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Killzone 3 Review

4
  • PS3

Killzone 3 delivers an experience that's a little too similar to its predecessor in spots, but it still has plenty explosive moments to see both online and off.


 You'll spend a bit of time manning turrets or driving vehicles in the campaign.
 You'll spend a bit of time manning turrets or driving vehicles in the campaign.
Killzone 3 picks up right where Killzone 2 left off in more ways than one. The campaign is a direct continuation of the previous game, picking up mere moments after you received a new reason to want to put a bullet in Rico's head. The design and structure of the game, also, feels like they're resuming where the last game left off. If you didn't play Killzone 2 after the "high precision" option was patched in, Killzone 3 will feel dramatically different, like a much faster game. If you kept current with the patches, it'll feel largely identical, with some of the same issues found in Killzone 2 sticking out more here if only because of their age. The major improvement is a bump up in graphical quality. When you consider how nice Killzone 2 looked when it launched two years ago, that's a substantial benefit.

After some quick tutorializing, the game drops you back into the boots of Tomas "Sev" Sevchenko of the ISA. You've just witnessed the death of the Helghast leader and it's time to get the heck out of there. But the evacuation process goes completely sideways and Sev, Rico, and a group of other ISA soldiers are stranded. The bulk of Killzone 3 deals with the marooned troops biding their time and waiting for the right time to pick up the fight and escape the enemy's planet. Most of the actions you take are very standard first-person-shooter goals. You'll attempt to secure a convoy, you'll take to high ground to defend ground-based troops with a sniper rifle, you'll destroy enemy installations, and so on. And, for the most part, it's fine, if a bit rote. The game's pacing is very stuttery as the game jumps from action to cutscene to action a little too often, and occasionally the story doesn't slow down to explain itself, like one portion of the game where you go from an on-foot cutscene to suddenly manning the turret in a vehicle that seems like it just kind of came out of nowhere. The game has a few of these turret sequences, and some of the game's biggest climactic moments are, unfortunately, seen from behind the controls of a mounted weapon. Add to that a real punch-out kind of "big explosion followed immediately by end credits" ending and it's easy to find disappointment in the campaign.

That's not to say that the action is bad. The battlefields that you'll cross while playing through the campaign look great, and the enemies are usually reasonably fun to kill. The weapon loadout has changed a bit this time around, allowing you to carry a heavy weapon while still carrying an assault rifle or shotgun, making heavy weapons more useful. So you'll grab light machine guns, snap turrets off of their mounts, and find rocket launchers, boltguns, and other military hardware that helps keep the combat exciting. It's just annoying that Killzone 3's campaign doesn't seem to care about continuity or finding interesting ways to tell its story. One of the coolest moments--the game opens with you controlling a man in Helghast armor and ends with a climactic moment before giving you a "six months earlier" cut back to where the story actually begins--is undercut when you revisit that same moment later on in the story and it unfolds completely differently than it did when you were there the first time. With the developers not bothering to care enough about their fiction to create what could have been a cool moment the second time around, it instead comes off as if a few people working on the levels didn't communicate well enough to synch up the action.

 You'll still want to shoot them in the head, if you can.
 You'll still want to shoot them in the head, if you can.
As in Killzone 2, you'll usually roll with an AI-controlled partner or two, and if you or one of your teammates goes down in battle, you can revive each other. There are still too many cases in Killzone 3 where you seem to have been brought down in a clear area that wouldn't take Rico long to get into and heal you, but instead he just screams "I can't reach you!" and you're left to die and return to the last checkpoint. It's a sound idea that still ends up causing more frustration than it avoids. The game offers a cooperative campaign, which mitigates this specific issue, but it's only available in an offline, split-screen form, which is a little ridiculous in this day and age.

And then there's the multiplayer. It's real, proper multiplayer for up to 24 players online, though you can also play all of the modes and maps with bots by yourself, if you like. The "botzone" is also useful because it lets you see and try all of the various gear that you can unlock for the different classes in Killzone 3. Since you'll earn one unlock point for each level of experience gained when playing online, and later weapons cost three points to open up, it's worth spending some time with the bots first, if only to avoid a situation where you're unlocking weapons you won't actually like. That third medic weapon, which is silenced and shoots three-shot bursts, isn't for everyone. Those are points that you could also spend to allow your engineer class to build turrets more quickly or increase the effective range of the infiltrator's disguise ability. Point being, the classes give you a range of different ways to play the game that should fit a variety of play styles. Classes are a little less configurable than they've been in the past, though, as the unlocks are limited to the class they were designed for. You can't mix-and-match badges to form a class that can revive players and rebuild supply points, for example. In-game actions can reward you with ribbons that give you a bonus for the rest of that match, so you can unlock faster aim abilities or double XP on kills by performing specific tasks. The effect is similar to the Call of Duty perk system, but they're completely temporary and usually doled out for good behavior, like completing objectives in a team match or getting a lot of assists.

Killzone 3 gets down to business with three multiplayer modes. Guerilla Warfare is the game's way of saying "Team Deathmatch." Warzone, which rolls a lot of standard objective-based modes into one big game that randomly rotates through objectives every five minutes or so, is still the coolest mode in the game, and it's a great way to keep players on their toes. Operations mode is an attack-and-defend mode where one team is trying to complete various objectives while the other is always on defense. As the objectives are met or failed, cutscenes are played showing the players on both teams engaged in moving a crane or executing prisoners or whatever that specific objective was tied to in the "story" of that match. Those cutscenes make it cooler than the average assault-style mode, but since one team is always attacking and the other is always defending, it doesn't keep players on their toes quite as much as Warzone does.

And here are some more shots of the Helghast looking menacing. 
And here are some more shots of the Helghast looking menacing. 
The multiplayer in Killzone 3 is less configurable than it was in the previous game. For players who set up Killzone 2 Warzone matches and reduced them to one or two specific game types and restricted the use of certain weapons and badges, this will be disappointing. But if you were tired of trying to jump into a game and having to sift through a list of servers before finding one that was actually playing Warzone "properly," you'll be pleased to know that you can't turn anything off. In fact, you can't even "create" a match at all anymore. The only options are the game modes, and once you're in there, the only option is "find match." Once you're in the game, you'll find that the squad concepts used in Killzone 2 are gone. There are still "squads" in the game, but these are temporary groups of up to eight players that exist outside of the action, sort of like Halo's party system. This means that you can't fill a whole match with your friends, as there's no private match option. This seems like something of an oversight.

But the main action is still just as satisfying as it was last time around, with a few new situations to deal with. Some maps contain jet packs, which you can use to boost up into the air and float slowly back down to the ground. Jet packs are also outfitted with heavy machine guns with infinite ammo, making them effective if you want to just turn yourself into a mobile turret. Some maps also contain mechs, which players can get in and pilot. As you might expect, the mechs are a little bulky, but they dish out a ton of damage and can withstand a lot, as well. Both of these things turn up in the single-player campaign for a bit, but are more interesting in multiplayer situations.

The game looks great, with tons of action going on in the backgrounds and skies above you as you make your way through the game. The multiplayer maps also look great, with some locations coming from portions of the campaign. The "British Space Nazi" motif of the Helghast continues unabated with lots of insidious-sounding characters, not the least of which is Jorhan Stahl, one of the bad guys in the campaign. He's voiced by Malcolm McDowell, who does a really great job. The ISA side of things has some good voice work, too, including James Remar as Captain Narville and Andrew Bowen as Sevchenko.

 Stahl's as evil as it gets. You should probably make sure he's dead, if you can.
 Stahl's as evil as it gets. You should probably make sure he's dead, if you can.
Killzone 3 also stands out as one of the first PlayStation 3 games to support both the PlayStation Move and 3D televisions. Both are, of course, totally optional, and I've found that neither really adds that much to the game. The game replicates a lot of the aim-and-shoot functionality of the right side of the DualShock 3 with a Move wand, requiring you to hold the left half of a regular controller or use the Navigation Controller to move around. Some snappier lock-on targeting makes the game easier to play with a Move, but I found myself longing for the standard controller, which works great, by the way. While I'm sure someone will come along and prove me wrong someday, it's hard to imagine players with Move controllers competing against people with standard gamepads. Or, at least, I got totally slaughtered. I also didn't find myself doing too well in multiplayer mode when 3D was turned on, either. Like other 3D games, I found it difficult to focus on any one thing, making it hard to line up targets or make out some of the UI elements. The game also got darker and the text got significantly blurrier when playing in 3D, and I had a lot of problems with the 3D simply ceasing to function, causing me to see double for long stretches of time. I'm tempted to blame this on my specific setup, but it's probably worth noting that I haven't had that problem with any of the other 3D content I've viewed on this equipment. It's neat when it works, but it feels like a novelty... a novelty that left me feeling pretty queasy after 20 minutes of use. As is the case with all of this stuff, your mileage may vary.

It's great that Killzone 3 supports all of the additional features of the PlayStation 3, though when it comes down to it, I had the most fun with it when I was playing it with a standard controller in two measly dimensions. But a lot of the design is so familiar that it's hard to get as excited for Killzone 3 as you might have last time around. Killzone 2 felt like a landmark event that finally gave the PlayStation 3 a world-class first-person shooter that you couldn't play anywhere else. After two years, Killzone 3 hasn't changed enough to reignite all of those feelings, but it's still a thrilling ride when you're alone and a well-designed multiplayer experience, as well.    
Jeff Gerstmann on Google+