Genre: First-Person Shooter
Reviewer: Ryan Newman
Overall: 8.5 = Excellent
It’s not easy being a soldier in the Interplanetary Strategic Alliance (ISA). After barely fighting back a Helghast invasion in Killzone, and then just surviving a disastrous invasion of their own in Killzone 2, the ISA is now stuck on their enemy’s home world as they reel from the loss of their leader and lash out—at them, and each other.
After the assassination of the Helghan’s beloved leader Scolar Visari, the government has fractured into competing factions vying for power. While Admiral Orlock has managed to rein in the military for the time being, Jorhan Stahl of Stahl Arms, whose weapons drive the armed forces and whose prototypes are being relied upon for the final push towards Earth, begins to pull away and criticize Orlock’s continued efforts to hunt down the remaining ISA forces. Of course, that means very little to you in the beginning as you again take control of Sergeant Tomas ‘Sev’ Sevchenko, who happens to find himself stuck on Helghan. After a battle to evacuate goes poorly (to put it lightly), you find Sev six months on and the situation steadily deteriorating. With morale and supplies running low, Sev and long-time pal, and Killzone 2 cohort, Rico make one desperate push to unify the splintered ISA forces and stop the Helghast’s invasion plans.
There are twists and turns along the way, but suffice to say, the ISA finds themselves on the run and under the gun. The story is actually decent, with Malcolm McDowell and Ray Winstone chewing up the script as Stahl and Orlock, respectively. Even Sev and Rico, the eternal bros that they are, have some decent banter. While the plot twists might be obvious, I’ve always had a soft spot for the Helghast, and getting a chance to see more of their world helped to give them more definition beyond being ‘the bad guys with red eyes.’ With that said, I believe Guerrilla is faltering a bit in their balancing act of trying to give a bit of depth to an enemy it seems determined to paint as Fascists in Spa(aaaa)ce. For as much backstory that is revealed about the Helghast and their plight, longsuffering on a toxic planet and forging themselves into a mighty people with a Romano-Gallic-sized chip on their shoulder, they are continually pushed more and more towards the insane end of the scale in an attempt to justify their position as the villains.
Helghast demonization aside, I found their characters to be far more interesting this time around than the ISA. For whatever reason, the ISA are portrayed in the most archetypal manner as possible: there’s the Overly Cautious Commander (‘We fall back! That’s an order!’), The Hothead (‘No one gets left behind, dammit!’), and the Aggrieved Intermediary (‘We have to work together! Let’s go get the bastards!’). That’s not terribly different from Killzone 2, but I found it much more pronounced this time around. Sev and Rico, along with their voice actors, have some solid chemistry, and I found their exchanges to actually highlight the shortcomings found in the rest of the dialogue. There’s good stuff here, no doubt about it, you just have to make your way through a lot of clunky clichés.
That is, of course, if you even bother to watch the cutscenes or listen to the radio chatter. Most of you are interested in Killzone 3 to blast away red-eyed, heavily armored badasses, not high-five a virtual buddy after an engaging discourse on the nature of war. Fair enough—I enjoy a good shootout as much as the next person. I would say that, if you enjoyed combat in Killzone 2, then you will enjoy 3, but that’s not necessarily the case; several people I have talked to who weren’t fond of the controls in the second found the third to be much more to their liking. While the controls might be a little faster, I found the weapons to be just as beefy as before, with a solid heft to them when being lugged around and fired. That’s actually one of the things I’ve enjoyed about the series—how the weapons feel as if they have some kick to them. I will say that I did get a little tired of having to plug people a dozen times to kill them; I mean, if you have a clip that holds 200-plus rounds, how about taking out half of those to fit something a bit more powerful in there?
In fact, much remains the same from its predecessor. The cover system returns, which allows you to lean over and around objects for either a few quick or aimed shots, and is as handy as before. I actually find the leaning mechanic to be better here than in many other titles, especially when leaning over an object, which allows for just enough accuracy to be worthwhile without taking away the benefit of a nicely aimed shot. The weapon selection has been increased as well, with a few new Helghast prototypes—including one that shoots a green beam that causes enemies to explode—that nicely complement the traditional assault rifles and rocket launchers. I will say that it’s convenient to the point of ridiculous that the Helghast have ammo crates literally everywhere, and, as if to just be friendly and fair about the whole fight, have them half stocked with ISA ammunition. I’m no military expert, but I’m pretty sure giving the enemy loads of free ammo that my troops have zero use for isn’t the smartest move. Then again, that would go towards explaining how they have lost three—going on four—wars now.
One of my favorite moments in Killzone 2 was being able to pilot the exoskeleton during the last act. Not only does it return in multiplayer, but it also makes its way into the story – though for not nearly long enough. It’s also joined by a new bladed snow buggy, jet pack, and space fighter. The buggy offers an experience similar to a slightly free rail shooter, as the linear path offers plenty of obstacles (and Helghast projectiles) to avoid, while the space fighter is all rail shooter. The jet pack offers the most freedom, though it’s a bit unwieldy and used, unfortunately, in some unnecessary platforming bits. Still, the feeling of always being just one booster away from death can be exhilarating, and its on-board guns pack a hell of a punch. All in all, I’d say the vehicles again delivered some of my favorite moments, confirming my belief that Guerrilla should go all out with a Battlefield-style game so I can enjoy the full force of their designers’ imaginations.
The weapons and vehicles are used amidst some of the dreariest scenery this side of Killzone 2, including the ruins of Helghan cities and barren arctic wastelands. While its predecessor was a (very) slow burn, 3 has a much shorter buildup and properly kicks off about an hour in. Some of the set pieces include debris-ridden, half-destroyed town centers and a space carrier slowly breaking apart, with its artificial gravity giving out as it makes its way through a massive firefight between sparring armadas. There are plenty of objects to hide behind and enemies to down, including the jet pack-wearing soldiers who now bring a z-axis approach to pincer movements. But for all of the exciting moments, there are some not-so-exciting glitches.
Some of the bugs I ran across were fairly minor, such as enemy soldiers getting stuck in midair after an explosion or when falling from an elevated plane. Other problems were more serious, with the most aggravating being the strange buffer that extends around objects and has the nasty habit of stopping bullets as if they hit an invisible wall. For objects that cannot be specifically used as cover, such as boulders, there is no guarantee that going around them, even if it’s enough to clearly see the enemy and verify muzzle clearance, will allow for a shot to pass by them and not into their extended hit box. Other items, such as ladders, were also no-goes, with bullets coming to a dead stop in-between rungs. And in an age when every encounter is so heavily scripted, there were a handful of moments when I caught the game unprepared as characters stood around—or, in one example, knelt with their guns trained directly at me before I rounded the corner—and suddenly kicked into gear once I triggered the sequence. This is common nowadays, which is unfortunate considering how effective it is at destroying whatever sense of immersion the sequence had been building up.
Fortunately, multiplayer is spared from most of the problems. While I’ve read complaints from players who have had their bullets hit invisible objects, I didn’t experience it myself during regular play or while I was experimenting. And as with Killzone 2, the game’s real legs lay in online play. Bots are supported, which is always a plus, but leaving them alone for a minute resulted in our team going from being up 3-0 in objectives to 3-2 whenever I returned, so don’t rely on them for too much. The vehicles also make an appearance in multiplayer, but not nearly enough for my taste, though their presence does make for an excellent change of pace. There is an experience system, similar to its predecessor, but now the points earned through killing enemies and completing objects are spread out across all classes. For instance, the Field Medic can unlock a secondary weapon (pistol) for one point, unlock a protective drone for two points, and unlock a silenced assault rifle for three. Since each item set is tiered, the three-point item requires that the previous, lower-point items be unlocked, which means that unlocking full weapon and ability sets can take a while for one class, much less for all five (Engineer, Field Medic, Infiltrator, Marksman, and Tactician).
The levels are uniformly solid as well with no standouts as of yet, but none that I wanted to skip, either. The three primary modes—Guerilla Warfare, Operations, and Warzone—are similar but also have enough variety to keep them interesting. Guerilla Warfare is deathmatch, pure and simple. Warzone is comprised of multiple shifting objectives, from assassinating marked players to capturing and holding marked territories. The objectives change frequently enough that it takes a full round of each before a break is needed, which conveniently breaks the game up into nice playable chunks. I do think that the assassination sequences go by a bit too fast, though, but many of the maps also don’t seem to be large enough to support sustained hunts. Operations feature similar objectives but are actually cinematic missions with one side defending and the other assaulting, and in an especially cool twist, players who perform particularly well are the featured players in the bookend cutscenes. Aside from it taking a minute or so to log in and launch a game, the service so far has been spot-on. Although, it is a big shame that co-op is limited to local play – maybe online next time, eh, Guerrilla?
Killzone 3 is a solid entry into the series, but its grating character progression and minor glitches give it a more unpolished feel than its predecessor. While the improved pacing and expanded multiplayer are definitely positive changes, they aren’t enough to elevate the package above what was delivered with Killzone 2. Taken on its own, though, the third entry provides a strong if uneven single-player experience and a fantastic multiplayer component that’s sure to offer a few solid months of addictive action.
(This review is based on a retail copy provided by the publisher.)