A first person shooter from Guerilla Games, published by Sony Computer Entertainment Europe (SCEE), Killzone 3 is (nearly) here. Releasing on the 24th of February, Killzone 3 continues right where part 2 finished up - we’re not going to spoil the story of either that game or this one here, but know this: things are intense. Our protagonists have got their backs up against the wall and not only are they facing an enemy that’s insurmountable in number and unshakable in resolve, but the wall their backs are up against is made out of knives. And fire. You get the idea - it’s a variant on a story as old as time; take on ridiculous odds and attempt the impossible.
Action is, as expected, from the first person. The controls are tight and, while there still doesn’t appear to be any level of aim-assist (like there is in Microsoft’s iconic Halo series), the controls feel inexplicably better. Switching between weapons, performing melee kills, swapping zoom levels while sniping - it all feels natural and takes only moments to learn how it all works. There are also some Sixaxis motion controls tacked on for a handful of minor tasks in the game, which work fine but don’t really add anything. Killzone 3 also supports the PlayStation Move, however as I don't have one I can only imagine how they might change the experience.
From near the beginning of the game, the action kicks in - and it never lets up. Most of your time will be spent moving around under heavy fire, trying to find and flush out the enemies from behind cover (which they use extremely well, damn them). You get grenades to use, in addition to an assortment of guns, but they’re largely useless: Helghast are extremely good at a) spotting a grenade and b) running away from it. The one use they have is to flush out enemies from cover but you’ll need to be a good shot and you can only carry a few... so... chances are pretty good that you, like me, will give up and barely use them.
As you progress through the approximately 8-hour experience, Guerilla constantly spice up the mechanics and environments to ensure the action never feels tired or in anyway rehashed. Little things like a stealthy bit here, freaky attacking plants there, no more gravity in that bit, etc, keep things interesting and fresh throughout. The level design is also impressive, with vast and incredibly detailed backdrops supporting exciting, fun-filled (albeit linear) flows throughout the play area. Weapon pickups are well laid out, although it suffers from the classic “lots of ammo here - must be a boss” trait that plagues most shooters, spoiling much of the surprise of the (sometimes epic) boss reveals.
Many of the encounters are epic in scale, difficulty and pure “wow” factor. Killzone 3 gets this stuff so right it’s hard to put the controller down and you’ll find yourself leaning in to the TV to take in as much of the grand scene in front of you as you possibly can.
While it is fun, you do still have that niggle in the back of your mind that you’ve played this kind of game before. Yeah, you get to fly around on a jetpack for a bit and yeah, it’s always a blast but... ultimately it’s a series of extremely polished action set pieces you’ve seen before, rather than any kind of evolution of the genre. Much like an action blockbuster, however, this is a tolerable trait - you go into it expecting a thrillride and that’s what you get. Nothing more.
The narrative drives the game from the outset, although initially you’ll wonder what on earth is going on - hang in there, it makes sense soon enough. From beginning to end, you’ll be inundated with numerous cutscenes which keep you up to speed with both sides of the story. It’s not black and white, you see, with power struggles and confrontation happening not only between the two sides but also within them. In keeping with the “popcorn flick” feel of the gameplay, it’s not particularly complex or hard to follow and the characters are all fairly predictable in their behaviour but, much like a mega action film, that’s kinda what we want.
There’s story there to drive things along and tie things together but not so much that you need to get someone to explain it to you. Characterization, as discussed by Conrad in his preview, is extremely formulaic and you’ll have trouble connecting emotionally to any of the cast (except, perhaps, Stahl, who’s all kinds of disturbingly badass). Again, no one is going into this expecting (or wanting) The English Patient, but it warrants a mention.
Visually, KZ3 is a masterpiece. The level of detail in the environments is staggering and sets the benchmark for all games on all platforms that are to follow it. There’s just so much stuff and it’s everywhere, even floating around in the air or whizzing by overhead. Smoke trails will have you searching your living room for the fire, while the tracer rounds whizzing overhead will make you want to hide behind your couch - this without being in 3D, which the title supports but my TV does not.
The environments also vary visually considerably from level to level, never feeling like Guerilla have opted for the cheap option of repurposing their environments to use them multiple times. Characters have a real sense of weight to them, running and moving around in a way that suits their particular loadout. They also have that incredible sense of menace, afforded in part by their evil glowing eyes, but no less so by the masterful art direction on display throughout.
One thing worthy of note, however, is the gratuitous and over the top nature of some of the “brutal melee kills”. Brutal they’re called and extremely brutal is what they are - stabbing someone in the eye and twisting the knife, to accompanying gore, is not something that should be viewed by minors. If you buy this game for someone under the age of 18, I hope you get busted and prosecuted - that little red sticker is there for a reason. You don’t have to do these moves, of course, and i’m pretty sure many people won’t - they’re that gory (pushing both your thumbs into someone’s eyes? really?) - but they’re in there and chances are good the immature amongst us are going to get a giddy thrill from doing them over and over.
The sound, again, is incredible and genre-defining. The noise of bullets whizzing past, enemies screaming at you, massive mechanized arachnids crunching through the city - you name it, it sounds real. It’s intense, rich, loud and full-on. Make sure you turn your TV or sound system right up and thrill as the room shakes to the awesome soundscape that Killzone 3 brings to your living room.
Multiplayer, as you can imagine, is something of a dead end in a game being reviewed more than two weeks before it’s scheduled for release. Fortunately, Sony have made the multiplayer beta widely available (anyone can download it through PSN) through Feb 15th, which meant that we could test out the multiplayer changes since the Alpha we previewed back in November. As we found then, we find now - Killzone 3 is a great multiplayer game which works well online, is well appointed with loads of modes, leveling, unlockables and it looks amazing. With only 1 map in the beta, it’s hard to get too great a gauge on things but a quick look around the maps in the Botzone on the full game has us very excited for when the game finally gets into the hands of gamers worldwide from the end of the month. This is going to be huge online.
It's not technically perfect, with frequent pauses (typically around checkpoint transitions, but occasionally elsewhere as well) dulling the otherwise finely-hewn technical edge. Fortunately, these never occur during moments where distraction could be fatal and never seem to be a result of the intense on-screen activity. It's also possible that they're a symptom of an aging PS3 (the review unit is a trusty forty-gigger), so your mileage may vary. In my case, I got used to them pretty quickly and, due to their "only in breaks between action" nature, they didn't phase me.
Killzone 3 is one spectacular game - sure, it’s really only doing the basics in terms of gameplay, but it does it in the balls-to-the-walls, damn-the-expense, ultra-intensity manner that only a top-shelf, big-budget, mega-spectacular can. If you are even remotely interested in FPS games, you need to play this. It’s an awesome experience that’s backed up by a solid multiplayer mode and it has the best controls of the series. Extremely highly recommended and, despite its somewhat lacking imagination or ability to drive the genre forward from a gameplay perspective, it’s the peak of current action-oriented shooters - period.