When Sony announced the PlayStation 3 at the 2005 Electronic Entertainment Expo, its centerpiece was a breathtaking chunk of footage from a game called "Killzone 2."

The clip, which showed a squad of troopers descending on a city and battling alien forces, was so dramatic that many viewers questioned whether the game itself could possibly live up to it.

Four years later, the verdict is in: "Killzone 2" ($59.99) is awe-inspiring.

With crisp, cinema-quality graphics and immersive sound design, this first-person shooter feels like an interactive version of a big-screen war epic.

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In the first "Killzone," the ruthless Emperor Visari invaded your home, Vekta, with his red-eyed, gas-mask-wearing Helghast army. Now you get to return the favor.

After a brief sequence of your team crash-landing on the planet Helghan, you're immediately surrounded by enemies, and it's time to start blasting.

Visari has transformed Helghan into a war factory, a nature-free wasteland of concrete, iron and gunmetal-gray skies. It's jaw-droppingly vivid, as nightmarishly beautiful as the post-apocalyptic Washington of last year's "Fallout 3."

Within this blasted hellscape, Dutch studio Guerrilla Games has carved out a clever variety of scenarios. You may begin a mission by sneaking through the cramped corridors of an abandoned building, then suddenly emerge into a full-scale outdoor brawl with dozens of other soldiers.

You may have to battle Helghast aboard a speeding train, or take the controls of a relentless mech and start firing off rockets.

It's not an easy fight, even for first-person shooter aficionados. The enemies' artificial intelligence is uncanny, with different foes using different tactics. Some try to pick you off from a distance, some throw grenades and some will try to sneak up and stab you.

You won't get very far on Helghan if you're a run-and-gun gamer; you need to use cover judiciously and know when to pop your head out and take a shot.

The multiplayer options are robust, with all the usual variations (deathmatch, capture the flag and so on) for up to 32 warriors. More intriguing is the ability to improve your character or change his class (say, to a medic or a saboteur) with points earned every time you play online.

The flaws in "Killzone 2," beyond the negligible, kill-or-be-killed plot, are relatively minor. The dialogue and voice acting, for the most part, are amateurish. And Rico, your partner most of the way, is one of the most juvenile, annoying characters ever to strap on a machine gun.

When the original "Killzone" was released for the PlayStation 2 in 2004, it was hyped as the game that would take down Microsoft's landmark "Halo." It fell far short of that goal, with sloppy controls, inconsistent graphics and weak AI.

In "Killzone 2," Guerrilla has answered all those complaints -- and given the mighty "Halo" franchise something to live up to.

Three-and-a-half stars.