As my Youtube viewers could tell you, I have been out of the multiplayer shooter game for over six years. I was at one point a massive PC FPS freak. I started with Doom and played all the way up through Unreal Tournament 2004 (eleven years of solid frag hunting) before I finally started to question why I continued to play games that all essentially boiled down to the video game equivalent of playing Cowboys and Indians in the back yard. I put down the mouse and keyboard, and never touched another first person shooter until I tried my hand at Resistance: Fall of Man when the PS3 launched, and even then I only played the campaign. The same goes for Resistance 2, Killzone 2, Halo 3, Call of Duty: MW2, and so on.
Then a few weeks ago a free copy of MAG fell into my hands. A few of my Youtube friends invited me in, and I started to warm up to the genre again. So when the chance to review the beta for Killzone 3 presented itself, I jumped at the opportunity.
Now before I get into the meat of this, let me throw a quick shoutout here. The images in this preview were taken from a Youtube video posted by my bud Dragonleader33, a real class act who helped my kid earn the Platinum on Little Big Planet a month or so ago. Don’t let that fool you though, this guy’s a straight beast when it comes to this game. I joined his game thinking I’d be playing with him, only to find myself playing against him, and me being as rusty as I am these days, he totally dominated my ass (though I did get some good frags in on him here and there.) This is why a couple of the images might seem a bit pixelated, but since his newest video features several brutal melee kills, I thought it would give you all a good feel for how bloody and downright gruesome this game can get.
Knowing that people would want to know how it fared against Killzone 2, I went back to it and played it for a few hours before jumping into the beta. And what I can tell you is that most of the complaints thrown at the original have been dealt with.
The beta consists of three maps, and three modes: Guerrilla Warfare, Warzone, and Operation. Guerrilla Warfare is straight up deathmatch. Warzone is sort of a fast team deathmatch where you have random objectives thrown at you until one side wins over the other. The matches aren’t too long, and the unpredictability of what’s coming next can add to the fun. The third and final mode, Operation, gives you a real taste of what the Beta has to offer. This mode has each team trying to overtake the other’s home base in an ever escalating set of objectives. The back and forth, give and take of this mode can make matches easily go on for a half hour or more, and for those of you in the beta looking for maximum XP, this is the mode you want, as every little thing you do earns you experience, from setting bombs to stabbing Helghast in the eye sockets.
One thing veterans of the previous game will pick up on right off the bat is the change to the leveling system. The rather linear fashion of the previous game has been replaced with a much more open system, where you are free to jump in and out of other classes at will, leveling them up as you please. Each time you level up (the beta has a total of 45 levels you can attain) you earn a skillpoint that you can assign to any class you wish, on top of universal skills for every class that are attained by reaching set rank goals. This gives you much more freedom in how you play than Killzone 2 did, and will surely be a very welcome change for the fanbase.
Now for the massive elephant in the room. The biggest complaint about the last game was the controls. Guerrilla added a sort of drag to the movement of your weapon to give it a sense of weight and realism. I never had a problem with this, because for me, it was part of what set the game apart from other series and added to the grittiness of the experience. But many gamers, especially fans of the Call of Duty series, spoke out about it, and how it slowed the pace of the multiplayer down and made it harder to survive firefights where you had opponents coming from multiple directions.
While this “lag” hasn’t been fully eliminated, it has been sped up quite a bit. The weapons still have that sense of weight, but you can turn much faster than you could before. It’s not quite as fast as, say, Modern Warfare 2, but its much faster than it was the last time around, especially if you up the sensitivity from the default 50/50 to around 70/70 or so, which gives you plenty of speed without sacrificing accuracy. There is one downside to this, in that there’s very little noticeable recoil to any of the weapons, so there’s not much diversity in the “feel” of going from one gun to another.
And while we’re on the subject of the actual gameplay mechanics, the melee kill system has been given a complete overhaul. Perhaps to up the ante after Halo:Reach’s inclusion of assassinations, there’s a ton of new melee kills to be had here, a couple of which you can see in this preview. You have the standard gun to the face, the equivalent to Reach’s Mighty Elbow of Doom(tm); you have the popular knife to the eye socket; you can sneak up behind a guy and slash his throat; you can run up to a guy and slash his throat (which sometimes looks more like you’re slashing him across the mouth, which is why some have come to call this the “Why So Serious?” kill); you can break a guy’s neck; you can rip a guy’s face right off, and those are just the melees in the beta!
And again, perhaps to compete with Halo’s use of vehicles in some modes (which they totally didn’t get from Unreal Tournament and Tribes), there are a couple of vehicles you can use in the beta, namely the jetpack and the mech. The jetpack works similarly to the jetbacks in Reach, allowing you to shoot up in the air in short bursts, but with the addition of dual shoulder-mounted Gatling guns that allow you to quite effectively fly from point to point blasting anything underneath you simultaneously. And the mech is just a beast of total carnage. Should you be fortunate enough to find your way into one of these, you will send a good number of killjoys to their spawn point before you finally get taken down.
The class system itself has also been given some interesting tweaks. Medics can earn the ability to be accompanied by small flying bots that can fire on their opponents. Engineers can repair damaged weapon depots and spawn gun turrets. Tacticians can see where everyone is on the map via cool visual markers and move spawn points to give the team the advantage. Marksmen are your standard sniper with various earnable perks that can improve their ability to pick you off from a distance, and saboteurs have been replaced by a class called Infiltrators, which have perks that allow them to eventually be able to run without ever getting winded, and don disguises that not only make them appear to be members of the opposing team, but will even place fake names over their heads so you may pass by them thinking they’re actually one of your teammates based on the name alone.
Now I know you must be seeing all these great improvements and you’re likely thinking to yourself “Okay 7th, that’s cool and all, but is there anything wrong with the beta?” Oh yes. Yes there’s a lot of room for improvement.
First off, there’s the graphics. They’re gorgeous, so much so that some of the effects, particularly the snow, can become a bit of a visual distraction. There’s so much going on, with little to no visual lag, that it’s easy to be taken in by all the effects going on at once and find yourself on the receiving end of a knife to the throat because you couldn’t take your eyes away from the ocean waves washing up onto the frozen shoreline as the snow falls and visible windgusts blow snow up in swirling eddies around your feet. Or you can easily be sniped while watching a sort of Stargatish contraption start blasting tendrils of green energy everywhere that causes an EMP burst that temporarily disables your radar map.
The multiplayer maps don’t appear to have any music. This might not seem like a big deal to some, but after having experienced MAG and seeing how even arguably so-so music tracks can add to the thrill of a gun fight, I missed having it there.
Despite the graphical awe of this title (it will likely be the best looking shooter for any console until Crysis 2 rips it a new one) there’s a definite sameness to the levels. Why is it that every major conflict in every Killzone game always seems to take place in the same abandoned factory where Murphy was killed at the beginning of Robocop? Is that why the ISA have it in for the Helghast? Do all of them run sweatshop factories employed by hundreds of ISA children making two space-pennies a week to make gas masks and Jersey Devil goggles? I know this is just a beta with three maps, but I certainly hope Guerrilla Games brings their A game with the other maps and adds some much needed variety, because so far, the Killzone series has had all the locale diversity of the Saw movie franchise, and that’s not a good thing. Awe-inspiring or no, once you’ve run across the catwalks of one warehouse/factory/processing plant, you’ve run across them all.
I have noticed some bugs here and there. Sometimes my melee button (R3) has failed to work, causing an easy melee kill from an opponent (I suggested to Dragonleader33 that a hand-to-hand countering system might balance this out somewhat and he laughed and called me a n00b.) I also had one rather hilarious glitch where I got killed down in a trench, respawned and went running over to where I got killed hoping for a good old fashioned revenge frag, only to find my own avatar, with my name still hovering above his head, standing right where I’d died, fidgeting like Norman Bates sneaking a look through the peephole. I stood there laughing while I filled my own ass full of lead before one of my opponents finally noticed me and took both me AND me out with a grenade. Maybe this was the developer’s answer to adding some Demon’s Souls type functionality (*note thick sarcasm.*)
But the biggest room for improvement comes from the balance, or incredible lack thereof. First off, in typical fashion for a PS3 title, the skillmatching is horrible. I have yet to join a single game where I wasn’t incredibly outclassed by everyone on the opposing team. I have spoken to others who have recently joined the beta and they have experienced the same thing. This must be addressed immediately, or it will quickly discourage new players much in the same way that newcomers to MAG will often put the game down before ever making it to level 20.
The jetpack is nicely balanced because, while it can give you a tactical advantage, it also can leave you highly exposed due to the lack of speed in which you move, allowing those with good aim to simply blow you right out of the sky for an easy frag. But the mech is a totally different story. if you join a game on a map that has mechs, you’d best hope that you start out at the beginning of the match rather than joining one in progress and make a beeline for those mechs, because if you join late, you will be decimated. As fun as the mechs are behind the wheel, they’re a major pain in the ass when trying to take one down.
But the worst balancing issue is with the class perks themselves. The medics can eventually reach a point where they can actually revive themselves. So you run up to one and stab him in the eye socket. You’d best fill his writhing body with lead the second he drops, because if you just assume that he’s done and keep moving, he’s likely to wait for you to walk past, revive himself, then calmly walk up behind you and slit your throat. Plus if he has one of those seeker bots following him around, it doesn’t matter if you kill him or not, you’ll have to kill the bot too before it guns you down.
The marksmen class, at least to me, seems rather useless due to the layout of the maps. There are very few spots on these maps that I have found where a sniper has a good vantage point on multiple targets. While this does dissuade sniper camping, forcing them to follow the flow of the match, there just aren’t enough good spots where you can take a knee and take guys out without being exposed, which more or less defeats the purpose of having a marksmen class at all.
And then there’s the Infiltrators. This class will piss you off more than anyone you come across in this game. When they first start out, their disguise only lasts for a certain duration and disappears the minute they fire a shot or pull out a knife. But once they’ve leveled up, it lasts much longer, and they can actually perform melee kills without it deactivating their disguise, so they’re basically free to run at full speed across the map knifing guys who think they’re on the same team one after the next after the next, essentially making this class the equivalent to the much hated Commando class in Modern Warfare 2.
This wide range of perks worries me, as I’m more of a fan of straight run and gun gameplay, but I’m already seeing guys take full advantage of these perks, especially the Infiltator’s, making Killzone 3 Sony’s answer to Halo‘s “Where Does He Get Those Wonderful Toys?”/”Fist Person Elbower” form of online multiplayer. I really ripped on MAG when it first came out because of its lack of a campaign mode, but I will say this about it: those who prefer straight run-and-gun gameplay will enjoy what it offers a lot more than what I have thus far experienced in Killzone 3, which is striking me as a full-on gimmickfest the more I play it.
In summary, the Killzone 3 Beta shows a clear and vast improvement over the previous game in the series, but still needs a lot of tweaking, particularly in the balancing of the multiplayer. I am sure the campaign will be just as bombastic and epic in scale as its predecessor, but if these balancing issues aren’t addressed, come February Sony fanboys will be able to look forward to what will amount to little more than a grittier, less-featured clone of what Halo: Reach offers.
Oh and Sony? If you pull an Uncharted 2 on me and strip me of all my experience and levels when the retail game comes out, I will do absolutely nothing in retaliation, but I’ll enjoy imagining that I did.