Sunday, March 6, 2011

Killzone 3 Review

This review was originally published on

The story of Killzone 3 picks up mere moments after the events of the last game. Series protagonist Tomas “Sev” Sevchenko, Rico, and the rest of the ISA forces are left stranded behind enemy lines, deep inside hostile Helghan territory. The third installment in Sony’s vicious sci-fi shooter is a direct continuation of the ongoing space saga, yet players new to the franchise need not worry. While Killzone 3 tells a more ambitious tale, the storytelling is not necessarily its strong suit. Long-time fans of the franchise might be pleased with the game’s conclusions but those simply looking for great moment-to-moment combat and a thrill-ride of roller-coaster proportions are going to get a lot out of the experience. Developer Guerrilla Games puts its best boot forward when it puts players on the ground, gun in hand, chaos reigning, against an army of red-eyed soldiers.

Killzone has quickly become the Playstation’s hallmark shooter, packing all of Sony’s recent technological initiatives into one box such as Move and 3D support. As far as your eyes and ears are concerned, Killzone 3 is a sensational treat. There’s substance to this world with many layers and no detail left unchecked. Ash floats through the air, snow crunches under the weight of footsteps, the metallic grown and pneumatic hiss of the Helghast jetpack, and the satisfying twangs of the game’s weaponry are parts of a much greater audio-visual landscape. Of course, the sequel has seen some much-needed tweaks and improvements to its core mechanics which make actually playing the game a more enjoyable experience.

Controls feel much better this time around, fixing the slow and down-right laggy shooting of Killzone 2. Things are much snappier and more responsive. While the combat feels better, the same can’t be said about the game’s use of six-axis for turning valves and placing explosives. Luckily, the game’s cover system has also seen improvement. Moving in and out of cover is much easier while running towards safety and hitting the trigger results in a nifty slide which now feels like a no-brainer and is extremely satisfying when you pull it off.

Critics of the last game’s setting felt there were too many destroyed cities in varying shades of brown and grey. Killzone 3 fixes that and offers more variety in terms of environments as well as gameplay. From Helghan jungles to snow-covered factories, the game features more locales in a diverse color palette. Vehicle missions break up the action and offer some variety in terms of gameplay, almost to the detriment of the experience. While the basic gunplay of Killzone 3 is finely tuned, certain vehicle sections make the game feel unbalanced. The campaign is pockmarked with sections where the difficulty suddenly skyrockets. Generally these were relegated to a few on-rails sections piloting the gun of a ship or tank where I found myself dying without really knowing why. In these moments, it felt more could have been done to give players some direction.

While the action is intense it is often cut short, falling victim to the hackneyed storytelling. Throughout the campaign, Sev will clear only a room or two before the screen fades to black to begin another cutscene. It constantly disrupts the flow of the experience and one can only guess there had to be a more elegant way to tell the story. It’s a shame considering how much effort Guerrilla puts into creating its first-person perspective. Sev controls with a sense of body and weight and is not merely a moving camera. By jumping back and forth like that, the game detracts from the immersive quality of the first-person perspective the studio so expertly crafted.

Apart from Malcolm McDowell’s portrayal of the Helghast arms dealer, Jordan Stahl, most of the cast is forgettable. The story falls flat because it is filled with unlikeable characters which is a shame considering the potential in the desperate situation between Sev and Rico. However, by the tenth time Rico disobeys an order and runs head-first into a fight, players are just left rolling their eyes. Other story issues include an odd moment where a scene from early in the game is revisited but with different results. It’s a jarring oversight that makes the whole thing feel like an after thought. While the stakes are high, the gravity of the story never hits home which hindered my desire to press on. However make no mistake, while the storytelling may be underwhelming, actually playing the game is an entirely different, worthwhile, and enjoyable experience. The combat feels great and responsive which is why the online multiplayer is such an addictive feature.

Five soldier types make up the online classes which include the Marksman; a sniper class, Medic, Engineer, Infiltrator, and Tactician. Each class feels unique and if teammates do their job, using their soldier’s abilities, it really can turn the tide of an online battle. A leveling system is in place, allowing players to unlock new weapons and upgrade the abilities of each class. Want to increase the speed of repairs? Drops some points into the Engineer's repair tool, and so forth. While these classes are fun, it’s frustrating to see guns can’t move between different classes. If you like playing as a medic but don’t enjoy the three primary weapons available to that class, you’re out of luck. It would have been nice to mix and match guns to the various classes. The series’ trademark mode, Warzone, is back. This online mode is a mix of several game types such as Team Deathmatch (referred to in-game as Bodycount), a king-of-the-hill variant, capture the flag, and more which changes several times throughout one session. It keeps things fresh and can be incredibly rewarding.

There’s no denying the people behind Killzone 3 not only understand the architecture of the PS3, but get what it takes to make a beautiful game with jaw-dropping setpieces and a quality multiplayer component. While it’s a shame to see the single-player story get bogged down with so many issues, there’s no denying there are so many things to love about Killzone 3 then there are things to hate. The series keeps upping the ante in terms of action as well as quality which makes me hopeful to see just how far this franchise can go.