When Killzone 2 hit the PS3 two years ago it was a landmark release for Sony’s console. As an exclusive Sony published FPS with a massive budget (not to mention an incredibly long development cycle), it was positioned as the title that would allow the system to take its place alongside the Xbox 360 as a serious platform for big budget shooters. Sure, there were plenty of multi-platform titles available, but aside from the Resistance franchise, a stand-out shooter exclusive to the PS3 was nowhere to be found. If that wasn’t enough, the title was also tasked with living up to the seemingly unattainable visual benchmark set by its CG trailer way back in 2005. Guerrilla Games ultimately made fools of its detractors and came about as close to living up to those lofty expectations as was humanly possible. Killzone 2 received praise from critics and gamers alike and has since moved well over a million units.
The question you’re wondering now, though, is whether or not the Netherlands developer was up to the challenge of repeating that success given a substantially shorter development period. Just as with the previous release, Sony has positioned Killzone 3 as a showpiece title for its console’s abilities. The shooter features full support for 3D, the Playstation Move and its gun shell attachments. So has Guerrilla delivered a repeat performance? Well, the answer isn’t so simple this time around. Certainly, Killzone 3 is an excellent shooter that fans of the last game will thoroughly enjoy. The trouble is the game feels all too familiar to its predecessor and is highly unlikely to attract newcomers to the series.
After an opening sequence that slogs along before finally hitting a nice little twist, the game again puts players in the boots of series hero Tomas “Sev” Sevchenko. Once you’ve had a peek into the future of the war on Helghan, Guerrilla snaps you back six months to the immediate aftermath of the events in Killzone 2. Staring down an imminent defeat at the hands of the ISA, Helghan leader Scolar Visari ordered a nuclear strike on his own capital. This further decimated the already war-torn planet of Helghan. What this means is that you’ll be blasting your way through plenty of ruined urban environments full of good ol’ brown and gray. Since the game uses the same engine and setting as the previous outing, gunning down the red-eyed Helghast troops has a serious déjà vu feeling to it.
Thankfully, however, Guerrilla has combated this issue by throwing in an impressive variety of mission types and even some stark departures from the more familiar backdrops. Oh sure, you’ll experience plenty of the traditional cover shooting missions. But you’ll also get behind the controls of many vehicles for on-rails segments. They haven’t stopped there, though; Killzone 3 also features jet pack battles, sniping segments and even a surprisingly enjoyable stealth mission. Just as it begins to feel like the game has slipped back into leaning on its classic mechanics down the home stretch, Guerrilla Games sends you out into space for some dogfighting action. Without getting into the minutia of every single mission, let’s just say that there is a lot to do here.
Despite the occasional frustration caused by not being able to steer any vehicle (with the exception of the mech suits), vehicle battles are a definite highlight. Unleashing tremendous amounts of firepower on troops, ships and vehicles and watching as they are blown to bits is always a good time. Similarly, movable turrets can be used to gun down enemy troops at an almost disturbingly effective rate. More impressive yet are the close-quarter melee kills. Breaking an unsuspecting victim’s neck or plunging your knife into a soldier’s eye are brutal spectacles to behold.
Aside from new mission types, series vets are sure to pick up on some changes to the game controls. The Killzone series has always felt a little different in this aspect than most of its competition. Characters were intentionally designed to feel a bit more weighted which resulted in turning and aiming to be perceived by some as sluggish. Most fans of the series actually appreciated this approach to dual analogue, though.
Regardless of which side of the fence you find yourself on, you’ll have to adapt to more speedy movement in this sequel. The revamp is a welcome change for me, as I was never able to become fully acclimated to the old system. Fans of the classic controls need not get too worried, however. Killzone 3’s controls remain unique from its brethren and have not completely abandoned the weighted feel. I felt like a far more efficient killing machine than in the last go around and maintain the opinion that this middle ground was a good choice and should satisfy mostly everyone. Although this is more than what can be said about controlling Sev with the Move.
When Nintendo first unveiled motion controls, everyone assumed that FPS controls would be magically revolutionized with them. That didn’t quite work out but Sony has definitely hit a bit closer to the mark with their more precise Move controller. Despite a wide array of options to tweak aiming and moving, however, motion controls still feel like an interesting alternative to dual analogue rather than the superior input method everyone assumed they would become. They actually work quite well for on-rails segments and stationary turret firing. That being said, I wouldn’t recommend playing the whole game with the Move or jumping into competitive modes with it. Obviously there is some personal preference involved here, though, so you might want to make that call on your own.
One thing we can all agree on is that Killzone 3 is one hell of a good looking game. Graphics whores might bemoan the graphical hit the game has taken to include 3D, but the title is still a stunner. The animations are silky smooth and the environments are gorgeous. Helping to differentiate this game from its predecessor is a greater variety in locations. My personal favorite was an early level that seemed to cross a rocky mountainous region with alien plant life that would seem more at home in a swamp. As you look around at the vibrant colors juxtaposed against the craggy rocks, you might question whether or not you are still on Helghan. The most impressive visual feat, though, has got to be the destructible environments. Buildings and cover will routinely be ripped to shreds as the battles rage on which adds greatly to the immersion factor.
Like most any major shooter, Killzone 3 has both cooperative and competitive multiplayer modes to go along with the single player. Making your way through the campaign is a tad easier with an on or offline friend in tow. The communication aspect allows for more efficient flanking maneuvers as well as quicker healing when you’re bleeding out. I did encounter one glitch in the mech level that caused my partner or I to spontaneously explode, but things went much smoother once we bull rushed through that hiccup.
Online matches are another matter, however. It is a real disappointment that despite having a beta prior to release, the online is full of headaches. You sometimes have to wait an excessive amount of time before being able to join a match but that’s the least of your worries. The biggest issue is the barrage of errors that crop up. One nasty message that I kept getting was “The world is full.” Really? So you’ve got all the players you need already, huh? I’m sure that Guerrilla is working on fixing the problems via a future update, but it’s more than a little off-putting that they shipped the game in this state.
On the bright side, it’s well worth putting up with these annoyances to jump into Killzone 3’s online world. The death match style games and objective modes are deep enough to draw you in for the long haul. In case you needed more incentive than clever game play and a healthy selection of maps, the leveling system in place will keep you striving for that next upgrade to even the playing field with.
There are several class types that you can jump between and individually spend points on for unlocks. Although you may feel woefully underpowered at first, you’ll quickly unlock the weapons and abilities that are key to your survival. I would have much preferred the exclusion of the spy-type class which allows you to disguise yourself as a member of the other side. The game already suffers heavily because of the difficulty in identifying friends and foes in the split second before you are potentially killed, and this class only exacerbates it. Of course everyone is always going to have their own favorite (and least favorite) classes and I guess you now know one of mine.
The game features standard death match (Guerrilla Warfare), a strict offense/defense mode (Operations), and the dynamic Warzone game type. Warzone, returning from Killzone 2, is a great variant that features constantly changing conditions for victory (kill the VIP, plant the propaganda device, rack up more kills than the other team, etc). You’re constantly kept on your toes while playing it as changing tactics on the fly is vital to victory.
Although much has been recycled from the last game, Killzone 3 ups the ante with enough new content to justify a purchase. Long-time fans of the franchise are sure to pleased with what is on hand here, but it won’t win over too many gamers who were put off by Killzone’s previous offerings. I can’t imagine anyone who enjoys futuristic FPS’s not having a good time with this game, though. This is easily the best release in the franchise even though its over-reliance on some old tricks prevents it from being the stand-out star that Killzone 2 was.