Killzone 3 is arguably one of the Top 10 most beautiful and stylistically gruesome games to ever grace a home console. At least, that is, one of the best since Killzone 2. Lighting effects, a diverse array of twisted post-apocalyptic settings and punishing close quarters kills thrust you into a world that feels almost more real than the one you live in. Gameplay is fluid, while using a control pad has never felt closer to virtual reality thanks to weighty foot movements and artillery recoil. Sound design also does an excellent job of augmenting the intensity in this war with the Helghast. However, Killzone 3 runs up against a brick wall when it comes to story. The loosely formed tale doesn’t quite measure up to the awesome gameplay, while the forced ending is telegraphed to a fault. Still, Killzone 3 remains one of the must-play games of the year and will easily be in contention for several Best of 2011 awards.
Killzone 3 starts off in a Helghast base. A “shocking” event happens and the game jumps six months back in time so that you can work your way up to that moment. The opening scene does a great job in getting you amped for a potentially great story. You really expect a meaty plot to bring you up to speed on the current events. However, this tale is about as shallow as they come. It’s not until Killzone 3’s final chapters that the story really comes into play, but by then you will have lost interest. You can skip through the wasted story to dive right back into the gritty awe-inspiring action, but you would be missing out on the brilliantly animated cut scenes. Try to ignore the lack of depth and just enjoy how beautiful it is to watch.
The Helghast environments, wardrobe colors and mannerisms are all styled in a cross between Nazi Germany and the Cold War Soviet Union. The Helghast troops look like menacing Storm Troopers with red eyes. Although there are moments when Helghast troops are predisposed to green-energy-ball torture (we’ll get to that), the art design is supposed to make you hate the Helghast for no apparent reason. What’s their motivation? Basically, the Helghast want to rule the space colonies and the ISA (Interplanetary Strategic Alliance) wants to stop them. Where’s a Jedi when you need him?
Without having played Killzone 2, you quickly warm up to Sgt Sevchenko (Sev) and Rico Velasquez, the two grunts leading the battle for the ISA (Interplanetary Strategic Alliance). The two characters are superbly voiced and you get a kick out of their rule-breaking vulgar banter. Most gamers will wish they could play this game in 2-player coop online. Unfortunately, that option is still unavailable. What you can do is play the campaign in cooperative split screen. The game is slightly different when played in split screen so you’ll have to choose to play through the entire campaign in either coop or single player. Although this isn’t optimal, it still gives you the chance to play like Marcus and Dom in Gears of War.
The benefit of coop play is a partner with better AI. In general there’s a delay between certain in-game team dialogue and what is actually happening on screen. For instance, sometimes in single player campaign Rico Velasquez will offer to give you a boost up to higher territory. However, he is nowhere around. There are several moments like this where you have to wait for your team to catch up to you. At other points, Velasquez will say that he’s about to give you a health boost because he’s right next to you, but will then scream out that he can’t get to you in time. You will also have the occasional teammate who will block your path when you’re trying to get through a narrow passageway or when you’re trying to dodge missile fire from a giant mechanical behemoth.
Enemy AI, however, is years ahead of several shooters. Helghast forces are just about as smart as they come, which will make you wonder what their real motivations are for colonial domination. If you try to hide in a ditch, expect the Helghast to throw a well-timed grenade to flush you out. The Helghast will also switch seamlessly between targeting both you and your fellow troops depending on the immediate threat. The enemies also make good use of heavy arms and standard semi-automatic weapons. The Helghast dive behind cover and shoot, instead of just sticking their heads up to get picked off. I can’t recall how many times a Helghast trooper would switch up his cover spot to throw me off guard.
The cover system works well for Sev too. You can easily grab cover behind most surfaces and stick your gun out to shoot. Gamers can also dip out of cover at angles to keep the enemy more off-balanced. There was one bizarre level, where you could crouch through giant grass in order to bypass enemy surveillance. It was an excellent stealth board, filled with mutated jungle life. However, for some reason, the soldiers and can’t see you, even though the grass isn’t that tall or thick. Although this only happened on one board, it still kind of dumbs down the enemy.
Killzone 3 does an excellent job of keeping gameplay diverse. You switch up between standard FPS play and several vehicle boards. The on-rails game can take you out of the intensity on certain boards. For instance, when you drive the tank through the end of the snow region, you will never feel like you are in control. Although the on-rails vehicle boards can get repetitive and tedious as the game progresses, playing with a jetpack in the icy tundra adds an extra layer of platforming challenges typically not found in FPS games (calm down Halo Reach fanboys). Snow particles are just as impressive as the dust clouds.
The environments are just as diverse as the gameplay as you jump between industrial wastelands and mutated plant worlds. You can walk across trees that look like fossilized bones so that you can avoid plummeting to your death. The lighting always does an excellent job in creating subtle nuances in the varying terrain. One note, you should fall down once into the water, especially if you have 5.1 surround headsets. The drowning sound is amazing. Gamers can also use exploding plants to kill Helghast from afar, when they’re not dodging attacking claw plants or running from exploding spiders. The game doesn’t allow for a lot of exploration and forces you on a strict path, but it’s one of the most engaging and lively paths you’ll explore in an FPS.
You can get by most of the game with your standard assault rifle. Heavy arms like the flamethrower and rockets are more toss away weapons with little ammo. The main heavy arms weapons to use will be the boltgun, WASP and sniper rifle. Although using a handgun is always fun, running in for the close quarters kill is so much more satisfying. Gamers have a diverse array of kills, including eye gouging and breaking or slitting an enemies neck. It’s gruesome but damn fun to do.
The Killzone 3 multiplayer is once again an impressive array of online killing. There’s the standard Deathmatch you will find in Guerilla warfare. For gamers interested in objective play, most will dive into Warzone, which randomizes mission types. Operations is also a nice feature. The ISA and Helghast are featured in cut scenes showing the best players. There’s nothing overtly innovative about the online play. Gamers still gain experience and have the option to play as different classes. It’s just great maps and environments to play through. Whether you decide to be a medic, tactician, marksman or engineer, each board has just enough diversity to let you explore each class. Also the maps don’t feel like they’ve lost too much in the way of textures in the online play versus single player.
Killzone 3 wins high marks in giving gamers one of the most immersive worlds they’ve ever played through on the PS3. This is Blu-ray at its best. Sadly, the story doesn’t do much to keep you entertained. The characters rarely make any difficult choices and the one major plot twist was apparent from the opening few cut-scenes. Story aside, Killzone 3 will be one of the top games to play online this year.