Review: Killzone 3 (Sony PlayStation 3)

Killzone 3
Developer: Guerrilla Games
Publisher: SCEE
Genre: First Person Shooter
Release Date: 02/22/2011

A little under two years have passed since I reviewed Killzone 2. In that time we’ve had a number of fantastic games come out in the First Person Shooter genre. The Modern Warfare series has shipped billions of games, Battlefield Bad Company 2 came out and made me love Battlefield all over again, Halo Reach was released, plus any number of lesser games like Singularity or Metro 2033 have come out. Some of these games were excellent at single player, some of them were outstanding multiplayer experiences. But none of them had Space Nazis. Now thanks to Guerrilla Games the Helgath are back, and this time they intend to figure out what exactly happened during the finale of Killzone 2.

Story:

Alright, so at the end of KZ2 you have fought your way through incredible odds yadda yadda and have cornered the enemy leader, Vasari. Soon he will be put on trial for his crimes, including dropping an ISA nuclear bomb on his own capital city in an attempt to further convince his people of ISA depravity. But instead your teammate decides it would be a good idea to kill him, sort of what many might feel if they had the chance to take Bin Laden captive. So he does it, he goes and kills him. Ruins the whole plan to end the war and convince the Helgath it was all Vasari’s plan. And suddenly out of nowhere the Helgath Space Navy shows up, starts kicking ass and leaves you to wonder what the hell is going on.

KZ3 starts you off six months after that, and then begins a process of bouncing across time to tell its story. Instead of just telling the damned story, you are forced to decipher where it’s going.

You have a Captain who is stubborn and won’t listen, you have a Sargent who acts willfully and is insubordinate, and then you have your own character, who has to continually put up with the BS until he finally has enough and goes “rogue”. I don’t know, maybe they thought this was a good way to complete the story. They were wrong. I hated the characters and wanted the Helgath to win.

Incidentally, the Helgath are still referred to as Higs. Which is again, uncomfortably close to being racist. So I guess the developers and Sony just don’t care if their characters sound like members of the KKK.

Sound:

If they got the story horribly wrong they got the sound absolutely right. They took what was a fantastic sound design from Killzone 2 and built on it. The surround sound feature is used to full effect in this game. Explosions can be heard from every direction. The subwoofer thumps away to excellent effect. There are stages set in factories and industrial parks, jungles and frozen ocean harbors, and in each of them the worlds sound very much alive. There is a depth to the soundscape here. You can hear a gun firing and computer beeping and who knows what else, all at the same time. Fantastic work.

The voice cast does its part to carry the sound in the game too. Malcolm McDowell plays Jordan Stahl, the weapons manufacturer who enabled the Helgath to rise again following the events of the first Killzone, and Ray Winstone plays Admiral Orlock, the commander of the Helgath fleet. Their characters fight amongst themselves to take the reins of power following the loss of their beloved leader. In both single player and in the propaganda recordings of multiplayer they provide some outstanding voice work. Even the generic foot soldiers of the Helgath are given some personality this time. Sev and Rico, the actual stars of the game, do an admirable job of competing with the big Hollywood talent. If only they’d been given something worthwhile to say.

Lastly, once again the music is amazing. I actually left the disc on the menu screen once while I had to stop and do other things, just so I could hear it.

Graphics:

Everyone still remembers the Killzone 2 trailer that made everyone crap their pants in excitement. Killzone 2 wasn’t quite as good looking as the trailer, but the developers made damned sure they got as close as they could. As a result that game looked outstanding. Now two years later Killzone 3 is using what appears to be the same engine and it still looks fantastic. The developers heard some of the complaints too. The game is not nearly as dark and brooding. There are some levels where you don’t see any brown at all. Shocking I know. In its place you’ll find yellows and reds and various other colors in the spectrum. I’m not saying it’s a bright and colorful Nintendo title, but the game certainly has some variety to it now.

The characters look outstanding. Not all of them – Stahl looks a bit weird at times, and everyone’s eyes still don’t quite act naturally – but for the most part that Uncanny Valley is starting to be bridged, or filled in, or whatever metaphor you want to use.

Gameplay/Controls:

Killzone 3 has two separate ways to play the game, one way using the standard Dual Shock controller and one using the Playstation Move. As a result the game plays two ways. While using the Dual Shock the game feels very much like its predecessor. Aiming, running around, shooting,- it all feels very comfortable, and you can go into the options to switch a few buttons around if you find yourself wanting to stab someone but instead you are constantly zooming in on them. There isn’t really a whole lot to tell you about with this control style, there is nothing new in it. If you have played any FPS game recently then you will soon find yourself comfortable with these.

Playing the game using the Move on the other hand is an entirely new experience. One that is not always positive. Playing the game like I did, using just the two wands and not with the assault rifle peripheral that I so desperately want to play with but not spend any money on, I found the game to be a struggle at times. Aiming starts to become a chore the longer you play the game. If you are used to playing games for hours at a timem you will find it difficult to do so while playing with the Move. I found myself leaning in different directions while playing, all to just let my arm rest a little. A larger screen area is also recommended, as playing with a smaller TV makes for a game where your movements must be very precise.

When you do get used to aiming with the wand you then have to get used to the control scheme, which is forced to be different due to the lack of an R2 button on the Move wand. Pressing the Move button crouches the player, and you must double tap the L2 button to zoom down your scope. Pressing and holding the L2 button will bring up a target lock on whatever enemy the game thinks you are looking at, and you can use this feature to home in on an enemy. This function also exists in online multiplayer, which might explain why some people seem to be able to kill you when you can’t even see them, or move fast enough to get your sights on them. The game says the option isn’t available in Multiplayer, but that’s not what I see when I play. Maybe they meant to take that out? I don’t know.

Either way, for me at least, the ability to lock onto specific targets didn’t seem to give me any kind of advantage in game, as my K/D ratio was never over 1-1 in any of the games I played that way. I think the motion controls are nifty, better implemented here than in MAG, and I can’t wait to eventually find one of those plastic rifle attachments on sale somewhere, as I think that would add a new element of control to this game, as playing it this way often leaves you trying to control the camera almost as much as the gun.

One last thing about playing the game while using the Move. Some of the buttons in multiplayer require you to press the d-pad. Engineers for example deploy turrets by pressing the d-pad, medics revive people by pressing the d-pad, and so forth. Unfortunately the way the controller is built makes it more awkward to press those buttons and not die, as you must let go of the analog stick, then move your thumb down towards the d-pad to initiate your chosen function. Not a killer thing but it nags at you, as it’s not nearly so cumbersome on the Dual Shock.

Replayability:

The game offers only one campaign, but you can play it in single player or in co-op. The co-op is restricted to the local machine only, and Move controls are disabled in that mode because presumably the system can only handle so much awesome at any one time.

You then have the online multiplayer mode. If you played the online mode in Killzone 2 you will find things to be very similar. You fight as a basic soldier at first in various gameplay modes, including Guerrilla Mode (Team Deathmatch), Warzone (which is seven different gameplay modes in one), among others. You earn points towards your rank, and ranking up earns you new abilities and weapons. Similar to Call of Duty or Bad Company 2. The developers have eased the requirements for leveling up too, or at least it seems that way. I started playing online after finishing the single player campaign and I was already a Sargent two days later, and that was playing fairly casually. Stopping to eat, drink, and sleep, that sort of thing. As you progress of course the ranking up starts to require more points, but I feel that’s fair. All I want is fair. Additionally, ranking up to higher ranks gives you more career points to be spent on weapon unlocks and skill unlocks. All in all I feel they addressed that issue with Killzone 2 quite nicely.

Finally there is Operations mode, which is very much like Rush mode in Bad Company 2. Your team is given an objective to attack or defend, and depending on how the fight goes the game ends or progresses to the next stage. The neat thing they’ve added here is mini cutscenes that include player names in between each of the stages. So if your team wins stage one, players who distinguished themselves while doing it will have their names appear on the character models the game uses to show the story. There is no character interaction here, but it’s a nice touch I think.

I’m a little disappointed that any rank I had from the last game didn’t get carried over in some way to this one, but it’s something I can live with.

Balance:

The end of the single player campaign in KZ2 was pretty brutal, difficulty wise. And again the game can get pretty difficult, but once again it is a matter of picking the right weapon for the job. They did allow you to carry a weapon other than your pistol as your second weapon this time, but they also made things a little more frustrating too, as you can’t carry a sniper rifle and an assault rifle at the same time, something I’ve done since the beginning of time it seems.

Originality:

Well, the ending was certainly original. I don’t think I’ve ever done THAT before. Otherwise the single player game fails pretty badly at being original. Many of the levels turn into “get on the vehicle and shoot what’s chasing you”. In fact, towards the end I got a massive case of Deja Vu as I felt like I was playing Rebel Assault again.

I did like the mini movies in Operations mode. It’s silly I know, but I loved playing and seeing my character being the guy who survived, or the guy who is standing guard at the beginning of the round.

Addictiveness:

While I hated the characters I did want to see the end of the story. And the multiplayer is very entertaining, even if the single player isn’t.

Appeal:

Well, this is Sony’s Halo, so if you don’t own a 360 and want to get your Space Marine on, this is the game for you. It’s also in 3D and supports the Move.

Miscellaneous:

The menu no longer thumps when you select something, thankfully. The insistence on making me twist this way and that with the controller to arm demolition charges is sadly still in the game, unfortunately. Maybe Killzone 4?

Finally, as mentioned above Killzone 3 is one of Sony’s first party games which supports 3D gaming. However, as I myself do not have a television capable of supporting 3D gaming this review is being brought to you in 2D. I can offer you no reviews on how they integrated the third dimension into the game, but at least now you know it’s available.

The Scores
Story: Mediocre
Graphics: Great
Sound: Unparalleled
Gameplay/Controls: Good
Balance: Good
Replayability: Great
Originality: Above Average
Addictiveness: Very Good
Appeal Factor: Very Good
Miscellaneous: Good
Final Score: Very Good Game

Short Attention Span Summary
Killzone 3 is a very solid gameplay experience. If only the story was at all interesting.

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