Killzone 2 was notable for earning Guerrilla Games its share of industry awards for Most Improved Series. Considering the utter muddiness of the original Killzone, Guerrilla didn’t really need to try too hard. Yet they did excel in KZ2 and to many, they greatly exceeded expectations. Now their fourth chapter in the Helghan conflict is ready to be told and without the domineering presence of the now-deceased emperor and series nemesis Scolar Visari.
The past couple years has seen a rise in games with entertaining premises involving characters needing to get the hell out of a bad situation. 2010 alone saw not one, but two games where the player had to flee Shanghai, Army of Two: The 40th Day and Kane & Lynch 2. In the case of Killzone 3, the game is one big evacuation off the planet Helghan. If you recall, the first Killzone also involved finishing the game in space.
With Vasari gone, one of the plot points in KZ3 deals with the power vacuum and the inevitable leadership succession conflicts. It’s entertaining stuff and makes for a good diversion from the obligatory “Oorah!” platoon bravado of the ISA, best personified by series mainstay Rico Velasquez. His often high-strung demeanor complements the more levelheaded, yet driven Tomas “Sev” Sevchenko, the game’s playable character. Conflict often rises when Rico has to put up with the directives of Captain Jason Narville, who at times comes off as a slightly more assertive version of the one-dimensional Lieutenant Gorman from Aliens.
Much like last year’s Assassins Creed: Brotherhood, there’s an obvious appeal in starting a sequel’s story immediately where the previous game left off and you get that in Killzone 3. In fact, the first few chapters manage to preserve the urban feel of previous game, except of course this capital city of Pyrrhus has now been leveled by a nuclear blast. Guerrilla does such a great job in this sense of continuity that this first act feels like the game could have been titled Killzone 2: Part 2. Yet, the player will soon discover that KZ3 does not the have the same focused direction and narrative that Killzone 2 had. KZ3’s later levels, with their outdoor, non-urban settings actually call to mind the locales of the original Killzone, just reimagined with superb next-gen quality and with humongous set pieces and vehicles that could not have been possible on the PlayStation 2.
To their credit, Guerrilla did a fine job incorporating mobile machines that neither feel gimmicky nor out of place. If KZ2’s level design theme centered around confining urban warfare, KZ3’s design is much more open, giving enough headroom in the couple jetpack sequences the game offers. Many will wish there were more areas that featured the exo mechs, but at least those walking minitanks can also be taken for a spin in Killzone 3’s other modes. Note that there are four on-rails sequences that some FPS fans might not be crazy about, but these are brief engagements that can be beaten with memorization and spamming all available weapons.
When a game like Killzone 2 manages to get so many things right, Guerrilla lets KZ3 stand out by focusing on the little things. Every subsequent Killzone game finds the Helghast growling less and less, which is just as well; they have other ways to appear menacing. Guerrilla also managed to reduce the amount of times the game would randomly pause for 2-3 seconds which occurred every 20 minutes or so in KZ2. The cover system is definitely one of my favorite features although it’s not a guaranteed reprieve from all kinds of gunfire.
This degree of fine tuning also results in making Killzone 3 slightly easier compared the two previous installments. Any decent FPS player will find the Veteran difficulty setting more than suitable on their first playthrough. Not only is the game littered with an inordinate amount of ammo refill boxes, KZ3’s heavy weapons are freakishly effective. For example, the bolt gun, with its delayed explosive charge, can take out a chaingun-wielding heavy in two well-placed shots. It should also be noted that access to weapons with useful scopes are more readily available, where some guns can be just as accurate and effective as any sniper rifle (although the game does have a number of fun sniper sections). Rico also partners up with you during the second half the game and can often revive you if you get knocked out.
Despite this level of ease, it doesn’t take away from the satisfaction of surviving many firefights on the first attempt, let alone the joy of taking out a highly mobile enemy with just a shot or two. The fact that Guerrilla didn’t bother with collectible documents and insignias this time around also makes Killzone 3 a smoother experience where you can focus on the enemy hiding behind cover as opposed to searching nooks and crannies for briefcases.
Speaking of details, the environmental designs in some of the stages are jaw-droppingly impressive. It’s not an easy feat to standout when dirt, grime, twisted metal, and just overall clutter are standard visuals in today’s first and third person shooters. The degree of destruction from the carnage of Visari’s nuclear detonation shows a fitting display of premeditated messiness, and that doesn’t include an equally impressive locale later in the game.
By virtue of being typically longer than movies, videogames can get away with much more eclectic soundtracks. The best of these soundtracks stand out by not being eclectic just for the sake of it and Killzone 3 falls in this classification. About 2/3 of the game’s music has shades of inspiration from John Williams while the remaining third changes things up with electronic compositions with well placed bass textures.
While we haven’t had considerable time with KZ3’s multiplayer, we did try out Botzone, which pits the player in a multiplayer-like setting with AI bots replacing actual gamers. Warzone returns, bringing back the format of rotating through multiple game types in a single session and is offered in 6 maps. Guerrilla Warfare is the familiar Team Deathmatch game with 5 maps available. The 3-map Operations mode is an objective-style format that uses some ideas from Battlefield: Bad Company. All these modes allows up to 15 bots.
These points alone already makes Killzone 3 just the second must-buy title of 2011 (the first being Dead Space 2), yet it’s also one of the games Sony looks to use to push their 3D technology. It makes a lot of sense when you think about how well the first person perspective would lend itself to 3D. The game has to double-render the images for 3D to work, thereby forcing a minor, yet noticeable downgrade in graphical fidelity. Still, if you’re looking to demo 3D TVs to your friends, Killzone 3 is miles more effective in making a sale than any 3D Blu-ray film out there.
I also spent three chapters playing KZ3 with the Move motion controller and the navigation controller. This control option is implemented well enough that some gamers will in fact prefer this over the DualShock. The sensitivity customization is also deep enough that traditional controller purists should try the Move functionality at least once.
The menacing visage of the Helghast soldiers have long since become synonymous with Killzone as much as say, Sam Fisher’s green goggles in Splinter Cell. Armored with their gas masks and ominous red eyes, the Helghast can feel imposing. Again, taking these guys down will be easier than ever, but they can still surprise you, especially when they mix up their roster with heavies and the more agile ninja-inspired troops who are capable of instant melee kills. Yet as Sev, you also have some very lethal close-quarters talents.
You might only die a few dozen times, but Killzone 3 is never short on challenges. This escape from Helghan not only pays homage to the first two console installments, but also helps to maintain the series’ legitimacy within this competitive genre. The liberal and gutsy implementation of vehicles and jetpacks is just one of the many reasons why Killzone 3 is a solid ride, both literally and figuratively.
(This review was based off a complete playthrough of the game on its Veteran (Hard) difficulty setting. 19 out of 52 trophies were unlocked. PSN ID: oilywater. A copy of the game was provided in advance by Sony for review purposes.)
Developer: Guerrilla Games
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 3
Released: Ferbuary 22, 2011