July 24, 2007 - If you want to get a gamer angry, just say the words 'pre-rendered target video'. Nothing makes the blood boil like a company trying to pass off a CG video as in-game. And yet, here we are, two years after Sony's now-infamous E3 2005 Killzone 2 reel, and the game's 'true' unveiling was one of the most anticipated events at E3 2007. In many ways, Sony's strategy actually paid off. I mean, without that target video would many people have really shown that much interest in Killzone 2, the sequel to a PS2 game that was hugely hyped, but wound up under-delivering?
No, it was the target video that stoked the flames of interest, convincing those in attendance at the press conference - for a brief, shining moment - that Killzone 2 could be a major contender. Sure, it all came crashing down soon after, but the point is that from that moment on, Killzone 2 became a symbol of Sony's hype machine; whether you wanted to take vicarious pleasure in Sony and Guerrilla Games failing to live up to the pre-rendered vision for the game, or you were clinging to the hope that they'd come through with the goods, Killzone 2 was well and truly on everyone's radar.
Now that we've seen the game proper in action, has the company delivered on the vision? Is it possible to climb over the wall of cynicism to wow the fans who are upset by one too many Emotion Engine presentations? Is it possible to actually deliver the kind of dynamic action we saw in the original trailer? And do they even need to? Let's compare the vision to the reality. (Please note - in all screenshots, the 2005 pre-vis is at top, while the actual game that was unveiled at this year's E3 is below).
First things first, the Guerrilla guys aren't shying away from a direct comparison. The company is obviously proud of what it's been able to achieve because it has deliberately kicked off the new trailer with a very similar opening to that of the pre-rendered vid. Both open on a seemingly serene, cloud-filled sky before a soldier's face comes into shot and we realise that he's part of an invading force, about to land on the Helghast's home planet. Incredibly exposed in aerial landing ships, orders are barked and banter is exchanged as the soldiers ready themselves for the assault.
There's no doubt that the new look doesn't quite reach the levels of visual clarity of the pre-rendered clip. Two years ago we were blown away by just how smooth and detailed these character models were - from the pores in their skin, through to the incredibly lifelike hair that bustled in the high wind and the excellent lip syncing and facial animations. Technology hasn't quite caught up with that vision for Guerrilla - polygonal edges are clearly visible on the models, while the eyes still have that slightly dead look to them and the lip synching doesn't look quite right. But you know what? Great art design and a rich atmosphere is more important than being able to pick out each individual bit of stubble on a character's chin, and in this regard, both in this scene and across the rest of the footage we've seen, Killzone 2.0 (sorry, couldn't resist) has the edge. The pre-rendered trailer, while stunningly clear, also has a cartoony edge to its style and colour palette. To our minds the characters just aren't as believable. But maybe that's because such a high percentage of them are going into battle sporting fresh-from-the-salon spiky hairdos. Nonetheless, by contrast the actual game has a grittier edge and a much more understated tone. Think grey, with shades of darker grey. Works a treat though, especially against the gashes of red from bullet wounds, and the orange glow from helmets of the Helghast.
Both trailers stay in sync a little bit longer, as another troop carrier comes in close overhead, before being shot down, showing off the scale of the battle zone underneath. Here's where we see stark differences in approach (bear in mind though that these are different places; we're just comparing them as a means to examine how the art direction has changed over time). While the city in the 2005 video could almost look like it takes place on Earth; comprised as it is of criss-crossing bridges, underneath which low-rise shanty towns sprawl off into the distance, while larger, decrepit buildings lie on the outskirts, the new-look Killzone 2 is much more imposing and unearthly. The Helghast city into which the squad is flying is dense, cluttered and ramshackle - part industrial warehouses, part boarded-up urban centre. The Helghast themselves have twisted this inhospitable world for their own devices, harnessed the power of the electrically charged atmosphere, putting the power of lightning at their command. Neither night nor day, but some evil in-between, lightning strikes rend the air and the surroundings are unrelentingly bleak.