Say what you will about the history of the Killzone franchise, you’ve got to hand it to Guerilla Games for delivering when they need to. The original Killzone showed great potential on PS2 but suffered from some serious misfires. Knowing the sequel could correct those, Sony made the brash move to unveil Killzone 2 in what was perceived by most to be a tech demo but touted by SCEA as a testament to the power of the PlayStation 3 — before the console even launched. Well, Killzone 2 improved in every way on its predecessor, and it provided some scripted events and set pieces that rivaled the best in the Call of Duty franchise. Fast-forward a few years, and Killzone 3 has arrived to keep your blood pumping and your trigger fingers busy while blasting Helghast in stereoscopic 3D. If Killzone 2 was a tech demo for the PS3, then Killzone 3 is a tech demo for the future of first-person shooters in 3D.
It just so happens to be a dang fun game, too.
Killzone 3 picks up where Killzone 2 left off, with the ISA (generally perceived as the good guys) fighting a drawn-out and overwhelming battle against the Helghast army even after the ISA assassinates the Helghast commander-in-chief. With the Helghast president out of the picture, the ISA finds itself battling what amounts to a wounded animal: a massive army led by a board of directors whose two leaders are fighting for control of both the armed forces and the planet’s future. Political intrigue aside, this presents some interesting gameplay twists and turns, as players get an occasional “oh crap” moment as the Helghast bust out some experimental weaponry that forces you to change tactics mid-stream.
That’s actually saying quite a bit, because Killzone 3 maintains a nearly schizophrenic pace in its gameplay diversity to begin with, even without taking into account new and different weapons. The gameplay feels almost Call of Duty-esque in its pacing (and linearity), but it’s even more rapid-fire in its execution. One level sees players going completely run-and-gun and testing the game’s awesome cover mechanic, while the next is an on-rails turret sequence, followed by a brief spate with heavy weapons, only to then be tossed into a mission dependent upon stealth and sniping. Mid-mission, however, all that stealth goes out the window, and players have to run-and-gun again, only to be greeted by a subsequent chapter with another on-rails turret sequence that leads into a traditional combat mission sprinkled with new jetpack mechanics.
And yes, that’s pretty much how the game goes. Not only is the combat intense and the AI generally good enough to keep you guessing, but the structure of the game changes enough that you are never, ever bored in Killzone 3. In the over-saturated world of first-person shooters, that’s frankly quite an achievement, and certainly something Guerilla Games can be proud of.
One of the challenges of presenting this fast-paced gameplay mix is the need to balance the frenetic pace with some moments of calm to help players gather their wits and unclench their fists from the controller. Unfortunately, rather than let these calmer moments take place in-game or via semi-interactive in-engine sequences, Killzone 3 relies far too heavily on pre-rendered cutscenes, to the point that I made more than one snarky allusion to the Metal Gear series. I’m all for exposition — believe me, I’m just about the biggest story and narrative nut around — but Guerilla Games really should have found a more immersive way to tell the story while letting players cool off a few degrees. The cutscenes as they are, though excellent, are just far too frequent and too long, and they really pull you from the game more than they draw you into it. It also doesn’t help to have the story jump timelines as much as it does. If the pilot for NBC’s “The Event” turned you off, then the timeline in Killzone 3 will just about make you ill.
To be fair, though, the single-player experience is probably going to be an afterthought to many gamers, as Killzone 3 has a substantial multiplayer component. Split-screen gamers will rejoice with the support of split-screen co-op, and old-school gamers who remember Goldeneye and the like will be stoked about ‘bots being available in all the same game types you’ll find online. However, the lack of online co-op is a total head-scratcher, and in this reviewer’s opinion a complete miss.
For the more combative online players, though, Killzone 3 has a nice class-based system that allows gamers to earn ranks and points to upgrade their online character similar to the COD games and others. The five classes aren’t unique by any stretch, but they certainly add a level of strategy and let players embrace their own online identity. For instance, if you’re a fixer-upper, you’ll want to choose the Engineer so you can repair damaged machines and turrets, while the Marksman will be keen on sniping and the Infiltrator will be perfect for sneaky cosplay/espionage types. Field Medic is the best class for the lovers in your group, while the Tactician — a role that has more strategic value than arguably any other — can create spawn areas throughout the level.
Is Killzone 3 deep enough to snipe PSN players from the COD: Black Ops fold? Probably not. Is Killzone 3 outstanding enough to warrant single-player awards for its narrative? Nope. But let there be no doubt that when it comes to intense gameplay that gives not one spare second for players to catch their breath or laze their way into a routine, Killzone 3 is near the top of the pack. The fact that it’s the best-looking game we’ve seen and happens to support full stereoscopic 3D is just icing on the cake.
Platform reviewed: PlayStation 3
– Jonas Allen