It was in the spring of 2009. The sun was finding its way through the clouds once again, and birds began to chirp. It was around this time that I purchased my Playstation 3 with a copy of Killzone 2, Guerrilla Games‘s second entry in the Killzone franchise and a great addition to the FPS market as a whole. Fast forward two years and many played multiplayer games later, the third game, aptly named Killzone 3, has been released into the wild. Does it improve on past designs or sink like a stone in a quagmire of angry nerd rage?
In no surprise to anyone, Killzone 3 is set after the happenings of Killzone 2 on the planet Helghan. After the Helghan president is shot and killed (by one of your squad members no less), the Helghast army does not admit defeat but rather bands together under the combined guidance of an advisory board that apparently existed all along that we just now found out about. The majority of the game is set six months after the assassination, with the ISA (“the good guys”) still fighting the incensed Helghast on their home turf. We learn early on that there is turmoil within the board that can only lead to differing opinions and DRAMA. One of the Helghan board members looks like Billy-Bob Thornton, too, so that’s fun. And that is essentially the set-up. The Killzone games were never especially known for their stories, full of heroes that never get hurt who do things that would never make sense to anyone, but at least they are not cookie-cutter facsimiles of Call of Duty (it’s on another planet!).
Let’s get the easy stuff out of the way to begin with. Killzone 3 does look great. You probably could have expected this if you have played or seen a screenshot of Killzone 2. Characters and enemies are big and menacing and nearly everything has nice textures and are “weathered.” The weapons that you get to use all look like distressed and worn from many days of the battlefield. The locations that you get to see vary wildly from what was offered in the last game, as well. There is a snow area filled with whirling, frantic flurries that just looks great, and an evil jungle that is full of colors that are not brown. Among the first person shooters that this game is going up against, it is fairly easy to observe its visual superiority over others.
Along with simply looking good, the character animations are generally well done. The motion capturing is pretty spot on all around, but of note are the facial animations for, at least, the two main characters. I am enjoying how far gaming has come in terms of creeping along towards the uncanny valley. The character you play as, Sevchenko, in particular always looks great when you see him in cut scenes while speaking or otherwise. These animations are not L.A. Noirish in quality, but they hold their own well. Cutscenes, however, are pretty hit and miss, to be honest. While they look good, some end abruptly and don’t always convey a sense of added plot or necessity.
While you will be hard pressed to find visual quality jacked to the max like this game presents, there are some downsides. Somewhat reminiscent of – stay with me – Final Fantasy VII, the backdrops of this war feel at times rather static. It’s a hard thing to say, really, because they don’t look the part at all; there are myriad things to shoot and break. But it does take you out of the world a bit when characters don’t leave footprints – no matter how insignificant – in the sand or a graduated cylinder on a desk has more structural integrity than the metal panel right next to it. In the end, this is a minor complaint, because the world and the characters within are great, but the trade-off of having everything be super polished/gritty is that things may not react all too realistically because there aren’t enough hours in the day to make them so. And I don’t fault the developers at all; it’s impossible to animate everything. It’s simply that as we get more realistic, these things seem to stick out just a bit more than they might otherwise. Don’t let this minor quibble sway you away from the game, though. It’s still one of, if not the, sharpest looking shooters in the genre.
Much has been said about the reduction – and near complete – reduction in how “heavy” the weapons are for this game. If you don’t know what I am talking about, Killzone 2 incorporated “weighted” weapons that moved much more realistically than most shooters. When you turned, the weapon would follow but you could really feel how the character was having to heft whatever killing device he had at the time. Basically, it wasn’t 1:1 at all times; some drag existed. Some people liked it, and some didn’t. In the end, Guerilla Games decided to tone down the weight. Now gun movement is much like other shooters, having little “weight” or drag as you move.
Coming from Killzone 2, it definitely feels odd at first for the Killzone world. After a few minutes, however, that feeling goes away and you don’t necessarily think about it. One big improvement for me is in the area of sniping. Before, once you looked down the scope of the sniper rifle, you would have to fine-tune the shot using the six-axis. While this is interesting on paper, in practice I never found it to be the most reliable way of doing that action. Basically, it wasn’t that fun. Now, aiming the sniper rifle acts the same way as any other shooty weapon, and that’s a plus.
The only downsides regarding gameplay shows itself in the much touted mech combat. As fun as climbing into a giant bipedal robot of doom should be, it never quite clicked with me. With each step your aim is thrown off due to the romper-stomping of the machine, forcing you to continually re-adjust against an ever-shaking screen. I can see that from a multiplayer standpoint not making them be omnipotent killing suits that have perfect, steady aim, but when thinking of them in the context of a war-machine on the front lines, it seems counter-productive to have a obviously advanced piece of weaponry shake and shimmy so much.
On a more positive note, the new “brutal” melee kills are pretty great. Depending on the situation, attempting to melee will result in a variety of animations on how your character actually gets the job done. What has been shown quite a bit online are various stabbing and general knifery, but I think my favorite thing I have seen is my character kicking a poor Helghan soldier off into a hole. I had this idea that all of the melee kills would just be these intense, super-close affairs, but as a bad guy ran buy, I happened to push the melee button and off he went. It was simple but effective.
This review might be odd because multiplayer really is the core of the game and I am not going to spend much time on it, but bear with me. The online component of the game could fill its own review, so let’s just focus on some of the main changes.
First of all, overall multiplayer in Killzone 3 needs to be lauded and put up to the same level of discussion as the CoDs and Halos if it’s not already. I always feel like those games get more attention because they are “bigger” titles, but let’s be honest, Modern Warfare has became painfully unfun and Halo is pretty much just Halo. Returning in this third installment is Killzone 2’s “Warzone,” a multiphase, multi-objective mode that generally keeps online games fresh and interesting. Basically, during a Warzone match, the game type will change after certain conditions are met. You may start a game simply playing as a straight-up killfest, but after a certain amount of time (or kills) it will pick at random another game type, ranging from a capture-the-flag mode to defending an area to protecting one member of your team. In all there are about six or so different modes one Warzone game will cycle through, and it’s always interesting.
New to the game an objective based mode called Operations that has one team trying to gain access to an area and the other defending. I haven’t put too much time into this mode, to be honest, but what I did seemed interesting. Players are visually rewarded with in-game cutscenes that display who is doing the best by showing teammates blow open a door or defend a position. Every time you can be sure that someone will say, “Yeah, I blew up that thing good!” or something of similar effect. It’s definitely a fun reward system on top of simply trying to do better for more points.
The only other multiplayer mode offered is standard deathmatch, which for Killzone never seems that interesting considering the other options.
Killzone 3 still offers its multiple classes, but has refined – to some’s chagrin – how leveling up works. Instead of unlocking new classes as you go, all classes are available from the start, and you have full reign on deciding what skills to unlock as you gain levels. Each level gives you a point, and you use those points to get new stuff. On the one hand, this system is nice. You get to play as any class and get a feel for what you want to unlock through experimentation. On the OTHER hand, sometimes it feels like giving everyone everything from the beginning takes some of the clout away from it all. In the last game, when you saw someone sniping, you could tell that they had put in the time to unlock that class and probably would be a more valuable teammate as a result. Here it’s more of a crapshoot. That’s not to say the new system is bad, but it takes a little getting used to, and some people I know are disliking it. The only gripe about this new system is the inclusion of proximity mines. They are a little annoying, but that’s my fault for sucking.
Another gripe that I have heard, and I will mildly agree with, is how matchmaking is handled. Before, you could see a server list and choose which game you wanted to play, but now it’s totally automated and chooses for you. While some might like the option of scrolling through a big list of servers, I don’t wholly mind not choosing. What I WOULD like to see, though, is if your clanmates are in a game, I would like to be able to see some details on possibly how long they have been in the game or how many players there are playing in the match. Right you have to wait, and since messaging with the PS3 has always not been that great, it is a little more of a hassle.
And lastly regarding multiplayer, on a sheer aesthetic point of view, the way the multiplayer screens and names flicker drives me a little bonkers. All of the menu screens for the game exist within what looks like a Helghan computer terminal, with red text and lines that are slightly curved that mimics the glass on an old CRT monitor. It looks fine, but when you push Select to pull up the list of players in your match, this “Helghan terminal” look will flicker and fade, and the names come in and out of focus, etc. It’s a nice effect, but I don’t know if there really needs to be a reason to make, say, muting someone, more difficult. But this is more of a nit-picky thing than anything else. All in all, multiplayer still shines, and since this mode is where you will be spending the majority of your time, it damn well better.
There is also an offline Coop mode that I did not get a chance to play, just so you know. Additionally, I wrote far more about multiplayer than I had originally intended.
Recommending this game is fairly easy if you want a new shooter. That’s really the long and short of it. It’s solid all around but with a few chinks in the armor, like the story, for example. When I started this post, I had several misgivings about the story and what the single player campaign was having me do, but those have mostly subsided now that I am fully finished with the game. I suppose it’s less of a “roller coaster” and more of a “ferry boat ride” of emotion, all told.
As PS3 exclusive shooters go, you will be hard pressed to find something that is better made with such good online options, although you definitely have MAG and Socom 4 if space fantasy isn’t your thing. If you are a little burned out on shooters and looking for something “new” and “fresh” on the market, this may not be the thing you are after, as it doesn’t really re-invent much. But if it comes down to whether or not you will have fun, you most likely will, and if any game can say that then they are probably doing their job.