboteur and soldier — has two special abilities or perks, like the ability to place turrets (engineer) or revive a certain number of people per round (medic). However, Killzone 2 is taking this FPS class system to a new level by letting players combine Badges to create their own character that suits their individual play style. For instance, if a player wants to revive people in battle yet also know his way around a shotgun, simply combine the medic and assault badges to create that unique class.
This means players will want to create teams (and clans) that include a good mix of classes and specialists. A well-rounded team is more likely to succeed in Killzone 2’s dynamic multiplayer games than a team of all engineers or all medics. However, it also means players need to keep track of their perks, because everyone having the same perks will lead to some rather unbalanced and potentially fatal battles.
These perks unlock as players rack up kills, objectives and victories, much like the perk system from Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. After each match, players can also visibly see the progress they’ve made toward their next level, much like watching XP accumulate in an RPG. All told, Killzone 2 includes 12 military ranks, each with new perks and abilities. The game also has 46 medals and ribbons that enable anything from revivals to head-shot proficiency. Combined with the Badge combinations, this gives Killzone 2 an almost RPG-like feel, at least in terms of customization.
This level of customization is extended to the multiplayer games themselves, too. When Killzone 2 ships, it will include eight maps of differing sizes (more may ship as DLC, but mum’s the word for now). After selecting a map, players select the type of mission they wish to play, such as Search and Destroy, a mode in which players must set explosives at various points in the enemy’s territory. The options then move to the type(s) of weapons that will be allowed in the match, followed by an option to disallow certain badges or perks. Finally, players can decide minutia such as how long it takes to revive players and how long it takes for mines to explode.
What’s nice is that the game’s five multiplayer modes can be setup to be dynamic, making the game type switch mid-round. For instance, a team of 16 might find itself playing a round of Body Count (basically deathmatch), only to have the computer “update” the players via their comm system that the mode had changed to Assassination, which has players trying to kill the person who had just won Body Count. After a while, the mission might switch again to Search & Retrieve (CTF, basically), then change once more to Search & Destroy. At first this sounds jarring and even unfair, but it’s no different from playing a single-player game and receiving new objectives mid-mission. It’s also a remarkably seamless process, and it reinforces just how much Killzone 2 is reliant upon balanced teams, good teamwork and strategic play.
When playing in larger games, players are assembled into four-player squads, with eight squads being included in each faction. Players will always know the health and statistics of your squad, and Killzone 2 will include a dedicated headset channel for intra-squad chatter.
Clans, which are supported in a big way, can be managed online though the Killzone 2 community site. Each clan can accommodate up to 64 people, but when engaged in a clan challenge, battles are limited to 16 vs. 16. Clan tournaments, however, support up to 256 clans, each one vying for their competitor’s Valor Points (Killzone 2’s ranking system, almost like rank currency). That’s some massive online fragging and bragging. Add to that the ability to track, compare and organize by 100 different statistics, and number-crunchers will likely lose weeks of their lives just sorting through data.
In terms of the actual gameplay, Killzone 2 is immediately familiar to anyone who’s played an FPS in the past two years. However, one big and arguably welcome change is the ability to jump by pressing the X button. That’s right, Killzone fans, your ISA or Helghan soldier now has a vertical leap.
Perhaps players’ biggest leap, however, will be made from the grave, as the spawn mechanics in Killzone 2 have gotten a massive overhaul. Once players die, they can view in real time what’s going on at or near each spawn point. This serves two purposes, each geared toward that ever-important teamwork element. First, players will never fly blind into battle, a common complaint when players spawn unbeknownst into a firefight. Second, perhaps more important, players can conduct a quick situation analysis of the battlefield and spawn in the most-appropriate place, even next to their squad leader, if desired. Again, this is all in the name of teamwork, and it’s a very nice real-time, 3D change that we hope more online multiplayer shooters will adopt.
With five core multiplayer modes, the question begs to be asked: will Killzone 2 ever see more? And, more important, will it support online co-op? After all, if Killzone 2 can support 256-clan tournaments and 64-player multiplayer matches, how hard is it to implement two- or four-player co-op? In a word: wait. Guerilla Games knows that PS3 gamers want co-op play, and the company’s definitely considering it. However, if online co-op ever appears, it will have to be as downloadable content, not an out-of-the-box feature. Guerilla wants to ensure that Killzone 2 stays balanced if two or more humans play through the campaign, and the company’s still deciding the best way to achieve that balance. In the meantime, players can toss a beacon to call in ‘bot air support to patrol the area.
No, that doesn’t really count as co-op, does it?
Even without online co-op, though, Killzone 2 is an ambitious multiplayer game that just so happens to be included with an impressive 8-to-10-hour single-player game. With its deep FPS customization and gameplay that caters to a more discerning and mature gamer, Killzone 2 has, so far, done all the right things to catapult it into PS3 system-seller status. Guerilla Games heard players’ complaints after the first game, and they appear to have more than addresses them. Our next hands-on time with Killzone 2 can’t come soon enough.
Pre-order Killzone 2 from Amazon.
— Jonas Allen