Review by Mat C
Developer Guerrilla Games
Publisher Sony Computer Entertainment
Released February 2011
Available for PlayStation 3
Time Played Finished
“To be honest, it’s all a bit of a mess. By the time you’ve done trying to care about the characters or grown weary of being shunted from one location to the next, you might be forgiven for throwing in the towel. Killzone 3 attempts to maintain your interest with some typically explosive set pieces and some on rails shoot outs and vehicle chases, and to be fair if all you’re after is the weekend beer and pizza feast then this might keep you going just about long enough to see the game out.”
The Halo Killer
For Guerilla Games, there can surely be no two more frightening words in the English language than “Halo” and “Killer.” This oft used and slightly lazy phrase has been thrown around the console first person shooter market for years, and has been responsible for the downfall of many a contender in the process. While its prevalence is much less now than it was in 2004 – replaced instead by EA and DICE’s aspirations to topple Call of Duty – for some it remains a stigma. As developers of a big budget, platform exclusive FPS on a competing system, and now three titles into their franchise to boot, Guerrilla Games will doubtlessly be aware that despite Call of Duty’s dominance, Bungie’s achievements are still those by which they are most often judged.
Launched as a new IP in 2004, Killzone was crushed under the weight of such expectations. Unfairly placed upon its shoulders from the first public screenshot and often used to beat the game with long after its release, Killzone has never truly rid itself of the “Halo killer” mantra. The PlayStation 3 sequel came under similar scrutiny. Demoed at press events before the PS3 even saw the light of day, Killzone 2 received extensive visual tear downs the likes of which few games have ever received before or since, with critics searching for every last detail to expose the fallacy of those early tech demonstrations. It was of course unnecessary, because taken as its own game Killzone 2 looked phenomenal, but the temptation to tear chunks out of Guerrilla for their CGI trailer crimes proved too great an opportunity to pass up.
You could say that this is a franchise which has always struggled to make friends. Although arriving on the back of stinging critical reception, Killzone 3 lands in gamers hands with a host of adjustments designed to win over long term skeptics and open the doors to a wider market. Unfortunately for Guerrilla, such adjustments may prove too little too late for many.
Like its predecessors, Killzone 3 is a game that wears its heart on its sleeve. This is as big and as dumb a military shooter as they come, and anyone expecting otherwise will almost certainly want to tread carefully. Once again, Guerrilla serve up their action intense, their set pieces explosive and their motives simple. It’s a recipe you’ve certainly tasted before.
As a gamer, I’m absolutely fine with this. Not everybody wants to eat at a Half-Life steak house or enjoy some BioShock fine dining, and even those that do might not want to do that all the time. Sometimes you just want a big greasy McDonalds; a quick injection of fatty stodge and salty chips. Killzone, with its high action fist pumping and vulgar dialogue, has always gravitated more towards your FPS take outs, providing a great short term fix for those weekends when all you want to do is crank the volume up, drink some beer, eat some pizza and shoot some bad guys. My problem with Killzone 3 isn’t that it does this, as much as that it does a pretty bad job of achieving even this basic goal.
A Backwards Step
While Killzone 2 had its critics, I personally enjoyed the single player campaign quite a lot. It was long enough to feel self contained without over staying its welcome and had just enough about it to push you along. Yes it was brash and stupid, but it never pretended to be anything otherwise. What Killzone 2 did well was focus. It was simple. You were one man, a foot soldier in what felt like a much greater war against a dangerous enemy. Your goal through the single player campaign never became any more complicated than your next military objective. Success was rarely success at all, instead baby steps towards a simple end goal in a hostile world against overwhelming odds.
Killzone 3 ditches this and takes a page from the Modern Warfare 2 Book of Globetrotting. Over the course of the much shorter campaign, you’ll visit such locales as an alien jungle, a frozen tundra, a scrap heap wasteland and the inside of a Helghast space craft. An increased variety in level design and visual colour comes as a direct result to critical feedback on the previous games, but in shoehorning too many environments into a shorter time frame, the campaign ends up feeling disjointed and vague. Transitions from one location to the next are often swift and poorly executed. One scene literally sees you hurtling along the frozen tundra in a tank before suddenly landing on a dry and barren wasteland, with not a single snow flake or even a hint of the cold you left behind 3 seconds ago anywhere else in the rest of the game. It feels rushed, sloppy and disconnected.
Rather than simply being an annoyance, I find this greater variation directly detracts from the game’s atmosphere. Killzone 3 is an unbelievably stunning game to look at, but it’s also brighter and has a much greater colour palette, and I’m not convinced this is an improvement. Killzone 2’s Helghan was dark, dreary and an altogether more unpleasant place to be. It felt oppressive and violent, with thunder bolts illuminating the planet’s turbulent atmosphere and the orange glow of the Helghast helmets piercing through the haze and darkness. This complemented the second games story of a slow trudge through a war torn planet perfectly, but in providing a more painting-by-numbers set of locations, much of this focus is lost in Killzone 3. The Helghast, not exactly at the forefront of adventurous character design at the best of times, feel even more generic and disposable against back drops of crisp white frost or bright red fauna, borrowed from every other FPS you’ve ever played and applied here with limited success.
In addition to these complaints, the campaign takes some liberties with what it thinks it can get away with in terms of ridiculous cut scenes. For the whole duration of the game, the campaign leads you to believe that the remaining ISA forces are in disarray, reduced to a small band of rag tag survivors with little equipment or preparation, to the point where the game even has you stranded on a remote outpost and hiding to regroup at one point. Despite this, every single cut scene in the game seems to show scores of ISA troops being blown to bits. Carrier ships will get blown out of the skies, machine gun fire will mow down entire lines of troops and huge explosions will throw ISA bodies meters into the air, yet there is always a convenient supply of more to get blown to bits in the next cut scene. It destroys the continuity and any sense of hopeless survival, which Killzone 2 actually got right in a pretty big way. There’s even a cut scene where Sevchenko gets hit square in the face by a tidal wave at least 4 times his size as he stands on the outer deck of an oil rig. What happens next? The tide vanishes, he gets straight back up and exchanges some banter with Rico, who once again is right on time for the rescue mission. Funny, that.
Like I say; sloppy.
Fuckety Fuck Fuck
Unfortunately, character design or implementation fares little better. My biggest hope for Killzone 3 was that Rico, the foul mouthed ass from Killzone 2 who shares space with God of War’s Kratos as one of the most obnoxious characters in gaming, would be horrifically tortured by the Helghast within the first two minutes. I’m sad to report that this doesn’t happen, although Guerrilla have tried to balance this eternal disappointment by making some welcome changes to the character. Rico swears just a handful of times throughout the whole campaign, as opposed to a handful of times every few seconds in Killzone 2, and rather than feeling like just a bumbling idiot, he’s now a bumbling idiot who occasionally provides assistance to the overall war effort. The improvement is slight, but is an improvement nonetheless.
As the player, you once again step into the boots of Sevchenko. There’s not an awful lot to say about Sevchenko, in all fairness. He’s pretty much just the meat bag who represents your involvement with the game world during cut scenes. For what use he serves from a narrative perspective, he could quite easily be replaced by an actual bag of meat. Maybe a sack of reject sausages and offal with a smiley face painted on it.
Other than these two leading men – now staples of the series but somehow still totally forgettable – characters exist for no reason other than to drive what little story the game tries to create. Captain Narville, leader of the mobilised ISA forces on Helghan, exists only to give Rico the opportunity to disagree with direct instructions in order to make naive and stupid decisions that risk the entire units life, only to then succeed and look like the good guy. One of these stupid decisions leads him to Jammer, a female comrade in the ISA, who then spends the entire duration of the game popping up from seemingly nowhere to bail your ass out of trouble. And that’s pretty much how Killzone 3’s narrative works. Vague sideline characters pop in and out of affairs as a matter convenience or to set up a role for an existing character, and the game assumes you don’t care enough about these people to bother explaining much else. It’s better not to ask questions and just get on with it, and at least the game saves you time by automatically assuming you couldn’t care less.
It pretty much leaves you with Rico and Sevchenko to hang on to for any sort of character development. The ass and the sausage sack. Depressing.
Bam. Pow. Whoopee.
To be honest, it’s all a bit of a mess. By the time you’ve done trying to care about the characters or grown weary of being shunted from one location to the next, you might be forgiven for throwing in the towel. Killzone 3 attempts to maintain your interest with some typically explosive set pieces and some on rails shoot outs and vehicle chases, and to be fair if all you’re after is the weekend beer and pizza feast then this might keep you going just about long enough to see the game out. As expected, everything Killzone 3 does, regardless of how silly it might be, it does with a certain level of visual arrogance. The game looks utterly fantastic, and both visually and in terms of scale, the fight against the MAWLR, a huge walking mech with massive guns and lots of lasers, is the games stand out half an hour or so of action; if only for the fact that it’s probably the only bit you’ll actually remember.
For a game called Killzone that involves killing lots and lots of things, you can also expect plenty of weapons with which to administer your own particular brand of havoc. Standard issue rifles still provide a deeply satisfying punch while any number of missile launchers and other advanced technology does the job against tougher opponents. Although the heavy feel of the weaponry has been toned down significantly from Killzone 2, guns still feel satisfyingly weighty to operate.
Although it generally divided opinion, I was a fan of Killzone 2’s heavier aiming and movement, believing this was what made it stand out from the crowd, complementing the dingy and grimy nature of the game well and separating it from Call of Duty and its many imitations. While Killzone 3 limits this effect, it’s still a far cry from other shooters on the market, with each weapon generally feeling unique and maintaining a satisfying level of feedback. It’s now easier and quicker to aim without going totally down the twitch shooter route, and after some initial moaning I’ve come to the conclusion that this is a big improvement. Although some fans of the Killzone 2 system have been quick to criticise this decision, there were many more who stayed away from the previous games because of this, and in loosening up the system Guerrilla have made the experience more accessible to the general online FPS populace.
Kill Them All. Leave No-One Alive.
Online is where I’ve generally had the most fun with Killzone 3. Away from the ridiculous single player, the subtle techniques and alterations that Guerrilla have worked on to improve the games gun play are allowed to flourish without distractions. Although there is very little to genuinely distinguish Killzone 3’s online multiplayer to that of any other popular FPS, it does allow you to take in the games stunning visuals and improved mechanics in a competitive environment, and the result is a game which is actually quite fun to play.
As well as the now industry standard, post-Call of Duty 4 hallmarks, Killzone 3 features perks, a class system and a variety of game modes to get your teeth into. Online career progression opens up improved abilities and a choice of weapons, although this all seems a little more balanced than it does in some other shooters. Thankfully, there’s certainly no “nuke the hell out of everything” game ending perks for anyone who can fluke enough kills. Even with improved abilities, the playing field also remains pretty level. I started playing Killzone 3 online a couple of weeks behind those who played the game from launch, and even at low levels and with the most basic abilities and load outs I was holding my own against more seasoned players.
Killzone 3 online also features Operations mode, which pits a team of ISA human players against a team of Helghast opponents in three different scenarios, each with their own objectives. As the ISA you’re tasked with storming fortified Helghast strongholds, and are required to complete objectives such as setting charges to blow open doors or take control of specified bunkers or checkpoints. Successful completion of an individual task will open up the next objective, with this pattern continuing until the ISA are either stopped from completing the next task or they complete the whole mission. The odds certainly feel stacked in the Helghast’s favour, given that they are defending positions on each of the three maps, but it’s an interesting mode that I’ve enjoyed playing, and tends to breed a level of team work and co-operation not found in other online modes. It’s just a shame that this mode is restricted to just three maps, with no current plans to follow this up with any future DLC.
Still, the online multiplayer is a reasonably enjoyable side course to a pretty bitter tasting campaign. There’s not an awful lot here beyond the three Operations maps to particularly recommend, but at the same time Killzone 3 isn’t really any worse than any other online console shooter out there. For the most part, it plays it pretty safe, although I will confess that this is my “go to” multiplayer shooter at the moment. I’m not sure how long that will last, but in the short term it must be doing something right.
As someone who enjoyed Killzone 2, particularly the campaign, Killzone 3 feels like a backwards step in almost every way. The story is pretty much nonsense, character development is poor and some of the quick changes between locations feel particularly bizarre. Compared to its predecessor’s focused objectives and clear vision, despite not being perfect itself, Killzone 3’s campaign feels like a lazy, phoned in response to what Guerrilla perceived to be the areas that would win them a mainstream audience. In some ways, their desire to appeal to a broader market means fans of the previous games might be justified in feeling a little ignored.
That said, much of Killzone 2’s popularity was down to its simple but bombastic attitude to the FPS genre. Loud, proud, incredibly good looking and just a little bit silly. Regardless of the tweaks and alterations made elsewhere, it’s these constants, these guarantees, that will either win over the new audience Guerrilla wants or keep people away for the same reasons they ignored Killzone 2.
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