Set shortly after the end of Killzone 2, Killzone 3 tracks events on Helghan immediately after the death of the Helghast emperor, Scolar Visari. With the invading Interplanetary Strategic Alliance (ISA) ships destroyed by a nuclear blast and the Helghast army in disarray due to Visari's death, the entire planet is in chaos. It's no longer about winning the war for Sev and Rico. It's merely about survival.
During a pre-game presentation, the developers highlighted their goals for Killzone 3, which essentially amounted to "bigger, badder, better." They didn't go into the game with any grand plans to entirely revamp the experience. The team simply wanted to ensure that they were presenting players with the best experience possible. To that end, they did specifically call out two games as competitive benchmarks: God of War III and Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. Killzone 3 does not share any engine technology with the mentioned games, but during development, the team used those two titles as examples of where they needed to set the bar.
Another key ideal during development was variety. The team was satisfied with the way that Killzone 2 worked out, but they also wanted players to experience more locations, more weapons and more enemies. As you progress through Killzone 3, you'll get the chance to experience a number of different locations on Helghan, including the nuclear wastelands created by the blast in Killzone 2, alien jungles, arctic seas and derelict oil rigs. You'll even end up blasting off into space for the grand finale.
In terms of tech, the Killzone 3 engine is using all of the available SPUs in the PlayStation 3. There are four different streaming engines running simultaneously to feed information from the hard drive, with the intention of no loading or pop-in during levels. In terms of size, a single level in Killzone 3 is approximately 10 times bigger than an average level in Killzone 2. Complementing the visuals, Killzone 3 also features a depth of field audio system that allows the audio to be dynamically focused in-game. This way, you can still have the booming explosions without drowning out character dialogue. On top of all that, the game also supports 3-D.
Sony had multiple Killzone 3 demo stations set up for us to play. Most of them featured the normal 2-D version of the game but two were running in full 3-D. The demo hardware consisted of two 60" Sony 3-D TVs, Sony 3-D glasses and a PS3 running Killzone 3. At one point during the demo, the power cut out, and we got to see the bootup sequence. As soon as the game booted, the system detected it was running in 3-D and everything switched over seamlessly with no interaction on the player's part. That was pretty slick.
Unlike the recently released Batman: Arkham Asylum Game of the Year Edition, which just uses cardboard glasses on a regular TV, the Sony 3-D glasses are a bit more high-tech. They are purchased with the TV (not the game) and run on batteries. Communicating with the TV via an infrared signal, the glasses use shutter technology to alternately block your eyes as the 3-D frames flicker across the screen. The end result is a full-color 3-D image without any unnatural red/blue coloring.
Although the technology is still being worked on, what we saw during the demo was pretty impressive. Unlike most 3-D movies, where stuff comes "out" at the player, Killzone 3 is set up so that everything goes "away" from the player. It's kind of like looking through a window into the world of Helghan. Player characters, weapons and enemies all looked good, though the technology seemed to have a little difficulty with the fine detail in the building textures. With a 2011 release date, though, the team has plenty of time to polish it up — and if a texture complaint is all that's noticeable at this early stage, that's a very promising sign for the future of Sony's 3-D push.
Going hands-on with Killzone 3, we got to play two sequences from the game's fourth level. The first sequence started out with Sev and Rico flying in low and fast, buzzing some Helghast-defended oil rigs. After taking out a few of them, we crashed into the ground near another. From there, it was run-and-gun ground combat though the interior of a rig until we reached the Helghan jetpack forces.
Fighting these guys was an interesting task because they were of the suicidal bent. If you damage one but fail to kill him, the injured jetpack warrior will attempt one last stand by rocketing directly into you. It gives a new meaning to "smart missile." After eliminating the last of the jetpack warriors, it was time to grab a spare pack and suit up for ourselves.
Flying the jetpack was more akin to making a series of super-jumps rather than flying like "The Rocketeer" or hovering like a helicopter. It's a very floaty affair, feeling much like moon jumping with the added ability to kick yourself forward at any time. We used the jetpack to hop a few icebergs to the next rig, where it was time to take out the anti-air gun holding the remaining ISA forces at bay.
This is where we first saw some of the game's destructible environments. The key takeaway is that not everything is destructible — sorry, Red Faction: Guerrilla fans. For example, when fighting up to the roof of the rig, we shot a red barrel behind an enemy. The barrel exploded, killed the Helghast fighter and then proceeded to take out the metal stairway. In another section, just around the corner, we were able to blow up barrels with no impact on the surrounding environment.
With the antiair gun out of the way, we jumped ahead to another ground assault and our introduction to the WASP, which is more or less death-in-a-can. A portable rocket launcher that can hold up to nine rounds in a clip, the WASP can fire shots individually or blast out all nine on a single target at once. Needless to say, if a full clip connects, whatever it hits is toast — even if that thing is a very big tank.
Further up the hill, we encountered another Helghast base that provided ample opportunity for cover tactics. With a quick button press, we were popping up and down, carefully avoiding fire while taking pot shots at enemies on the other side of a courtyard. Once inside, we tracked down the entrance to the main base, only to be told that was the end of the demo. Alas, what secrets lie beyond that door will remain hidden for now, but there is one last thing we can talk about, and that is the melee system.
The team at Guerrilla didn't think that the melee animations in Killzone 2 were interesting enough, so they upped things a notch. Executing a melee kill is still a simple affair — just run up to an enemy and press the melee button — but this time around, when you do so, it will trigger a random, weapon-specific kill. Since not all the animations were enabled in this early build, we set the game to God mode, grabbed to correct weapon and wandered around killing folks. Doing so turned up three distinct kill animations.
Perhaps the least brutal melee animation has Sev taking out the Helghast fighter with a powerful boot to the head. It's simple, yet effective. A more direct animation has Sev grabbing the unsuspecting Helghast and then plunging a blade directly into his victim's heart. The most violent animation we saw, though (and the one that seemed to be favored by the game engine), has Sev grabbing his opponent's head and delivering the death blow by driving a knife deep into the brain via the eye socket. Ouch.
Multiplayer will be supported in Killzone 3, but aside from promising to implement community feedback from Killzone 2, the developers didn't reveal much on this front. With the game's release date so far out, chances are good that Guerrilla and Sony are keeping this information close to the chest right now for a reveal down the line. In the meantime, we'll be waiting for our next shot at the game.
More articles about Killzone 3