Of course, when the game decides that it needs to get your attention, the results are phenomenal. The brief gun-turret section takes you high above the caustic clouds of Helghan and finds you engaged in a furious aerial battle, played out against a gorgeous sunset. The descent into Tharsis Refinery, on the other hand, is a plunge into hell itself, a breathtaking ride on a speeding automated train, where the wind snaps tarpaulins like bullwhips and the constant, infernal noise threatens to blot out even the loudest gunfire.
No shooter can survive on single-player alone these days, and as with the solo campaign, the online element concentrates on delivering a brutally focused and nourishing experience within otherwise expected parameters. Not much has changed since the multiplayer beta (which we covered in some detail a little while ago), so you get eight maps, drawn from the single-player campaign, and five different game modes. There are variations on Capture the Flag, Deathmatch and Search and Destroy, as well as base-capturing objectives and the enormously fun Assassination mode. There's no cover system in multiplayer, as gameplay naturally skews more to the run-and-gun style of play than the slower, more tactical main story.
All maps and game modes can be mixed and matched to your liking, and online play is split between Warzone, which supports the full 32-player line-up, and Mini-Frag, which caters for smaller matches of up to eight. One on One is self-explanatory, and ideal for more intimate stalk-and-slay games with a very special friend. Suitable maps are automatically chosen for the number of players, and various factors can be modified by using different badges and medals, just as in Call of Duty and similar shooters. It's all impressively flexible, within its rather narrow feature-set, and the host can dictate the terms of any match, either by using preset conditions such as No Pistols, or using on of six empty custom slots to fine-tune their own rule-set.
It's the sort of multiplayer experience that becomes richer the longer you play. You start with just one character class, two rifles and a pistol. Each kill is worth one point, with bonuses for meeting certain victory conditions, and provided you're halfway decent you'll soon have ranked up enough to start tailoring your character to your preferred style of play. It's really only once you've unlocked these options that the multiplayer comes to life, feeling narrow in scope at first but offering enviable depth in the long term.
For those without friends, or just wanting to brush up their skills, the Skirmish option allows you to play against up to 15 AI bots on any of the maps. It's more enjoyable than it may sound, simply because the AI is generally pretty dependable and scales nicely. An AI assassination target, for instance, will automatically find a safe spot and keep his back to the wall, which is more than can be said for some of the human players I've encountered. You carry your stats from the online games into these practice bouts, but it doesn't seem to work the other way - you can't grind your level higher by playing repeated offline games against easy CPU enemies.
Taken as a whole, Killzone 2 doesn't initially seem to offer enough to justify the superlatives that have been dutifully set aside by the PS3 faithful. Despite the often-stunning graphics, it's often derivative of other titles and doesn't - on the surface - seem to have much that distinguishes it from the herd.
It's deceptive though. This is a methodical shooter that makes few concessions to those not already interested in its single-minded approach to cover-based military action. I've compared it to Rainbow Six in the past, but it also calls to mind F.E.A.R, another tough tactical effort that was often misunderstood by those expecting a frag-happy spook hunt. Killzone 2 is a taut and muscular game, a shooter that gives back more than you put in, provided you have the intestinal fortitude. It may take its time revealing its true depths and pleasures, but the journey is well worth taking. Between Killzone 2's unforgiving grit and Resistance 2's alien-bursting excess, the PS3 finally has both ends of the shooter spectrum covered in grand style.