The greatest war stories, the ones that endure, are often those of unbridled heroism. Tales of selfless courage in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. With Killzone 2, however, Guerrilla Games told a different, and more interesting, story. Beneath its science fiction setting and the superficiality of its mindless Bro-vado there was a weighty reality to KZ2’s single player campaign. Whereas its fast paced contemporaries such as Call of Duty and Halo transformed players into super soldiers, Killzone focused on the struggles of the general infantryman, weighed down not by the fate of an entire civilisation or country he’s carrying on his shoulders, but simply by the arduous and unrelenting fight to press forwards and stay alive.
If you hadn’t heard though, war is a competitive business, and while KZ2 was saluted for its grim demeanour, sales figures showed that most people wanted to play action heroes saving the day rather than average G.I. Joes fatigued by battle. As developers of one of Sony’s blockbuster first-person-shooter series, it seems that Guerrilla heard this loud and clear and made some important changes for Killzone 3 in order to appease more of the mainstream crowd. As a result, what they’ve created is one of the finest FPSs on the PS3, but also a game that could have been even more.
Despite a brief hop forward in time that foreshadows future events, Killzone 3 begins in earnest at the very point that KZ2 left off. Rather than bringing hostilities to a decisive conclusion with their attack on Helghan and assassination of Emperor Visari, the human ISA have instead managed to create a power vacuum so big it would make even Sir James Dyson envious. And as the Helghast rally, their attempts to launch a massive counter offense are hampered by the ramshackle remnants of the ISA forces trying to escape their planet and an internal, political conflict between Admiral Orlock and industrialist Jorhan Stahl.
Guerrilla have definitely realised that the Helghast are the most interesting thing about Killzone, and with human leads Sevchenko and Rico reduced to little more than gun-ho bros, it’s Orlock and Stahl who steal the show, thanks in no small part to being voiced by Ray Winstone and Malcolm McDowell. While Orlock, with his boorish warmongering, looks like a walrus that’s been squeezed into a military dress coat, Stahl is a suave and scheming silver fox. The duo may seem like very different animals, but both are equally barbaric, and the scenes of their boardroom bickerings are enough to send Lord Sugar into fits of bearded exasperation as the two thesps don’t so much ham it up as throw in the entire meat rack.
Killzone 3’s narrative has come in for a certain amount of criticism in some quarters, which is surprising as its biggest sin is simply the way it continually interjects into the action. Sometimes it feels like you can’t go five steps without it clumsily butting in with yet another cutscene, but while the delivery is annoying, the story itself is at the very least as decent as those in rival games.
Whereas in Killzone 2 you were merely a cog, this time around you’re the spanner in the works attempting to bring the entire Helghast war machine to a grinding halt. Guerrilla have obviously decided that more imposing enemies, varied environments and bigger action set pieces make for a more memorable game, and they do, but at a price.
From the war-torn rubble of the ravaged capital city, the game rambles through an alien forest complete with deadly native flora and fauna and on to Helghan’s snowy wastes, across frozen oil platforms and the groaning hulks of broken tankers trapped in the ice flow. There’s a believable consistency to the grim and inhospitable alien landscapes, each with their barren ground, acrid air and toxic skies. But while the brooding, graphic novel undertones to the game’s visual style and the particularly impressive water, lighting and smoke effects mean the trip through the regularly changing scenery is never less than interesting, a lot of the tight focus and continuity of Killzone 2’s campaign has been lost along the way.
As you travel, activities include the standard, on-rails turret sections, the chance to pilot a jetpack, prance around in a mech suit and tear through enemy lines a snow machine that’s basically a giant chainsaw on wheels. The jet packs in particular are a real pleasure. Not so much in thrusting about in one yourself, although that’s pleasant enough, but more in shooting those controlled by Helghast soldiers and watching them career out of control before slamming into the ground. Even after more than a dozen viewings it’s still an entertaining spectacle to behold.
The addition of a third weapons slot also provides many more opportunities to bring out the big guns, with the crackling energy pulses of the Arc Cannon great for dispatching groups of Helghast troops while the Wasp shoots stinging clusters of homing missiles that come in very handy against enemy armour. It’s dismaying that Guerrilla have caved in and made their guns much lighter in the hand and quicker to aim to bring them in line with other shooters, but there’s still a hefty thump and recoil to weapons and Killzone’s firefights remain the best you’ll encounter on the PS3.
Brutal and intense, Killzone’s bread and butter skirmishes are strategic shootouts built on realistic animations, physics and AI. Helghast soldiers throw grenades with precision, advance & retreat intelligently and constantly change positions rather than just popping up and down behind same piece of cover. Which is just as well because the destructible environments with their crumbling masonry, shattering glass and collapsing metal supports and defences mean that nowhere is safe forever.
It’s a shame then that many of your kills come as a result of the game’s contrivances where enemies leave the tops of their heads exposed or have their positions betrayed by their glowing red eyes. But it’s equally pleasing that your own CPU companions will often have the wherewithal to revive you at hectic moments when you’ve exceeded your daily dosage of bullets, as while there’s nothing in Killzone 3 as infuriating as the final push and boss fight in KZ2, there are plenty of times when you can find yourself down for the count without a chance to react.
On a noticeable number of occasions the single player does hitch as the game loads the next area, but there are no such hiccups with its multiplayer. While the new Operation’s mode introduces objective-based humans versus Helghast battles for up to 16 players, and Guerrilla Warfare provides standard Team Deathmatch, it’s the returning Warzone that once again is the option of choice, with the way it strings together different match types, flowing from one straight into the next, always offering something different and enticing.
Killzone 3’s offline co-op is a nice inclusion, but online would have really pushed the game over the top, and the game’s support for the PS3’s Move, motion control system and 3D are nice little sweeteners if you’re fortunate enough to own the requisite hardware for either, or both.
In much the same vein as Killzone 2, Killzone 3 ends with a poignant comment on the unwitting consequences of acts performed with good intentions. It’s an interesting parallel with the game itself because Guerrilla have made KZ3 a more responsive, varied and straightforward title to give players the blockbuster experience they think they want. In the process however, they’ve lost a small but important part of what makes Killzone unique and lessened the reasons to choose it over other genre-leading FPSs. Killzone 3 is a great game, but there’s an even greater story inside it that Guerrilla aren’t quite heroic enough yet to tell.
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