Closer look: Killzone 3
Killzone 3 is the follow up to 2008’s release, Killzone 2 (/Captain Obvious hat), who was hailed as the savior and first legitimate killer app for the PS3. It had massive hype going into release based on previous years E3 trailers who displayed a mindboggling graphical quality. Fanboys everywhere waged wars over whether the footage had been all pre-rendered smoke and mirrors, or if Killzone 2 would make a graphical jump that would forever shame all competitors and make even reality look like shit.
Killzone 2 didn’t quite live up to the massive hype generated before release, but it was a really solid first person shooter with some of the best graphics seen at the time.
I had stayed away from the franchise until earlier this year, just based on the ridiculousness of the name “Killzone”. But when I finally broke down and played it, I found a very good FPS franchise.
With this in mind, I was very interested to see how Guerilla built on the excellent Killzone 2.
Killzone 3 picks up immediately after the end of Killzone 2, with Emperor Visari dead at the hands of Rico. Sev and his team are trying to get off-world with the full might of the Helghast army bearing down on them. Things go bad, and the ISA heroes find themselves stranded on Helghan, trying to avoid capture and wait for rescue from the ISA.
Much like the previous game, the story is presented from two perspectives, that of Sev and his ISA buddies, and inbetween levels the perspective of Jorhan Stahl and the Helghast council, as they take over from Emperor Visari. You get to see the goings on and infighting in the Helghast government.
Also much like the previous game, the Helghast bad guys are much more interesting, well developed and complicated characters than the ISA heroes, who while improved over the last game, are still much more 2 dimensional and still mostly shout curse words and shoot stuff.
The character of Rico received a lot of criticism from fans and press alike in Killzone 2, as he was an unlikeable expletive spewing douchebag. Rico is noticeably improved this time around, as he’s toned down his language and has a bit more developed personality.
Malcolm McDowell continues Brian Cox’s legacy of making the bad guy infinitely more interesting and compelling than the heroes of the tale, with an excellent performance as the slimy industrialist Jorhan Stahl. The Helghast council in general feature some awesome voicework that really drew me in to their political posturing during the cutscenes.
These great Helghast characters only make the heroes Sev, Rico and Narville feel even more flat. The ISA characters in the Killzone franchise never really stuck with me. It’s only been about 9 months since I played Killzone 2, but when I started the game this time around, as the introductory sequence began, I didn’t even recognize which one was the player character. I actually confused Captain Narville and Sev at one point.
They do have a little bit more characterization in this game than the last. Rico is the tough guy with an authority issue, Narville is the boyscout leader who’s too worried about losing his guys to really get in the fight, and Sev is the straightforward problem solver.
Aesthetically, Killzone has never been very good. The Helghast designs are deliciously evil, with kind of nazi stormtrooper vibe, but beyond that, the world isn’t very inspired. There’s a lot of grey and unremarkable character designs.
Killzone 3 makes some improvements over Killzone 2, but still features way to much industry grey and shades of brown. There is an awesome swamp level though, with plants and animals that create an eerily beautiful wilderness. The contrasting colours between the plant life and the cold dead rock it lives on creates a very visually interesting level.
There is more variety in Killzone 3’s levels as well, as it takes you from the grey and dreary capital city to the swampy wilderness, to an arctic base, to the desert and then into space. The game does get more grey/brown towards the later levels, however it somewhat makes up for this with some giant enemies and interesting set pieces.
Don’t get me wrong, Killzone 3 has some amazing graphics. While I’m not fully on board with the art direction in the Killzone series, the graphical quality of Killzone 3 is off the charts. Characters are highly detailed, and the environments have solid and detailed textures, without feeling too busy on the eyes. Additionally, the pre-rendered cutscenes are stunning.
The weapon sounds really pack a solid punch, and really sells the feedback whenever you fire your weapon. Explosions and gunfire surrounds you, while the shouts of your teammates and the Helghast can clearly be heard whenever you get close. It does a great job of pulling you in and making you feel like you’re in a chaotic combat situation.
The very first thing I noticed upon jumping back in the boots of Thomas Sevchenko was that developer Guerilla games have tweaked that weighty feeling of Killzone 2. The last game was criticized by gamers who felt like the game was unresponsive and slow. Personally I never really had an issue with it, as I enjoyed the weighty movement of Killzone 2. But this time around, you feel a little lighter on your feet. That weighty feeling is not altogether gone, but aiming and moving is more responsive this time around.
Another major tweak I really enjoyed is that you can carry 3 weapons now instead of 2. In the previous game, you had one main weapon slot, and a sidearm slot, meaning that if you wanted to pick up that rocket launcher, you had to drop your assault rifle. This often meant picking up a larger weapon was a bit un-inviting unless needed for a specific situation.
This time around, you have 1 slot reserved for large weapons, so you can always keep a grenade launcher or a minigun on hand for those pesky tanks.
The cover system from the previous games are back, where you press L2 to lock on to a wall in front of you so you can peek out from the side or over in order to stay in cover and shoot. I’ve never really been a fan of cover systems in first person games, and I’m not a fan of this one. It can be a bit unreliable from time to time, where you are crouching behind the only cover you can find, but still getting hit.
It’s also a bit awkward, since you end up spending a considerable amount of time just kind of staring directly into a wall. This isn’t really taken into account by the environment artists, so while the environments look great from a normal distance, textures appear quite blurry when you’ve got your face mushed against the wall.
Killzone 3 is quite short. I finished the single player campaign in about 5 hours. It has a very robust multiplayer mode, however 5 hours for the campaign is a bit on the disappointing side. For people like me, who usually can’t be bothered with multiplayer, it kind of sucks to pay full price for a game and finish it in 2 nights of playing.
Much like the previous game, Killzone 3 is just a really solid shooter. There are no major innovations, it doesn’t change the genre, or push any boundaries. The closest thing it has to a gimmick is the first person cover system. This is necessarily a negative thing, as it does everything really well. Firing weapons feels great, they’ve really nailed the feedback for the player. Movement is a lot more responsive, and enemy AI does a pretty good job of utilizing cover and flanking the player if you get pinned down.
The game does have some drawbacks, most notably the on-rails shooter segments, where you have no ability to dodge incoming fire, and just have to shoot anything on screen. This would not be a problem if not for the inexplicable instant death situations I experienced from time to time, where I would just fly into oncoming fire (on the large robot close to the end for example) and have to reload and hope it didn’t happen again. It seemed pretty random, but it happened to me 3 times during the course of the game.
I also experienced an issue with the cutscenes where the sound would get de-synced from the video, and voicework would lag almost a full second behind the lipsync.
Killzone 3 is a really solid FPS game, with some of the best graphics on the PS3. It doesn’t really bring anything new to the table, but displays a refined iteration of what was already a great game in Killzone 2.
It doesn’t really tell an interesting story, but has some really good badguy characters, and gives you a great action packed campaign. The campaign can also be played in co-op, which I’m always happy about, and it has very well done multiplayer mode, if that’s your thing.
Killzone 3 is only held back a little bit by a very short campaign, a fairly uninspired aesthetic direction and some minor technical issues.