Across two console generations, Sony has been valiantly trying to get the Killzone franchise mentioned in the same breath as games like Halo and Call of Duty. Though the entries in the Killzone series have never been bad, they've also never managed to really stand apart from the sea of shooters as something special. There were high hopes that Killzone 3 would finally be the game that would get the franchise the respect it deserved, but once again the game with tons of promise falls flat. Though KZ3 is a visual treat and a somewhat entertaining romp, it's just the same old song and dance we've seen dozens of times before. Nothing to see here, please move along.
The third chapter of the series picks up immediately following the events of the second game, with Helghan ruler Emperor Visari lying dead in his palace. His execution at the hands of ISA soldier Rico Velasquez hasn't ended the war, but rather merely served to further steel the Heghast's will to fight. The soldiers are furious at the ISA for killing their leader, and now they refuse to stop fighting until every opposing soldier is dead.
Visari's death has also created a power vacuum, and two powerful rivals are competing to become the planet's new leader. Admiral Orlock represents the old guard of the military and the ruling elite, poised to follow the chain of succession and lead the military to a final, decisive victory over the ISA. On the other side of the table is Chairman Stahl, the planet's leading industrialist with a private army that rivals the size and power of the Helghast military forces. Stahl is responsible for advanced weaponry and has some devious plans of his own for humanity if he manages to seize the reins of power.
While Killzone 3 is primarily concerned with the fate of the ISA soldiers left behind on Helghan and their desperate attempts to return home, it is the rivalry between Orlock and Stahl that steals the show. Watching these two bicker and backstab is highly entertaining, and seeing a divided enemy force is a rare treat in shooters where so often the bad guys are presented as little more than a monolith of evil. It's a refreshing change of pace, and it adds a fair amount of depth.
Unfortunately, KZ3 really drops the ball in its campaign mode, mostly because it's so darned short. The entire game can be completed in five hours or less, and the game has the uncanny ability to take away really cool pieces of tech just as you're starting to have fun with them. The bulk of the experience is comprised of the linear stages and corridor shooting so common to the genre, but once in a while something special happens. Whether it's sneaking past an entire Helghast base in a stealth mission or commandeering a jetpack to invade an oil rig, there are moments in this game that really break the mold. The downside is that these levels are usually quite short, and no sooner do you see something really amazing than you're right back to taking cover, popping up to shoot and then pressing on to the next room. It's a major bummer, and a truly underdeveloped aspect of the game.
Of course the purview of modern shooters is that the single-player is really little more than a training ground for multiplayer, and KZ3 delivers a fairly robust offering in that respect. The multiplayer is class-based, so before each spawn, you must select the type of character you want to play. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses, as well as a special ability unique to the class. For instance, Tacticians can capture spawn points around the map, giving you forward deployment points, while Infiltrators can disguise themselves as a member of the opposing faction and wreak havoc behind enemy lines. Over the course of time, you'll unlock class points that allow you to bump up your powers to more advanced levels. Thankfully, the leveling up happens rather quickly, so you won't find yourself too far behind the rest of the multiplayer pack for long. In many ways, the game trends toward Team Fortress 2, where players must be aware of the game type and squad composition in order to succeed. This is less of an "every man for himself" multiplayer and feels slightly more team-based.
The love-it-or-hate-it aspect to Killzone's multiplayer is the way it handles the various game modes. While you can fire up a straight deathmatch-style game in the menu, the only way to play the more advanced options is through the Warzone or Operations modes. Warzone rotates the game type after every round, so while you may start off with a match of Capture and Hold, the next game on the roster could be Assassination, Search and Destroy or something else entirely. Players have no control over which game mode comes next, so everyone is at the mercy of the game. For some, it may be exciting to constantly switch modes and play something new every time, but if you really love one specific game type, there's no way to play it outside of random rotation.
Operations is the game's straight objective-based mode, with the ISA on offense and the Helghast on defense. Between each round, a cut scene plays, portraying the actions of the winning side, but the game mode stops entirely anytime the Helghast win a round. While the concept makes sense, it's incredibly frustrating and jarring to be playing on a team that is sweeping through the rounds and will ultimately win the match, but the cinematic if you lose a round shows you surrendering to the Helghast, and then suddenly it's time to start all over with both teams switching sides. It would have been nice to see both teams pushing each other back and forth over the course of a match until one team either wins a total victory or the round limit is reached. As it stands now, the whole mode feels a bit off-kilter.
While the multiplayer component of Killzone 3 is more than competent, it's also rather blasé and nothing to get too worked up about. The class system is a cool wrinkle, but it's an odd decision to hide the majority of match types behind one game mode and then put them on shuffle. Guerrilla took a similar tack with Killzone 2, but you'd think that it would want to provide fans with more variety and options in this outing. The end result is a multiplayer product that is enjoyable but could have been a lot better.
Since Killzone 3 is a flagship product, Sony has made sure to throw in support for every new technology it possibly can. The game is Move and 3-D enabled, and though we didn't get to check it out in 3-D, we can say that the motion controls actually add to the experience and exist as more than just a gimmick. Players can use the Move wand to aim their weapon and fire while using the Navigation controller (or standard SixAxis) to handle movement, weapon selection, etc. At first, it's a bit tough to get used to because it's nearly impossible to hold your gun completely steady with Move, but the ability to tinker with sensitivity settings, dead zones and cursor speeds alleviate the issue. Ultimately, playing the game with Move is a lot of fun, and while it likely won't replace the controller for hardcore gamers who crave stability and precision, it's definitely an entertaining new way to experience the game.
Another area where Killzone 3 strikes it rich is in presentation, with both the visuals and audio standing out as top-notch. The game is absolutely stunning, which is to be expected, and this time, the fighting takes place in a number of locales so players will get to see the snowy plains and lush jungles of Helghan rather than the simple brown and grey bunkers and bombed-out cities. While you may not get a lot of time to stop and take in the scenery, it sure is nice when you do.
The game's musical score and voice acting is also superb, especially Malcolm McDowell filling the role of Chairman Stahl. He imbues the industrialist with just the right amount of sneakiness and cunning to provide a real depth to the character, and it's clear from the early going that his character will be the one you most want to follow throughout the course of the game. That's not to say the other characters are poorly done; it's just hard for the rest of the cast to match up with McDowell's talents.
Killzone 3 is a fun game, but it's also a pedestrian one. Nothing, aside from its PS3 exclusivity, makes it particularly notable, and in the shooter genre, if you're not named Call of Duty, then you'd better do something different and better than your competition. KZ3 doesn't manage that, merely giving you flashes of brilliance before dumping you right back into yet another series of hallways filled with baddies and frustratingly random multiplayer.
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