I was in the middle of screening a movie not long ago and was momentarily surprised by how much action violence had been crammed into a typical family-fare flick. The latest cinema trend seems to be all about one-upping the last blockbuster by tossing in as much CGI crash-boom-bam as possible. Of course, that mentality isn't exclusive to Hollywood.
Gamemakers have been pulling out all the stops for a while now in hopes of enticing gamers to choose their brand of immersive entertainment. Especially in the shooter genre. There's a highly touted trigger-puller released just about every week. So each new M-rated gun-blazer has to keep ramping up the intensity to stand out from the crowd.
Guerrilla Games' Killzone 2 stands out.
Gamers play as hard-edged Sgt. Tomas "Sev" Sevchenko who ships out, along with his heavily armed compatriots, to the planet of Helghan. In the original Killzone, the inhabitants of Helghan—humanoid mutants referred to as "Higs"—launched an unprovoked Pearl Harbor-like attack on the sergeant's beloved homeland and now it's payback time. The objective is to storm their world and hopefully kill their Hitler-esque leader in the process. But it soon becomes apparent that the human forces will face more than just bullets, tanks and megalomaniacs. Even the Higs' unforgiving planet—with its toxic soot and acid-filled environment—becomes an enemy to battle.
To be honest, though, as exotic as that sci-fi tale might sound, it takes a backseat through most of this ride. What really drives the above-mentioned intensity is a frenetic pace that's set from before you even touch virtual foot on alien soil. Your transport vehicle is shot out of the air and crash-lands—bodies flying by you and being ripped up by bullets and shrapnel. As you leap over the side of the craft looking for cover, the adrenaline-filled, chaotic world of a soldier in the heat of battle feels very real.
That duck-run-rip-rend-burn-kill drumbeat drives you pell-mell from one furious battlefront to the next. Every corner you turn presents you with another half-dozen red-eyed foes eager to mow you down.
And as you face up to each of these obstacles, you wield an arsenal of pulverizing weapons designed to keep your blood pounding while their blood spurts. Hiding behind overturned tables or peaking around open doorways offers an opportunity to snipe victims with high-caliber accuracy. Or you might occasionally run and gun your way through, picking up flamethrowers, rocket launchers and even a lightening bolt gun to skewer, riddle and fry your opponents.
There are also opportunities to slide behind mounted machine gun turrets, grab the controls of a high-powered tank, decimate flying bad guys with antiaircraft fire and slip into a massive mech battlesuit that rips through Hig squads like tissue paper.
This game has only one speed: Full-on. The gas pedal is permanently jammed to the metal.
The Wounds of War
As would be expected with a next-gen gunner like this one, the visceral nature of all these tornado terminations is heightened by groundbreaking visuals. Watching an opponent's head explode into a smear on the wall when you blast him with your combat shotgun, for instance, is a grisly reminder of the emotional wallop cutting-edge graphics can deliver.
But wait. There's more. In addition to this carnival ride of carnage, Killzone's developers decided to amplify gamers' stress levels even more by filling their com link with a constant stream of foul language. And I mean constant. And I mean foul. The space between four-letter missives is about the same amount as the space between steel-hulled missiles.
Hard-core gamers are just laughing off the verbal and visual messiness. Reviewing site 1up.com calls it the "first candidate for 2009's 'Game of the Year.'" Gamespot.com says it "does everything extraordinarily well." And according to gamedaily.com, Killzone 2 is "a glorious and brutally intense ride through hostile territory wrapped in a Hollywood-style presentation."
They mean that as a compliment. But shouldn't we at least be asking, How many brutal, profane rides does it take before a part of us goes down in flames?