Astonishingly violent, conservatively assembled. That was how Tom described his first impressions of Killzone 2's single-player campaign way back in July 2007, and it provides a rather convenient bridge into the multiplayer side of things, as revealed in the current invite-only beta.
While other first person shooters have been busy tweaking and remixing their multiplayer components, Killzone 2 seems to be taking it back to the old school with a deliberate focus on tense, brutal action with the minimum of distracting frills. In fact, for all the talk of Halo 3, Resistance 2 and Call of Duty, the game it bears most resemblance to is the original PC version of Rainbow Six, the gritted-teeth centrepiece of so many LAN parties ten years ago.
Killzone 2's biggest innovation comes in its class system, where you can combine elements of two different disciplines to create a hybrid class that best suits your preferred style of play. Even so, the classes on offer will be instantly familiar to anyone who has spent time on the Battlefield or Team Fortress series. Scouts are the default snipers, armed with a cloaking device and the ability to spot and mark enemy units for their teammates. Tacticians can deploy spawn points and call in air support, making them useful infiltrators. Saboteurs can disguise themselves and plant bombs, while Engineers erect automated defence turrets and can repair damage. The Medic and Assault classes are much as you'd expect, offering the obvious combat and healing options.
You won't get to try any of these features though, at least not to begin with. Each class must be unlocked by levelling up through the game's military ranks, along with the ability to create clans and the expected additional weaponry rewards. It's a curious decision and one that seems at odds with the game's natural audience. "This system allows for a very natural learning curve throughout because the player is introduced more slowly to every feature, one by one," claimed Eric Boltjes, from developer Guerilla, while showing off the multiplayer modes to Kristan this August.
It's hard to imagine who will need such a gentle introduction to such a tried-and-trusted class system, however. It only takes a few minutes play to realise that Killzone 2 is as hardcore as shooters get, and it's unlikely that hardened FPS veterans will benefit from having to grind their way through the ranks in order to access all the toys they've come to expect.
This means that every player starts the game as a classless grunt, with no auxiliary abilities and a choice of just two rifles and two pistols. These weapons are thankfully extremely effective (perhaps too effective - but we'll get to that later) and you can also boost your chances by joining a four-man squad. Since the game supports up to 32 players, this means that each side can have four organised squads at work rather than sixteen loose cannons. Apart the clear tactical advantage of this division of labour, the biggest benefit of squad play is that you can respawn alongside the squad leader, rather than back at the base, as well as use a private chat channel to coordinate your movements with your comrades.
In terms of gameplay on offer, the beta offers all the proposed game modes and three of the game's maps on which to try them. Body Count is your basic Team Deathmatch mode, but there doesn't seem to be a traditional "every man for himself" Deathmatch option. Search and Retrieve is your Capture the Flag variation, while Search and Destroy takes much the same form but swaps retrieval for planting bombs. Assassination is perhaps the most interesting mode, randomly selecting a player as the target and tasking their team with protecting them while the opposing side does their best to kill them to bits within a strict time limit.