Disclaimer: this review contains spoilers for Killzone 2 and vague plot-based discussion for Killzone 3.
Killzone 3’s plot certainly starts with one hell of a curveball, but it’s soon back to business: Visari might be out of the picture – confined to a cameo by the bullet of Rico Velasquez at the conclusion of 2009’s imposing Killzone 2 – but the ISA’s dwindling army is reduced to mere handfuls of surviving soldiers. The story picks up immediately after the last game, Captain Narville and his bunch of plucky heroes struggle to grab so much as a foothold as the Helghan army notches up the defence of its precious planet.
But it’s not in unity even if it’s in number: internal battles for power in the boardroom of the Helghan filling many an early cut-scene as the exposition for this twisting tale starts to dig in.
Scanty Admiral Orlock might be at the helm but he’s out of his depth, with ageing but deadly arms dealer Jorhan Stahl’s constant heel biting making way for a perfectly pitched midway interval that shows the Dutch developers have really pushed hard to create a story worthy of being retold, even if it loses its way a little bit towards the end.
It’s a tale viewed through two pairs of eyes, though, with the game playable in co-op whether locally in split screen or via the game’s much closer connection between protagonists Tomas Sevchenko and the aforementioned Rico, now cleaner of mouth and far less likely to irritate. It’s a blessing, given that you’ll spend most of the game tied to his side, the previously gung-ho attitude mostly replaced by both a willingness to further the mission and his new found ability to heal the player should he remain alive.
Thankfully, despite a sudden and rather muddled conclusion, it’s also a story generally improved over predecessors, the single-minded, single-angled plot of the forerunners abandoned and substituted with an enjoyable, twisting series of events that illustrate a certain sense of maturity even if the on-screen action remains brutally simplistic, save for a select few distinct moments where the player is asked to think a little. The narrative’s entirely linear in structure, though, the pacing dictated and pre-meditated at every junction, and you’ll spot a few cheeky references to other shooters along the way.
Indeed, Killzone 3 occasionally gets caught up between innovation and imitation, the decisive moments of genuine surprise and originality mixed in with tributes and love letters to shooters past. Not least of all Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, a game Guerrilla apes to some effect during a stand-out early stealth section where you’re told – over raspy, whispered comms – to stay low in the grass and take out the enemy silently.
It’s a particularly dawdling but otherwise enjoyable punctuation in what had been a good couple of hours prior of bombastic, hardcore shooting; the speed halted for a delicate recon mission before getting back to business at the level’s halfway stage, your muffled, scoped rifle making way for the welcome return of ear-splittingly loud heavy machine guns and rocket launchers. The notion that your team is always outnumbered, desperate, losing, remains true throughout the nine mission campaign, however, no matter what firepower you’re packing: a central motif.
It’s the introduction of jet packs that truly impresses, though, evening up the odds temporarily as the remaining ISA troops stage a daring rescue mission; the flight handled with typical Guerrilla weight and gravity and the mounted machine gun particularly adept at softening up Helghan armour for the time it’s available – not that they’re the only diversion to the on-foot proceedings, mind, but they’re certainly the most fun, and help turn an otherwise ordinary section into something quite spectacular.
Not that Killzone 3 really requires any more spectacle – it’s every bit as dynamic and explosive as the last game and whilst there’s a certain amount of graphical flash dialled down this time around (most noticeably the processor heavy motion blur) it’s made way for the ability to throw around much more on-screen action – and of course, the option to play through the game in co-op or 3D, two new features that meant some things had to go.
It’s still a great looking game in places, though – the richer palette, the dusty, grainy overlay and the amped up particle effects making the whole thing rather filmic in quality – despite a few blurry textures and a slightly unfinished looking explosion when you take down any of the armoured Helghan vehicles. It might not blow you away to the same level as Killzone 2 did but there have been enough advances in character animation and breadth of location that any rough edges are soon forgotten in the heat of battle.
And besides, the much tighter, more immediate controls are a blessing to anyone that found the slightly ‘laggy’, physics-laden movement something of a slog in the last game. The crosshairs are snappier, your character turns and moves more quickly and the whole thing feels like it’s been given a bit of a boost. As we said in our hands-on preview, it’s still not as spritely as some similar titles but we think the developers have got the balance between weight and finesse just about right this time.
But fans of the multiplayer aspect of Killzone 2 will know that the story mode is really only the entree, and these players will really appreciate the tweaks and adjustments Guerrilla have made to Killzone 3’s online portion, which offers a richer, more diverse set of options. Expanding the already rather comprehensive setup was no small task, but the developers have added intelligent match-making for those that just want to jump in and have fun and have made a smaller, more immediate version of Warzone called Guerrilla Warfare which lasts just 10 minutes.
In addition, they’ve crafted an all new multiplayer mode called Operations, which essentially gives you a mini campaign told from two distinct sides, complete with real-time cut-scenes. This all new mode, which supports 8 vs 8 match-ups, involves the ISA trying to occupy a MAWLR mech whilst the Helghast do their upmost to stop them – it’s played out in three acts (with each one offering a variation of familiar modes like Capture and Hold) and is a really nice diversion. If this is supported with new missions in the future, it’s going to prove very popular, but the game comes with three out of the box.
Also of note is the brand new Botzone, a single player version of the multiplayer game, which allows players to practise the various game types and hone their skills – it’s particularly useful with the Operations mode, because it’ll mean you can pick up the maps and the various aspects of each campaign before you head online. The bots are smart, too, using all their abilities and working as a team as required.
However, it’s the standard Warzone that most will be familiar with – and it’s been spruced up a little too: there’s now 26 weapons (including 5 handguns) and 30 abilities which this time you can unlock in any order, meaning that you don’t need to spend weeks with the game to get the best stuff: simply spend the Ability Points you earn on whatever you choose. The game starts with a few unlocked, like the shotgun-equipped Infiltrator’s enemy disguise, and abilities can be shared as you flick back and forth between classes.
As a multiplayer game, then, Killzone 3 will rise to the top of many a PS3 owner’s collection. As a single player game it’s really good – inventive, impressive, even smart in places, but generally playing to familiar strengths: solid gunplay, but wholly linear, and rarely pushing the envelope in terms of gameplay mechanics. Although, there is that final few minutes, technically another on-rails shooter section but completely at odds with everything else you’ve played over the last eight hours – a few more of those next time, please guys.
Guerrilla have done a fine job pushing the PS3 to its limits – and Killzone 2 fans will love this to bits.
- Often beautiful visuals, much more varied thematically over Killzone 2 but always consistent
- Improved story
- Less swearing, more cut-scenes, more mature production
- Slicker controls mean less perceived ‘lag’
- Rico: he came good
- Multiplayer will no doubt last until the next one
- Doesn’t have the same wow factor as Killzone 2 did
- Some sticking points with the difficulty curve
- Ending lacks clarity, but leaves the door wide open for Killzone 4
Killzone 2 fans will lap up this continuation of one of the PS3’s best games. It’s a well made game with a much better story, more rounded characters and oodles more variety. Gone are the sole dull greys and browns of Helghan of old, the planet now serving up rich jungles and snowy outposts in amongst the heavy metal of the urban settings, and it’s all the better for it. It’s not perfect, but it’s smart enough to know that, instead offering a ballistic run-through that’ll keep you busy until it’s complete.
And then there’s Elite mode, and that all-encompassing multiplayer…
Reviewer’s notes: this review was done from debug code marked as ‘review’. It suffered from a few disk-based bugs, such as repeating voice samples, a seemingly cut short ending sequence and stuttered loading breaks that we have, for the purposes of the score, ignored and assumed will be fixed by release.
In addition, the multiplayer aspect was based on a specially organised media event where everything worked flawlessly – we assume, given the quality of Killzone 2’s online play, that this will carry over to the retail version. It was impossible to test in real world conditions as very few people had the game at the time of going to press.