At the start of the PlayStation 3's lifecycle, there was a lot of scepticism surrounding the Killzone franchise. The original title didn't live up to expectation and the E3 2005 pre-rendered trailer set the bar exceedingly high for the follow-up, Killzone 2. However, when the game was released in 2009, Guerrilla Games managed to meet those expectations and deliver a new, immersive first-person shooter experience, revitalising the franchise at the same time. We're now two years down the line, Killzone 3 is here and it's ready to raise the bar yet again.
Following the unplanned events at the end of Killzone 2, the ISA forces are in disarray. Rico Velasquez's decision has sent the Helghast into a frenzy and they're out for blood, ISA blood. A full retreat has been signalled by the ISA command, and it's to be lead by Captain Narville. But despite his vast combat experience, Narville is unsuccessful in his attempts and many of the ISA forces are stranded on Helghan with no means of escape.
As opposed to Killzone 2, where the ISA were the primary focus, Killzone 3 takes a look at things from the perspective of the Helghast. The majority of the story looks at how they cope with the death of their leader, and the political struggle that ensues in the months that follow. It all ties in nicely with exactly what you're doing as you play through the campaign as Sergeant Sevchenko (Sev), so nothing ever feels out of place, despite it being told from the perspective of the opposition.
In many ways, the campaign makes the Helghast seem more "human", as you get to see how they are without the iconic masks. Underneath it all, they aren't all that different from the ISA forces.
As with every other first-person shooter on the market, the gameplay revolves around the standard point and shoot mechanics. But unlike the previous Killzone title, there is a much greater emphasis on vehicular combat. You'll get to travel around in the Exo-Skeleton battle suit, but there are also sections where you'll be sporting the minigun on an Intruder or the heavy cannon on an ISA Hammer. It makes the whole experience a bit more varied, because the game is no longer hours upon hours of having to run through levels killing Helghast soldiers in a stand-off.
When you do have a gun in your hands though, the gameplay still manages to promote that really heavy feel. It's all very fast-paced, but when you fire a gun, everything about it feels raw; you can feel its power. This is especially true with any of the Helghast rifles, such as the StA52 Assault Rifle, the Helghast's bread and butter. They're all much louder and fire much faster than the ISA counterparts.
Unfortunately, the range of weapons featured throughout the game hasn't changed much. If anything, it feels like there's a lot less choice in Killzone 3, but that's probably because there are so many ammo crates scattered around that changing weapons isn't a necessity. You can carry a side-arm, a standard rifle, and a heavy weapon, but most of the time the heavy weapons have limited usage due to their small ammo-pools (aside from the StA3 LMG). Often, you'll use them for a short passage of play because they're "cool", but beyond that, their practical use is limited.
Throughout many of the gun-based sections, you will generally have a main AI character to assist you. To keep the action flowing a bit more, they will provide you with a finite amount of "lives". If they can reach you, and if you haven't died too many times already, they will revive you - although sometimes they will revive you in a really awkward position so you instantly die again. The camera also directs towards the person reviving you too, which is a huge annoyance, as it means you generally respawn with the Helghast shooting you in the back.
To avoid dying so much, Killzone 3 features an improved cover system, which deserves special mention. One of the biggest changes comes with how you enter into cover, as if you're running, you now have the option to slide into cover. This makes advancing on Helghast positions a lot easier, although they will often adapt to the situation. It does make the stand-off moments a lot more interesting though, as you aren't constantly having to make your own cover by ducking, or strafing behind objects. Of course, you can still do that too, but when the game gives you solid vantage points, with less risk from taking fire, it makes the whole experience a lot smoother.
Overall, smoother is a pretty good way to describe the entire campaign. Progression between the different sections feels a lot more natural, even when changing between the different locations featured throughout the campaign. It's because everything feels like it actually ties together, there's a purpose for doing everything you're doing. It does come at a slight cost though, as the game feels a lot easier (even on Elite Mode). The boss sequences, which were some of the most challenging parts of Killzone 2, have been toned down so much that many of them don't even feel like bosses any more. Squaring off against an ATAC (flying mech), for example, is now a walk in the park compared to Killzone 2 - it's not even treated as a big deal. Some of the other bosses just feel like interactive cutscenes.
It's the kind of thing that's sure to divide the audience, as with Killzone 3 there's more "real" gameplay than in Killzone 2 - you won't be stuck for a considerable amount of time trying to beat a boss. Instead, you'll be ripping through hundreds of Helghast soldiers and evading the new Capture Troopers, who rush at you with melee attacks.
As many would have expected, Killzone 3's presentation is astounding, especially when playing the game using the 3D stereoscopic technology. Even if you don't have that capability, you'll still be blown away by the depth of the game's visuals and overall presentation. The weapons are gorgeous, the sounds made when they fire are probably the meatiest in any first-person shooter out there, and the particle effects are superb. There's even some rather lovely, but gory, brutal melee kills in there for added effect. If your life-long dream was to kill a Helghast soldier by stabbing his eyes out with your thumbs, well, now your dreams can come true.
The game does feature a fully orchestrated score, but aside from the game's menu, it really falls into the background a lot. You might hear it during some of the game's vehicular sections, as they try to raise the tension, but for most of the traditional sections, it's all about the weapons, the com-chatter and the general ambience. One of the only disappointing parts comes in the voices of Captain Narville (James Remar) and Admiral Orlock (Ray Winstone). Neither really suit the characters they play, and some of Winstone's lines sounded a bit fluffed. Malcolm McDowell plays a fantastic Jordan Stahl though, and the voices of Rico and Sev more than make-up for the cast's deficiencies.
It's also worth noting that Killzone 3 offers full PlayStation Move support, and there's also a peripheral being released called the Sharpshooter, which really augments the experience. Guerrilla Games has spent a lot of time trying to perfect Killzone 3 to work with Move, and it really shows. At times, it genuinely feels like a completely different experience and if you have the resources available, it's definitely worth checking out.
To compliment the single-player campaign, Killzone 3 features a full online component. When taken at face value, it feels very familiar to Killzone 2's multiplayer. Many of the same game types return and the gameplay mechanics are almost identical. However, the number of class types has been reduced, there's now a full unlock system for upgrading classes and there are some new, comprehensive, game modes.
Gone are the Assault and Rifleman classes, they've now been merged into the other classes which are available. Gone are also the differences between the Helghast and ISA - they now all use exactly the same weaponry. It's a shame, because that was one of the things that defined Killzone 2 - the disparity between the different factions. Now, for the sake of parity, everything has been made identical.
The now five different classes can be upgraded independently from one another by spending points which are acquired through playing the game. Each class has the option to unlock four extra weapons, and there's the option to upgrade their two abilities. If you miss-spend points, you can't retrieve them, so make sure you spend wisely.
While these compromises are disappointing, the additions are anything but. There are now two completely new game modes, Operations and Warzone. Warzone is a classic styled team deathmatch, so you won't have to keep making "body count only" matches, and Operations is a game mode which sees teams attempt to progress through a level together. To further both of these, it's also possible to play offline against up to 16 bots, with everything unlocked. It should help you get accustomed to the levels, and let you see what you'll be able to attain once you get enough points.
Note: The multiplayer experience in this review comes from the now closed Open Multiplayer Beta. Killzone 3's live servers weren't available at the time of writing.
Killzone 3 is another stellar addition to the Killzone franchise, and the first-person shooter genre as a whole. It offers an immersive and visceral experience like no other shooter on the market at the moment and from the perspective of presentation, it's unmatched. That doesn't make it the de facto title out there though, as concessions have been made. The campaign is considerably easier and it's still on the short side. The multiplayer, while solid, also hasn't seen that many changes compared to the previous iteration. But then, Killzone 2 set the bar exceedingly high, a bar which Killzone 3 has now raised.