I was shit at Killzone 2’s legendary online multiplayer. When each game invariably ended up with both sides in a vicious bottleneck around some key objective, I made for natural cannon fodder. Strike me down, I get up again, but then I go right back to where I was struck down. Rinse and repeat. Occasionally one brave soul — or in my jealous mind, a depraved basement dweller online since 2009 — would breach enemy frontlines and scatter the battlefield right back to its former directionless chaos. From there I’d be able to subsist on a modest killing spree until some sly nemesis realised I was more predictable than the AI in Pong and could be repeatedly stalked, trapped, and dispatched for a points multiplier worthy of a Wetherspoons fruit machine.
The online mode, Warzone, was closed down on March 29 by Killzone 2’s developer Guerrilla Games after nine years of being one of the greats. Why did I keep returning to it? Because despite my frustration at being irredeemably bad, the game still managed to be incredibly fun. The deep progression systems and game modes gave it an eternal appeal perhaps only matched by the original Battlefront 2 and Call of Duty 4.
The game to which it bears the most striking resemblance is Team Fortress 2. There are several classes, each of which must be unlocked. The Medic throws health-packs and revives with his defibrillator, a weapon also endowed with a little-known insta-kill attack when aimed at the head, just like a real defibrillator. The Saboteur flits behind enemy lines wearing his own clothes, before stabbing his new friends in the back. Unless I was playing as him, which would generally end up in being instantly recognised and subsequently machine-gunned from so many angles I wouldn’t even have time to issue a formal written apology for my deception.
The heavy wears thick armour and, counter to type, runs very quickly. Bless him. And his cruel thermal rocket launcher. The tactician throws spawn points and calls in air-support which dives and strafes like a t-rex had sex with an Amazon delivery drone, which probably will happen at some point. The tactician’s spawn points directed the flow of action in a way that pre-set spawn points simply can’t. You can throw one inside an enemy base to create a deadly new front-line, or alternatively, as I did, you can throw one well away from the action for those in need of a quick mid-match crisis couples’ retreat. Or therapy from all the violence. Engineers could build and repair turrets, and while grunts had no abilities they could choose any weapon they pleased. Snipers could mark enemies and when completely still become invisible.
There were a lot of options. Game modes de-incentivised lone-wolf kill sprees to the extent that I actually got a buzz out of reviving people. That a game titled “Killzone” made me feel anything but primitive rage and bloodlust towards my fellow man is a wondrous thing. The game mode “Assassination”, for instance, provoked acts of such charity in fellow players it near moved me to tears. A player is selected as the ‘target’, and essentially has to hide from the enemy team whilst his own comrades defend him. Seeing my digital allies gather around me in a protective wall to hold back the sixteen hitmen enthusiastically trying to murder me, whilst I cowardly hid behind a shelf, was so touching I almost short-circuited my controller through sheer weeping. Protecting others chosen as the target proved equally poignant, and shotgunning the faces of virtual infantry in a fortified lecture-hall never felt so endearing.
Lots of the mode’s success was undoubtedly down to the maps. Whilst credited by some as a forerunner in the early 2010s ‘mud brown’ aesthetic movement, the game’s battlegrounds are weighty and tangible; rusted boards creak amid war-swept sand-dunes, tarmac crumbles underfoot and grey panels bounce white heat across charred surfaces. The maps themselves are claustrophobic and labyrinthine, and the endless routes laid out in front of you each bristle with traps and sudden encounters. Some maps offer lines of sight from one and to the other, and the brightly gleaming eyes of an enemy can betray the most remote hiding place. Joining ‘squads’ allows you to form a little gang around a leader who functions as a walking spawn point, and you develop a brief bond as you traverse with them across the battlefield, if you’re lonely enough in real life.
Killzone 2 Online will be sorely missed by friends, family, and the thirty-six weirdos who still played it nine years after release.
Shame I was so shit at it.