Killzone 2 Multiplayer Beta Hands-on

With its February 2009 release date looming, the beta phase for the highly anticipated sci-fi shooter, Killzone 2, is in full swing, giving us ample opportunity to test out the variety of game modes on offer and get to grips with every nook and cranny of the three multiplayer maps currently available. Stay with us as we take a peek at some of the features that we hope can lift this much-hyped title head and shoulders above the competition.

If you’ve watched any of the trailers you’ll know that Killzone 2 already looks and sounds incredible. In reality though, when you’re actually moving around the locations and trading gunfire with fellow revellers, it looks even better. Killzone 2 has not only blown us away with the sheer level of detail in its photo-realistic environments, but its dark and sombre atmosphere, generated by some stunning lighting effects and exceptional attention to detail, is equally significant in terms of its overall ambiance.

A prime example of this can be seen on one of larger, open maps, called Salamun Market, where the sound of war resonates through every building, balcony and plaza as muzzles flash dramatically against the backdrop of a deep blood orange sunset and dark thunderous clouds roll overhead, playing their part in this dramatic scene by casting shadows eloquently across the rooftops and deserted streets below.

If the three maps on offer in the beta are an indication as to the overall visual and design quality of Killzone 2’s final multiplayer map set, we can look forward to an intensely atmospheric shooter. Bells and whistles aside though, we’re sure that, like us, you’ll be more interested in whether the gameplay can possibly compete with its dazzling good looks. Let’s take a look.

Before you jump into the warzone, the beta multiplayer experience begins when you choose a faction. The two warring sides here are Helghast and ISA. Both factions offer a different, yet very similar, weapon set, ranging from assault rifles and semi-automatic shotguns right through to missile launchers. The focus here is on realism, with each gun, such as the M82G assault rifle, modelled on its real-life counterpart – nothing particularly outstanding here then.

From there, it’s into a traditional lobby area where you can shout your mouth off or pleasantly chat to other players about how you’re going to hand their asses to them on plate. It’s from here that the lobby leader can customize the whole game, from toggling friendly fire on and off to restricting weapons or abilities.

Currently, there are seven game modes on offer, including variants of deathmatch and team deathmatch, which host 32 players and there’s also a nice variety of other game modes, such as ‘Assassination’, where everyone is tasked with tracking down and killing a randomly selected player and ‘Search and Destroy’, where you need to trigger explosives. Currently, there are three maps on offer: Salamun Market, Radec Academy and Blood Gracht.

A quick glance at the stats page, which you can also access in-game and post match, gives you an indication of the depth of Killzone 2’s class-based system, a feature that has spurred us on to test our skills to the limit with the promise of badges to compliment our play style. Whether it’s as a medic, engineer or scout, when you rise through the ranks in your particular class you also unlock access to certain abilities, such as a cloaking device, deployable bots and deployable spawn points, but more interestingly you can also mix and match these classes to suit your own style. This means that the more time you spend with the game, the more it gives back and, in our experience thus far, the more rewarding it becomes. Although we certainly didn’t need any encouragement to keep playing Killzone 2, it constantly invites you to keep blasting away to gain more XP (experience points) by luring you in with tempting unlockables that are only available when you hit certain rankings; reach rank 3, for example, and you’ll be allowed to create a clan.

Although we haven’t been able to set up a clan as yet, we have got our first look at some of the community-based and clan options that will be available on its February release. You can create a clan and invite people to join and there’s also a clan leaderboard showing the top ten teams. Additionally, you can also create tournaments, from a 1 vs. 1 fight to the death, right up to a 16 vs 16 clan match. The tournament and clan system is sure to create some fierce competition and we understand that in the final version they’ll also be multiple leaderboards so we’ll be able to see who are best individual players and the top guns in each of the specific game modes.

As far as gameplay goes, Killzone 2 plays very much like any traditional multiplayer shooter, with its pace laying somewhere between Rainbow 6 and Call of Duty. The lack of a cover system certainly helps to keep the action flowing and you can run, duck, lie down, lob grenades, re-load and switch weapons intuitively.

The user interface is pretty much what you’d expect, but does its job effectively, with a map that sits in the top left corner showing ‘friendlies’ as green and enemies as red. When you die you can choose multiple spawn areas that are indicated on your screen by real-time camera feeds. It comes in handy for double-checking that enemies aren’t lurking around ready to spawn kill you – this happens a lot!

The weapons feel meaty, the controls feel tight and the maps are designed in a way to encourage tactical play, with numerous buildings to dash in and out of, narrow alleyways for ambushing, open areas for, er, getting shot, stairwells to throw grenades down to unsuspecting attackers, rooftops and balconies to snipe from and plenty of places to hide, which are ideal for spawn camping (uh,oh). Of course, aside from some excellent level design, what makes Killzone 2 all the more interesting and sets it apart from similar shooters is that all of this traditional multiplayer stuff that we’ve become accustomed to in other shooters is complemented by the deep class-based system and some of the unique features in the game, such as being able to place sentry bots around the maps or donning a cloak to make you invisible.

There are also a few more unique features worthy of a mention. During the game, you can jump into the menu and invite players to join you in a four-man squad. If you’re the person who sets up the squad your teammates can re-spawn in your position every time they get killed. Its’ just another of the many clever additions that go towards making Killzone 2 the tactically compelling shooter that we’d hoped for.

Furthermore, Killzone 2 will be the first game in which the host can switch game modes instantly, in-game without a re-set. We started off a standard 32 player team deathmatch on the larger Market map, but as the numbers dwindled and the players dropped out and we found ourselves just wandering around in that hope that we’d bump into one of the 6 players left in this huge area. The host asked if we wanted to switch modes and immediately, whilst we were actually walking up a stairwell, without even a hint of any loading time, we were straight into a game of ‘Search and Hold’, a variant of siege. Although it’s a feature that you’d think wouldn’t have much impact on the multiplayer experience, it’s actually turned out to be a welcome addition that has made our experience more enjoyable and varied.

Whilst the options, features and deep class-based system are highlights of Killzone 2’s multiplayer, the gameplay hasn’t been compromised one bit. Killzone 2 is shaping up to be much more than another run-of-the-mill shooter. It not only looks better than any multiplayer game we’ve played, but it already bears all the hallmarks of a game that will keep us hooked right throughout 2009.