I’ll start by letting you in on a little secret: I didn’t really enjoy Killzone 2. If I had reviewed it myself I think I would have pointed out that it was a beautiful game which was filled with tense set pieces and a gritty realism that is often missing from shooters. I would have joined in with the praise being heaped on it everywhere else, not because I’m a hypocrite but because I can see how and why it’s a good game. I just didn’t really enjoy it personally. That’s so often my job when I’m reviewing games: see how they achieve success or failure and comment on that, rather than on my own personal tastes.
I was still looking forward to Killzone 3 though, its release is an event on the gaming calendar and seeing so many other people getting excited always raises my interest levels. Except for a very brief run through the demo with the default Move controls, I was basically going into the game cold. Killzone 3’s hype machine was only barely on the periphery of my gaming radar because I was caught up with other titles and other tasks.
Now my promo disc is here and I found myself with a couple of hours to spare over the weekend. I slipped the disc in and booted up the game as I settled back into a chair and prepared to form a very poorly reasoned and totally enjoyable opinion. And now, because I’m feeling a little self indulgent, I’m going to share that opinion with you.
This game is the most beautiful, visceral, encapsulating visual spectacle I’ve ever had the good fortune to play. Sure, the facial animations and character models might not be as finely tuned as Uncharted 2’s. I have experienced one or two frame rate stutters when there’s a lot going on. It’s not perfect. What game is? I’ll tell you something though, Killzone 3 is one of the most engaging, enveloping games I’ve played in a long time.
The background textures, physical world and – for want of a better expression – set design, are all stunning. Skin textures are breathtaking on the craggy-faced Helghan war council and, even though eyes and hair remain slight stumbling blocks, the characters are fantastically real in their posture and motion. It really is one of the most beautifully distressed, inhabited and detailed video games I’ve ever seen.
The sound, too, is almost flawless. There is a constant hum of industrial life around the opening levels and when you move from the harsh, urban war zone to a slightly more peaceful setting the background hum becomes an organic, living bed of noise that the more traditional game sounds can lie on. The incidental voice work in the Helghast is a little stilted at times, although cutscenes and main characters are all very good so far. Sev is a particularly believable protagonist and his voice and scripting lends an everyman quality which is always a huge benefit in a leading character.
I will stress that I’m only in the early stages and I certainly wouldn’t offer my own embryonic opinions as equals to those of Alex who has finished and reviewed the entire game but from what I’ve seen so far, the criticisms of the narrative I have read around the web are entirely unfounded. There will have to be gaping holes and terrible twists in the exposition later on to negate the stellar storytelling that I’ve witnessed so far. Certainly, it’s not wholly original, borrowing concepts from many sci-fi and military contemporaries, but it is compelling, engaging and interesting.
Everything in Killzone 3 is faster than its predecessor. Much has been made of the speedier controls and I am entirely in support of those changes. Not that Killzone 2 was any less enjoyable for its weightier motion, I just feel that a little more speed in your turn and aim controls can make things seem a touch more exciting and responsive. It’s not just the controls that are faster either, everything seems a little more sprightly. Enemies rush you a little quicker, AI squad mates are faster to come to your support and the dynamic elements of the scenery are all briskly tripping along without a superfluous frame of animation to be seen.
My early experience with Killzone 3 has been one of wonder, awe and unconfounded love. I went in to it expecting the same heavy, over-the-top cheese-fest that was Killzone 2 and I found something that had tuned every element of its previous success to become a precise and enriched experience that I am now desperate to get back to. My knee jerk reaction, as someone who was not so keen to worship at the altar of its predecessor, is that this is by some margin the best first person shooter I’ve played since Half Life 2. That’s really the highest praise I could heap upon it.