Killzone 2's original trailer captured many intrigued eyes during its first press conference unveiling. While the final product nearly matched the spectacle of an explosive firefight aboard a Helghast-controlled bridge, the weighty feel of the weapons and input lag on the PS3 controller fueled the outrageous cries of many Killzone forums. I, however, marveled at the visuals and acclimated quickly to each firearm's handling, but I understood consumers' brimming disdain. What steps forward has Killzone 3 taken to rectify the faults of its predecessor?
Killzone 2’s abrupt ending left many gamers wondering what Guerrilla Games had in store for the future of Alpha Squad. Killzone 3’s campaign picks up immediately after Radec's self-imposed execution, with Visari martyred at the hands of Rico and the ISA troops stranded without a way off world. With the leader of the Helghast dead, all of Helghan rallies in an effort to crush what’s left of the Vektan invaders. Gamers fill the role of Sev yet again during the course of the eight-hour single-player journey. Although the plot remains only moderately interesting and continues to fall apart during the last few hours, the 70-plus minutes of cutscenes are actually worth watching. Players will not be trekking back through the same plain gray and brown environments that littered Killzone 2 either. Throughout the rather short campaign, players visit a Helghan prison/laboratory set deep within snow-capped mountains, a massive mobile factory situated within a vehicular graveyard, and an exotic jungle teeming with exploding plant life.
The environment variety is indeed a welcome change. A far cry from Killzone 2’s uninspiring visuals, Killzone 3’s locations are bursting with color and detail. Unfortunately, this makes it unnecessarily difficult to locate enemies at longer distances. Nevertheless, Guerrilla Games have really outdone themselves. The settings are not the only aspect that received significant attention. The characters’ facial expressions and animations seem incredibly lifelike. No longer does Rico make the same stupid frown when pissed off or upset, and putting a few rounds into the Helghasts’ arms and legs to watch them stumble and stagger is extremely gratifying. Don't get cocky, though. It's not uncommon to have two dozen Helghast soldiers breathing down your neck at any one moment, all without a hiccup in frame rate. Completely surpassing the bars set by other PlayStation exclusives such as Uncharted 2 and God of War III, these are easily the most stunning visuals the PS3 offers. Don't hog all the graphical ecstasy by the way. Bring a friend along for the ride in the form of split-screen co-op. Sadly, online co-op remains mysteriously absent.
Killzone 3 sets a new graphical bar with a surpising attention to detail. It's even possible to count the number of stitches in Sev's gloves.
It really is a shame considering most of the time gamers will be accompanied by an AI teammate. Narville and Rico return, and they are joined by a cast of new characters, including a particularly ballsy woman named Jammer. Thankfully, the voice actors must have taken lessons since the last installment. The voice acting is damn impressive compared to that of Killzone 2. Narville no longer sounds like a teenager going through puberty, Rico seems capable of expressing more emotions than just anger, and Natko and his F-bombs only appear during sessions of couch co-op. The laughs feel more genuine this time around, but it's still hard to form any sort of attachment to the characters when all they do is scream at one another for the last half of the campaign.
Luckily, Guerrilla Games did not stop at just improving the vocals. Sev’s comrades have been given massive doses of IQ injections. No longer does the friendly AI casually stand out in the open while the Helghast turn them into Swiss cheese. They’ve picked up new tricks as well. Whenever Sev goes down, Rico and Narville can revive him as long as the battlefield isn’t swarming with enemies. Nevertheless, the AI is not without its faults. Rico and Narville occasionally wander into one’s line of fire as if they expect a congratulatory pat on the back for staying alive for six seconds. Likewise, the orange-eyed asthmatics have been drinking their IQ juice. The Helghast are now stronger and more lethal than ever before. Even on Trooper difficulty (Normal), enemies welcome every split second mistake by turning Sev into a human bullet magnet. To counter this, the developers have improved the cover mechanics. Players can now crouch-walk and slide into a defensive position.
"These are not the droids you are looking for."
Of course, gamers have also been granted a unique selection of weapons to dispatch Helghan’s bullet-sponge soldiers. Nearly all the old guns return, plus half a dozen new ones. A portable missile launcher that calls down artillery strikes and an arc cannon that implodes enemies into a symphony of blood are easily my favorite additions. Also breaking the established norm that plagues the first-person shooter genre nowadays, Sev can carry three weapons. Count 'em! Three! Players wield an assault rifle or shotgun as their primary firearm and a pistol as their secondary, while the third slot is reserved for special weapons such as the sniper rifle, portable turrets, or rocket launchers.
What would be the point of adding in some awesome new firepower if players could not hit the broadside of a barn, though? Definitively the biggest improvement yet, the controls received a complete overhaul. The weapons still have a “weighty” feel to them, but the sensitivity has been greatly increased. Coupled with a control scheme similar to Call of Duty’s, Guerrilla Games has crafted a recipe for the best gameplay experience in any Killzone game to date.
A series first, jetpack sequences blend perfectly with the new control scheme without taking players out of the experience.
Despite the otherwise surprising single-player experience, most people will stay for the multiplayer. With the improved controls, the online is now more accessible than ever. All the gameplay mechanics and visuals make a smooth transition over, too. It seems Guerrilla Games also took a page out of Black Ops’ book. By ranking up, players will receive unlock points they can spend on weapons and perks for the different classes in any order they so choose. Unlike Call of Duty, though, Killzone 3 includes dedicated servers for a chaotic, lag-free online experience gamers would be hard pressed to find anywhere else. If the thought of jumping right into the online portion seems a bit daunting, Botzone also makes a needed return. Here players can learn the maps and test their mettle against bots in custom matches on varying difficulties.
To the newcomers out there, now has never been a better time to get in on the action. If you’re a fan of the series, you've already bought or will buy this game, but for everyone else that is letting Killzone 2's faults cloud their judgment, Killzone 3 far outstrips its predecessors in every aspect. Although the campaign still falls short towards the end credits, the refined gameplay mechanics, AI, voice acting, and stunning visuals easily pick up the slack. For those who have tired of the yearly Call of Duty releases, the multiplayer serves as a proper, addictive replacement. Despite the resentment that gamers still retain because of Killzone 2, the developers at Guerrilla Games have served up a suitable conclusion to the Killzone trilogy that every PS3 owner should experience.
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Guerrilla Games
Release Date: February 22, 2011
Number of Players: 1-2 (Campaign) 1-24 (Multiplayer)
Platform: PlayStation 3 (Reviewed)