Killzone 3 has its flaws, but like a supermodel with bed-head and a great personality, you can overlook these minor details in order to enjoy a fantastic overall package. I won’t try to convince anyone that the single player campaign is the best thing ever, but it is good. The story is somewhat non-existent in some parts, as the game relies on the setting to help push the game forward. The length of the missions is a touch on the short side as well, but when paired with a fiendishly addictive and fun multiplayer, Killzone 3 is simply the best game of the year so far.
The PlayStation 3 seems to just now be hitting its stride. After four years, the system is easing into a groove, and developers are finding new ways to push the hardware further and further. Killzone 3 is an example of that, and the graphics are nothing short of stunning. There are a few technical hiccups, like the occasional freeze which can take you right out of the moment, but in general the game will impress you on several levels.
Welcome to Helghan (The Story So Far)
If you have not played the previous Killzone titles, Killzone 3 is still worth the purchase but the story will fall a bit flat for you. Actually, even people that played the previous titles might think it falls flat for that matter, but knowing the history of the conflict makes the interactions more interesting. It isn’t that the story to Killzone 3 is bad, it’s just that there isn’t much of it. If you have not played Killzone 2 but plan to before playing the new title, be warned, thar be spoilers below.
If you missed the previous games, or you have just forgotten them over the years, the story began on the PlayStation 2 when the Helghast Empire attacked the Interstellar Alliance controlled planet of Vekta. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the ISA is basically the Allies, and the Helghast are basically Nazis, albeit space Nazis with spooky helmets. The Helghast people fought and lost a previous war against the ISA, and like the Germans following World War I, they suffered horribly in the armistice. Forced to remain on the inhospitable world of Helghan, the people mutated away from human physiology. They look roughly the same, but became stronger and faster, which biologically meant that they were no longer human. And they were none too pleased about it.
Following a blitzkrieg attack on the ISA colony planet of Vekta, an interstellar war broke out, a war the Helghast were winning convincingly thanks in part to their superior numbers, right up until the first game began. Playing as Captain Jan Templar, you lead a small group that pretty much single handedly wipes out the Helghast on the planet. All in a day’s work for a first-person shooter. Captain Templar’s story then continues in the PSP game Killzone: Liberation, but the main plot jumped to the PS3 with Killzone 2.
After you basically kicked the Helghast in the junk during the first game, you return to the fray as a different character named Sergeant Thomas “Sev” Sevchenko. The ISA has surrounded the planet Helghan, but in order to move into the capital of Pyrrhus, the planetary defenses must be taken down.
The Helghast put up a good fight. So much so that they are actually winning until the planetary defense grid is taken out through one of the more “holy crap!” moments in video games, and the remaining troops then proceed to wipe out hundreds of enemies. The Helghast remain true to their call of being insane and detonate a nuclear bomb within their own capital, destroying most of the invading ISA forces and leaving only a few soldiers left. You get where this is going.
The survivors fight their way to the Helghast Fuher, Emperor Scolar Visari, who is promptly shot dead by your idiotic and short fused sidekick, Rico Velasquez.
Killzone 3 picks up immediately where the previous game ended, with Sev sitting on the steps outside the capital building, and things looking bleak as the remnants of the Helghast move in. From that cheerful start, you are instantly thrust into combat and you never look back.
Enjoy Your Stay…
From the moment the game begins until the final scene, you are almost always in the middle of combat. There are the odd lulls, but with the exception of one level where you are told to go stealth (which lasts for all of five minutes or so), you will usually be under fire. The story returns you into the shoes of a very angry Sev–who along with a very dumb Rico and a very frazzled Captain Narville–try to escape the city and the planet.
Things do not go well, and after surviving the initial attacks, you are treated to a six month jump where you find that you have been living on Helghast on the run from enemy soldiers. As you try to escape, your enemies continue to tighten the noose.
Meanwhile in the Nazi-er… Helghast High Command, a struggle to occupy the vacancy left by Viasri’s death has begun, with Chairman Stahl and Admiral Orlock both plotting against each other and both touting their plans to destroy the ISA. As the power struggle takes shape, Sev and his allies discover a plan in motion that will devastate the ISA, and they decide to risk everything to stop it even if it costs their lives.
Despite the dark and foreboding setting and plot, Killzone 3 is actually a little bit lighter in tone than its predecessor, which was a deeply dark and borderline depressing game. It is still a bleak world and the game is darker than many, but it is not as oppressive as the previous title. Of course, it is not as compelling or engrossing either, and the characters aren’t all that memorable.
The plot is basically that you are on the run and must survive right up until you have to go on the offensive and stop the evil plan. That’s about it. The majority of the objectives seemed designed to push you into new areas of gameplay rather than propel the story, and you will probably find yourself doing the same objectives over and over—i.e., defend against the Helghast, blow something up, run for your life, etc., etc. Basically they point you at stuff, and you kill.
The story is the exhaust port on the Death Star that is Killzone 3. It is the weakest part of the overall package. Compared to many other games the plot isn’t that bad, just light, but in contrast to the previous games which continually managed to surprise you, Killzone 3 feels a bit dumbed down. That doesn’t mean it isn’t fun, far from it, but the story is very thin.
There are a few changes in the cast that help a bit though. In something of a tradition for the Killzone series, the majority of the voice actors have been replaced, and the acting really is top notch. The voice behind Sev has been replaced which doesn’t make a huge difference, but the biggest change is in Captain Narville. In Killzone 2 Narville was a pure jarhead in the vein of R. Lee Emery, but this go round he is voiced by actor James Remar, and the character seems to have transformed. Narville is weary, and the weight of responsibility has taken its toll. He is a more fleshed out character for it.
Rico returns, sadly, and unfortunately he does not die horribly within the first few moments of the game. His character is not quite the obnoxious a-hole from previous games that continually acted as if it would be fun to mess with your life by doing ridiculous and somewhat suicidal things, which is nice. But the best inclusion is that of Malcolm McDowell and Ray Winstone as the squabbling Chairman Stahl and Admiral Orlock. Both actors give personality to their characters, and what could have easily become throw away cut-scenes designed to push the story, become some of the most interesting parts to watch. There isn’t a whole lot of plot, but what there is, is well done.
How to Single-handedly Destroy an Army
The gameplay in Killzone 3 remains true to the previous games. Some will enjoy it, others won’t, but it does what the developers intended it to do. The game will constantly have you in combat zones that range from urban cities to orbital space stations, and each level will challenge you. If you fly through the game you can beat it quickly—maybe seven hours or less–at least in theory–but you will probably die a bunch in this game. Sometimes it is almost unavoidable, as enemies will attack you from angles you won’t realize are there until you catch a grenade. The increased difficulty should add a few hours to the title.
There is also the “help” you receive from your teammates. Sometimes when you fall in battle, your teammate will run to you and bring you back. Sometimes they will see something shiny and run after it, delightedly swatting at bullets like butterflies, leaving you to slowly waste away until you die. Perhaps it is simply a matter of your teammates having a fetish for bullets, so much so that they will seemingly jealously keep their own away from enemies and miss them with every shot, while they themselves will try to catch as many as possible with their bodies, forcing you to either listen to their agonized cries or risk breaking cover to rescue them. For some reason, Rico seems especially susceptible to catching a case of death, which is oddly satisfying after his continued annoyances of previous games. I may or may not have shot him myself a few (dozen) times.
But beyond the minor quibbles, the game plays smoothly, and Guerilla obviously spent a lot of time on the pacing. Killzone 3 can quickly go from zero to insane at the drop of the hat, but you will always have a few moments to collect yourself before the next round of attacks. There are also a handful of vehicle-based sections–including jetpacks–which are nicely placed and make for a fun bit of variety.
The weapon selection however is somewhat limited, and there are not many additions from the previous games. Most of the time you will be stuck with either a Helghast or an ISA assault rifle, which is fine but become boring. There is also the return of the one slot weapon, meaning that if you want a rifle, you have to replace your current rifle—you can’t dump your pistol to carry two rifles. With ammo being scarce at times, this is odd, but if you have played the series, you should be used to it by now.
There is also a co-op split-screen offering (yet oddly no online co-op), that lets you play through with a friend. Killzone 3 is designed to be played as a single player experience, but the co-op should offer some nice replay options.
Basically, the only real complaint about the gameplay (minus the death-happy teammates) is that I wish there had been more of everything, and that is the best complaint you can level at a game.
Killzone 3 Looks Fraking Amazing
This will probably raise an argument or two, and it is a totally subjective assessment, but Killzone 3 may be the best looking console game to date. The environments are incredible, and the character animation looks good. It really is a beautiful game to behold. There are a few moments when the game freezes, probably to load on the fly, but these moments (while annoying) are few and far between.
While the gameplay is vital to a first-person shooter, and a story needs to be at least passable, level design is a major, major part in the success or failure of a game. It is obviously important in any genre of game, but it is especially apparent in first-person shooters. Anyone remember the levels in October’s Medal of Honor? Anyone? It was basically a hill, followed by cave, broken up by a mountain and repeat. It blurred together. Black Ops on the other hand had a wildly varied set of levels, and was commended for it (despite some maddeningly obscure mission objectives). Killzone 3 has some of the most creative levels of any FPS recently released.
Each section is wildly different, as you jump between a devastated city, to an alien jungle, to an arctic platform surrounded by frozen ships. Each level has its own feel, and rarely has traipsing through a jungle felt so fresh. The level design is done so well that you hardly notice that you are being funneled through very linear levels.
To match the visuals, the sounds of the game are fairly good. The music is forgettable, but the weapons sound good, albeit somewhat unspectacular. That is a very minor complaint. Overall, the game is a technically solid experience.
Try the Multiplayer, You’ll be Glad You Did
While the campaign will attract many to the game, the multiplayer will keep them coming back for more. If you played the multiplayer on Killzone 2, you will be familiar with the setup, although Killzone 3 does offer more. If you aren’t familiar with the style, the Killzone 3 multiplayer is a fairly fresh take on online combat. If there needs to be a comparison drawn, it is closer to the Battlefield Bad Company 2 setup than Call of Duty’s multiplayer.
There are three game types. The first is “Guerilla Warfare”, the traditional deathmatch style gameplay where you and your teammates try to kill the enemies and vice versa. It is pretty much mandatory in any online game where you hold a gun. The second is where the Killzone multiplayer begins to diverge from other multiplayers. “Warzone” offers a variety of gametypes all during the same session, including assassination where one player is chosen at random to either be assassinated or protected in the allotted time, search and destroy where you need to either plant explosives or defend an objective, search and retrieve where you need to find and return propaganda speakers, capture and hold where you need to hold locations for a period of times, and bodycount which is deathmatch, and you play each gametype in a single session. The newest offering, “Operations”, offers search and destroy, capture and hold, and scavenge and retrieve.
As you put in more time you earn points towards buying upgrades that include new weapons and the like. Pretty standard stuff these days. There is also a decent balance, and while the upgrade system works well, even low leveled gamers will find a lot to enjoy. There is also a bot match that allows you to play the multiplayer maps and games against AI controlled characters, which helps new players ease into the gameplay.
The various gametypes keep things lively and offer a refreshing variety in a world of online FPS titles where you play out the same gametypes over and over again. If you are looking for an online PS3 title, Killzone 3 makes a strong case for itself, and offers one of the best packages you can buy. A few more maps would have been nice, but Guerilla has already promised two downloadable maps from Killzone 2, and more (possibly new and old) are likely to follow. The multiplayer is just plain fun, and it is worth a look.
Although the year is young, Killzone 3 has already made a strong push for the game of the year honors, and any game that can knock it off the throne will be a game worth playing. It is still far too early to really say it is the best game of the year, but it has earned the right to be part of the discussion when the time comes.
There is also the inclusion of the Move controls which are designed to be used with the sharp shooter rifle peripheral, and the game is also designed for 3D. You don’t need any of that to enjoy the game, but it might offer some replay value down the line when and if you decide to upgrade. Having seen the 3D play, Killzone 3 is an interesting and well designed game to utilize the technology, although again, its nothing you’ll regret not having if you are part of the vast majority and have not bought a 3D TV.
The campaign is a bit short, and the plot is on the thin side, but the level design keeps you excited to see what will come next, plus the combat is expertly paced. The odd loading freezes the game at inopportune moments, but the number of times is easy to overlook. Overall the game offers a satisfying experience.
But what really makes Killzone 3 worth the lofty game of the year mentions is the multiplayer that comes with it. Both the multiplayer and the campaign are solid offerings on their own, and together they make for an exceptional package. Throw in the fact that the game is amazing to look at and provides a suitably epic feel at times, and Killzone 3 is a must own for FPS fans on the PS3.
Score: 9 out of 10
(This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 3 on a copy provided by Sony Computer Entertainment)