Review – Killzone 3

Hype can be a wonderful thing. The building anticipation and excitement for a game release is an experience every gamer can relate with, whether it is a big name franchise sequel or a much loved niche title, the feeling is much the same.  It releases that inner child that says “I must have this”.

For developers though, hype can be an albatross, an unobtainable benchmark that adds an extra layer of pressure. Killzone developers Guerilla have had this pressure acutely imposed on them since their Playstation 3 debut, which was still a solid game, failed to live up to unrealistic expectations. Could they achieve it this time?

Killzone 3’s (KZ3) story begins immediately in the aftermath of Visari’s death, in a similarly epic fashion as its predecessor. Instead of a Normandy-esque beach landing on Helghan, this time it is a firefight out of Visari’s palace grounds to regroup with the ISA forces. The main antagonist in this installment is the creepy Jorhan Stahl, who is by the numbers Machiavellian character. Butting heads with Stahl is the head of the Helghan navy, Admiral Orlock, who seems a blatant rip off of Tom Hardy’s Charles Bronson, in voice work anyway. The dithering of the ISA forces, combined with the power battle between Stahl and Orlock is the basis of most of the game’s grand story.

Orlock: Charles Bronson in space

Once again the level of detail presented is fantastic, from nuclear fallout littering the sky to the clouds of dust that swirl through urban environments, it is on occasion distracting. More than once, I stopped to look at a colossal machine in the background or stand on an iceberg and watch as a waves crashed into an iceberg and launch skyward in a fine spray.

The criticism aimed at Guerilla for using too much of a brown and grey colour palette in Killzone 2 cannot be leveled this time. There is much variety contained within the world of Helghan. Special mention must be given to the “Helghan Wilderness” level, which wouldn’t look out of place in the scenes of Avatar. Bright orange, purple and greens add luminosity to surroundings. Later levels show further variance that I won’t mention here for fear of plot spoilers.

Among the visual variety there is also variance in the scenarios Sergeant Sevchenko finds himself in. The Helghan Wilderness level is also a typical follow-the-leader stealth level, as made famous in Call of Duty 4. There are also the return of tank battles, giant mech suits and on-rails shooting sections. The most fun is had with the newly introduced jetpack. Bouncing from iceberg to iceberg picking off other jetpack soldiers is a real highlight Killzone. The jetpack handles in a pleasingly clunky manner, as it cannot fly for an extended period it is more of a hopping motion, almost like a daddy longlegs with machine guns attached.

Jetpacks: One of the highlights of Killzone 3

Running around beautiful backdrops can only hold the attention for so long, it’s the gunplay that really matters in a first person shooter. There isn’t a great change in weaponry from KZ2, the biggest change being the addition of a third weapon Sergeant Sevchenko is able to hold. Along with an assault weapon and a sidearm, there is now a heavy weapons slot. This allows the use of a heavy machine gun, explosives launcher or a sniper rifle. The new system makes the sometimes frustrating inventory balancing from KZ2 a thing of the past.

The guns themselves all fire satisfyingly and the animation of the Helghan forces as they react to being shot is still immensely, and somewhat morbidly, satisfying. Arms flail, bodies contort and fall all in a convincing fashion. The addition of a new melee system is almost a show reel of animation effects, almost all are wince inducing in some respect, but the first viewing of the gruesome eyeball poke melee kill always raises a gasp.

The controls now have an “alternative” option, which lets players map the Call of Duty control scheme to Killzone 3. This control scheme feels far more intuitive than the default setting and will most likely become the favoured control scheme of most players.

The WASP launcher: More bang for your buck

Once the superb single player campaign has been resolved, the game’s online multiplayer options will become the first port of call. Guerilla built a consistent multiplayer experience that maintained a steady community with Killzone 2, early indications of this installment are encouraging. The class system has been altered and there is more scope for different play styles for low-level players. The experience system returns and encourages that “one more shot” scenario to get to the next unlock.

Sadly I haven’t been able to use the much-vaunted Playstation Move controls. There is also the Playstation Move Sharpshooter, a plastic rifle shell that the Move controller is placed in. While I haven’t experienced it myself, Kotaku.com’s Brian Crecente had this to say on the feature:

“It gives you so many different experiences, each with seemingly perfect motion controls. The motion controls for flying a jetpack feel as natural, as expansive as do the controls for moving around in a mech suit. It doesn’t just work, it improves the experience.”

Finding fault in Killzone 3 is difficult, there really isn’t any great flaw within the game. Sound in cutscenes can sometimes feel out of sync with the lips of characters, melee attacking a blocked door doesn’t quite look right and sometimes you’ll die and feel you didn’t deserve it. But these are rare occurrences and as such do not devalue the overall package in any great way.

Killzone 3 belongs in the company of Uncharted 2 and God of War 3 as the upper echelon of titles that can only be experienced on Playstation 3. With a cinematic and intense single player experience and multiplayer options that will last for months of solid play, this is the first truly great game of 2011. An essential purchase for Playstation 3 owners.

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