The quintessential Sony FPS has returned. Two years after the bittersweet ending to Killzone 2, we are back in the shoes of Sevchenko. Helghan are ready to take revenge on all of the ISA invading forces and your orders are to run away with your tail between your legs. Somehow, though, I doubt that’s how it is really going to go down.
If you've played Killzone 2, then you'll know that the storyline leaves a lot to be desired. Killzone 3 improves this in some areas but falters in others. The first improvement is that the ISA squad that the game focuses on has been culled down and you never have to hear that annoying Natko ever again. Unfortunately, the ISA-focused portions of the story are still pretty dull and only become interesting during the more action based portions of cut scenes. You can foresee what happens in these parts of the story from a mile away as they use every military movie staple they can cram into a single game. When the story focuses on the Helghan and the power struggles amongst their leadership after the loss of Visari, however, it’s a marked improvement. These sections are the minority but they were able to keep my attention without having to be action oriented. One final complaint about the story is that the ending felt like it was trying to force players to feel how they did at the end of the last game without the proper set up. It’s hard to get an emotional attachment to someone you have never seen before.
Gameplay is much like the previous game, but the campaign offers a bit more variety than it did before. Sure it’s nothing like switching from an FPS into a side scrolling puzzler (then again I can’t really think of a game that does that) but there are a number of different vehicle-based segments that help to break up the gameplay. Gunplay feels a bit faster and turning is less "laggy", but the game is still clearly not a run and gun type shooter. If you pop your head out from cover for too long in the single player, you are definitely going to get slaughtered. One irritation I had while playing through the main capaign was that I thought staying in cover required holding the L2 button the entire time. Afterwards I was informed that there was an option in the advanced control settings that turns the L2 crouching into a toggle, so keep that in mind if you have the same issue.
Luckily there is almost always a friendly AI around ready to revive you during a mishap such as absent mindedly letting go of L2 and getting shot in the face. You can’t rely too heavily on this, though, because sometimes they won’t be near enough to revive you, and if you get injured too many times in short succession, you’ll lose the ability to “walk it off”. I was kind of surprised by how many times I died on the standard difficulty. Checkpoints are rarely far off, though, so it didn’t get too frustrating. One aspect of gameplay kept from Killzone 2 that I really wish they had changed is the use of the six axis motion controls for just a couple of actions during the game like turning a valve or setting a charge to blow a door. These were a surprising inclusion in Killzone 2 and a great illustration that six axis controls could be used well, but now the novelty has worn off, and all these sections do is take me out of the moment when I have to turn my controller back and forth to simulate the motion of turning a wheel.
Speaking of motion controls, Killzone 3 is the first big budget PS3 shooter to allow you to play with the Move controller if you so choose. You have all the customization options one would expect from a pointer based shooter, such as changing the sensitivity and aiming dead zone. It can be a little tough to take demanding shots because the rumble from each bullet fired makes it difficult to keep the pointer steady, but obviously this was by design. My main issue with the control scheme was that a few actions required you to press a face button, and these are just too tiny to differentiate easily. I only played using this control scheme for about 20 minutes, since it isn’t what I prefer, but if motion controls are your thing, the Move implementation in this game will do you just fine.
Single Player is a nice little distraction, but the true heart and soul of Killzone is definitely in the multiplayer. Killzone 3 has a number of great additions and tweaks to Killzone 2’s formula but, as with the story, there are definitely some downsides as well. The first major change to the online set up is that instead of linearly unlocking the classes, you have access to all of the classes right from the get go. You can then use points earned by getting kills and completing objectives in matches to upgrade each class with new skills.
Skills for each class are similar to Killzone 2 except for a few notable additions and changes. Tacticians are the only class that can take control of spawn points around the map. They still have the bots from Killzone 2, but they are notably more deadly this time around, and can mark targets to easily keep track of all the enemies near them. Field Medics can not only resurrect people, but also have a healing aura and a flying sentry robot they can deploy. Engineers are largely the same as before, but turrets can be upgraded with missiles and are in general deadlier. Marksmen are rebalanced, losing their marking ability but gaining a passive radar jamming ability. Last and my current favorite in the online I’ve played is Infiltrator, which you can upgrade for a longer lasting disguise, and eventually, the ability to run for forever.
It’s really nice that the developers changed the unlock system to make it less linear and allow people to play the class they want right from the beginning, but I was sad to see that there was less choice in the game modes. In Killzone 2, you were able to edit the warzone type match to include or not include whichever missions you wanted. If you didn’t like Body Count, for example, you didn’t have to play it. Killzone 3 goes for a simpler and more restrictive match set up with only three possibilities: Guerilla Warfare, Operations, and the old standard Warfare.
Guerilla Warfare is a standard death match on smaller maps for which the infiltrator might be a bit overpowered. Warzone is the Killzone tried and true mode with various missions that cycle through the match requiring different objectives to be completed, like protecting or destroying an area, or assassinating a member of the other team. You cannot edit which missions appear. Lastly, there is a new game mode in Killzone called Operations. This is a match defined by specific objectives that the ISA must complete while the Helghan do their best to stop them. I really liked this last mode, but I felt that some of the objectives were poorly thought out, like one that required the ISA to get a battery from the Helghan base. Being forced to run into the enemy’s base and getting killed by their bots seems like it’s far too imbalanced in the defender’s favor.
Killzone 2 was one of the best looking games at the time and really surprised me with its technical graphics. Since then, however, other games have come to take the crown, such as Uncharted 2 and God of War 3, and although Killzone 3 looks quite amazing, I don’t think it has taken its crown back. As in the previous game, there are freezes when the game is saving, but they seem more noticeable than before. There are some other small blemishes like ammo canisters that at a second glance look like soda cans with bullet wallpaper on them. On a positive note, though, Killzone 3 does a much better job of making Helghan feel like an alien world by throwing you into areas with fauna taking center stage. It isn’t quite the huge variety of scenery I was hoping for, but the additions of snow and jungle based levels really help to keep the game from looking too monotonous.
Musically, Killzone 3 is again very similar to its predecessor. It has some great music, but this can get a bit repetitive at times. Voice acting has gotten better, mostly because the story doesn't include some of the more irritating characters like Natko. There’s still quite a lot of Frat Boy posturing that can get tiresome, but the bad dialogue is delivered well by the actors themselves.
If I had to choose Killzone 3’s biggest flaw, it would have to be the value. Like in the last game, the single player campaign is very short, only taking me five and a half hours to complete. They took out the collectibles from before, but there are still multiple difficulty levels to provide some replay value. One welcome addition is the inclusion of a cooperative campaign, but its implementation is unfortunate. Killzone 2 got some complaints because it had the perfect set up for cooperative play in the campaign, but was solely a single player experience.
Killzone 3 tries to rectify this by allowing you to play through the campaign with a buddy, but instead of taking control of the almost always present Rico your friend has to be content with taking the reigns of a blissfully silent Natko who, from what I saw, is never mentioned in the cut scenes. The story stays completely the same and the buddy-buddy moments like helping each other up a high ledge are still handled by the AI, so the second player barely feels like he’s there. When the options include a totally unique cooperative campaign, and seamlessly working a 2nd player into the already present story, Guerilla Games went for the worst possible option of neither.
Lastly, you have the multiplayer which is just as fun and addictive as the last game, but since there isn’t as much of a grind to get what you want, like having to get to General just to play as a Marksman, I feel like it won’t last me as long. I can understand why the developers would want to cut out the grind, but it was kind of nice working your way through the ranks as you got new classes. The Operations mode is a cool addition, but there aren’t that many maps, and they have no randomness to them, so I could definitely see it getting tiresome.
Overall, Killzone 3 is an amazing game, but I just don’t think it has the impact that KIllzone 2 did. What was once a graphical showcase for what the PS3 can do when you push it is now just par for the course. The added variety to environments and the tweaks to the class system are great, but I think I’ll really miss the editable Warzone, and the final boss could use some work. All this is somewhat meaningless, though, because in the end it’s still that Killzone multiplayer fun that fans have been craving, so a little chink in the armor here or there is unlikely to change anyone’s mind, and I’m not sure that it should.