Poor Sony. It's hard to sympathize with them these days. Poised for another easy first-place finish in the console race, they released a device with a $600 premium just in time for a global recession. Of course, that price point was part of the plan all along. From its first baby steps onto the market, the PlayStation 3 was poised to be the connoisseur's gaming system - its sleek curves and glossy black finish recalling less a child's toy than a concert grand piano. But while they may have created the first piece of videogame hardware you could comfortable sit next to the humidor in a book-lined study, its platform-exclusive software doesn't seem nearly that exclusive.
Which is why the arrival of Killzone 2 last Friday is nearly as important as the hair-trigger fanboys would lead you to believe. It's the rare PS3 exclusive that truly makes a case for the system as something more than an overpriced Xbox 360, and it does it on Microsoft's own turf: first-person shooters. That's not to say that Killzone 2 is the best title the genre has produced, but it's certainly the most sophisticated - in graphics, gameplay and overall presentation. It's also the first game about space marines traveling to a distant planet to duke it out with their mutated humanoid brethren that you could rightfully call "subtle" - at least by videogame standards.
Simply deeming Killzone 2 one of the most graphically advanced games ever is a cop out, as if you could crank the sliders and twist the knobs of another engine just a bit further and achieve the same effect. Instead, the creatives at Guerilla Games approached the game's world design with a cinematographer's eye for light and perspective. Some details are almost imperceptibly small - an understated blur here, a hint of lens flare there - but the end result is staggering. You feel somehow more "present" in this world than in any digital playground to come before it.
Thankfully, that sense of uncanny realism isn't squandered on a mediocre setting. Though Killzone 2's Helghan is unsurprisingly desolate, the Helghast's severe architecture and sinister stormtrooper attire imbues the world with character. In a field where so many games are about shooting Nazis, it's refreshing to find a one that implies fascism without lazily resorting to swastikas or shrieks of German dialect. And while the plot is riddled with the same forgettable characters and bloated drama as most first-person shooters, it doesn't intrude on the game's eerie atmosphere.