Killzone 3 (PS3) Review
Apart from Halo and Gears of War, there aren’t many shooters that warrant a sequel let alone deserve a triple helping of mediocrity. That very sentiment could have applied to the PlayStation exclusive Killzone series, whose fate may have been sealed alongside its incredibly disappointing first appearance on PlayStation 2. However, with Sony-owned Guerrilla Games firmly focused on the goal of turning the Killzone franchise into PlayStation’s flagship shooter, a sequel was inevitable.
As luck would have it, Killzone 2 blew most people’s expectations out of the water. By pushing the power of the PS3 more than most, it delivered a highly polished, technically astute shooter that stood proudly head and shoulders above all others as the most handsome FPS on Sony’s console. Nonetheless, it still wasn’t perfect. Strip away its shiny outer layer and underneath was a linear shooter, where style often took precedence over substance. The script too was crammed full of nauseating tough guy bravado and U.S action movie clichés and that served to do little, other than to make what was already a forgettable storyline even weaker.
Overall though, Killzone 2 didn’t buckle on its promise on the battlefield and it delivered some intense fire-fights, a slick lean-and-peak cover system and an array of powerful weapons that really felt like they could do some serious damage. Although Killzone 3 essentially re-uses Killzone 2’s blueprint – inheriting the same appalling story-telling credentials and linear structure – it also improves in many areas. But what, if anything, makes this PS3 exclusive stand out from the crowd?
That probably makes Killzone 3 sound quite one-dimensional and boring but quite the opposite is true. Killzone 3 plays to its strengths as a straight-forward corridor shooter and the developer uses plenty of tricks to prevent the action from becoming stale. Stunning backdrops, explosive audio and cinematic set-pieces complement Killzone’s 3 intensity and frenetic pace and just when we think we know what’s coming next, it cleverly mixes things up by giving us access to a new weapon, throwing a new type of enemy our way, or challenging us with a big boss battle. The brilliant animation and powerhouse of a physics engine adds to the excitement, as enemies topple from balconies, buckle and stagger from a shot to the knee-cap, and catapult into the sky from a well-placed grenade, before falling to the ground like rag-dolls.
Level design is also very impressive. With a nice variety of highly detailed, multi-tiered levels, from jungles to junkyards Killzone 3 always provides a stunning backdrop to the action while encouraging players to dabble with different play styles and make use of its variety of weapons. There are sniper missions, for instance, where we are tasked with pin-pointing Helghast soldiers hiding high up in the surrounding buildings; and stealth sections where players have to creep through the jungle, sneaking up on enemies or executing perfect head-shots with our silenced pistol. There are situations where the player straps on a jet-pack and boost around an oil rig set far out at a sea; or jump into a giant Exoskeleton and obliterate enemy outposts with guided rockets. Overall, Killzone 3 mixes the gameplay up very nicely and though it does often feel like there’s an invisible hand pushing us forward in a specific direction across each level, the action is paced extremely well.
The new weapons complement this new varied style particularly well. The weapon-equipped jet pack, for instance – though not used enough in our opinion – handles very smoothly. It not only feels like a powerful weapon, but it also offers a refreshingly different viewpoint over the battlefield that comes in particularly handy for taking down other jet-pack wearing enemies and moving in between multi-tiered levels. Similarly, the W.A.S.P launcher, which homes in on the target by firing a barrage of projectile missiles, is a lot of fun to use and extremely effective on the battlefield as it turns tanks into scrap metal in an instance. Thankfully the likes of machine guns, sniper rifles and rocket launchers don’t disappoint either, with impressive recoil, sound and weight all playing a part in making them feel quite authentic and powerful. Furthermore, we get a chance to experiment frequently as there with plenty of ammo and weapons lying around. Whether taking down Helghast in their hordes with the likes of a Sentry turret, or frying them alive with the flamethrower, players can always guarantee that each kill results in a grisly death animation that never fails to entertain. And it’s worth experimenting, not just for our own perverse satisfaction of enjoying the numerous death animations but because we get rewarded for doing so with extra trophies.
In addition to the meaty array of weapons, the combat knife and the melee attack is also very effective in battle. In fact, one of the most enjoyable things about Killzone 3 is combining typical FPS play with some brutal melee assaults. When we can dash around shoving the butt of our gun in the face of a Helghast, knocking his mask clean off before flicking him around, banging his head off a rock and then slitting his throat it’s quite tempting to spend most of the time enjoying the wide range of brutal melee attacks. Guerrilla Games has really set the bar now for melee attacks in first person shooters and after playing Killzone 3 it’s going to be hard to play any other game that features melee play without thinking of its gloriously brutal finishing moves.
It helps immeasurably that the control scheme in Killzone 3 is so accessible. Switching weapons and sliding into cover is an intuitive reaction that feels quite natural, while weapon handling is solid and responsive. The implementation of Move support, which gives players the option to take a point-and-shoot approach, similar to arcade shooters, isn’t just a gimmick either. It’s actually one of the most responsive control schemes that we’ve tried out with the motion-sensing peripheral. The cross-hair on screen responds precisely as it should to our movements; and executing actions, such as crouching and zooming in, are mapped to Move’s buttons extremely well. Meanwhile, thrusting Move forward to pull off a melee attack makes finishing moves even more satisfying than using a standard controller. So much so, that this reviewer often found himself mimicking the slashing movements of the knife and twisting the controller into the heart of a Helghast soldier even though we don’t need to.
Though online co-op would have been a welcome inclusion, away from the eight-or so hour campaign, Killzone 3 also offers a robust online component. Our opinion of multiplayer would have been markedly different it we were writing this review around launch time, but thanks to the arrival of some game-enhancing patches, on-line is now much more stable and enjoyable then when it started out. Though multiplayer offers many of the game modes that have become the standard in first person shooters, including team deathmatch and a variety of objective-based games, such Search and Destroy the inclusion of jet-packs, mechs and melee attacks adds a layer of strategic depth against other players – this is something we just don’t get in the single player campaign. The maps too offer a diverse range of locations to battle across that encourage tactical variety and naturally, the high graphical quality of the environments carries over from the single player campaign.
We did have the privilege of playing Killzone 3 for a good couple of hours on a 46" Sony Bravia 3D model. It’s a great advertisement for 3D gaming and looks quite incredible, offering an enhanced depth of field that allows gamers to spot an enemy far away in the distance immediately. Most impressive though are the melee attacks, which at times made us jump back from our screen as the butt of a gun protruded out of the set. A 3D TV isn’t a requirement to appreciate Killzone 3 though. The colour palette has been made more varied since the monotone look of Killzone 2 and overall it’s remarkably impressive with one of the highlights coming from the towering Helghast war machine that marches into town and dominates the sky-line far away in the distance. Such is the power of Killzone 3’s imagery that players will often find it hard to focus on the action.
It could be argued that the high quality production is more often than not the star of the show in Killzone 3. However, despite some mundane on-rails sections mixed in among many exciting passages of gameplay, there are a lot of other areas where Killzone 3 excels. It’s evolved immensely since the last Killzone title, with a smoother control scheme, increased weapon variety and multi-faceted gameplay that ultimately offers a more diversified experience than many other games in the same genre. Taking all into account, players won’t find a better shooter on PlayStation 3 than Killzone 3.
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