Although it doesn’t rival the adventure or sports genres in terms of age, the first-person shooter is certainly no spring chicken.
As such, innovation within the genre, and arguably across all genres, is becoming increasingly rare. We’ve fought other humans, mutants, zombies and all manner of aliens in factories, warehouses, deserts, snow, jungle and villages both here on Earth, on Earth clones, on space stations and on distant planets. Many conflicts from the past hundred years are available to be relived in first-person format, even ones that are still ongoing.
The sheer number of these games is good news for the gamer who enjoys fast-twitch gameplay and lighting dudes up with his Gatling gun, but to appeal to those who may not be hardcore shooter fans, production houses must distinguish their product from an ocean of clones in increasingly creative ways.
Unfortunately, Quick Time Events, cover mechanics, Sixaxis minigames, vehicle stages, RPG elements, zero gravity sections, stealth levels, mile-high bosses and gravity guns are all old hat nowadays. So how have Guerrilla Games sought to break from the pack with the third in their popular Killzone series?
By tightening up the gameplay of its predecessor and cooking up one of the best-looking PS3 games yet, that’s how.
It’s these two elements that really give you the sense that you are a small part of something much larger in Killzone 3 – that there is much more to explore just beyond that crumbling skyline, even as the game funnels you from checkpoint to checkpoint.
The settings are expansive yet incredibly detailed, and even as you (as Sergeant First Class Tomas "Sev" Sevchenko) dodge bullets you may find yourself marvelling at the massive spacecraft drifting overhead, tattered flags flapping in the ash-drenched winds; or at the columns of sunlight that sporadically pierce the smog canopy overhead to illuminate the burnt and twisted remains of post-nuclear Helghan.
This “being there” vibe is solidified by great sound design, and also small details such as Sev looking slightly downward at his weapon as you reload, plunging his arm into ammo dispensers to grab extra clips, or stabbing an enemy soldier in the eye with his knife when you perform a successful melee attack.
The whole world has a weight to it, and there are no invisible walls, making it very possible to plummet from cliffs, or into shell holes. These attributes make Killzone extremely engrossing as well as satisfying to play. There is nothing quite like fending off Helghast troops whilst advancing up a snowy, exposed incline with your squad-mates, before shooting a rampaging tank with a missile launcher and watching chunks of metal cartwheel past your position, clanking as they bounce off the tarmac.
Another small but effective design decision: if you can see an enemy, they can see you, even if you are in cover. Combine this with the Helghast’s tendency to flank, attack from high vantage points and throw grenades at the entrenched, and you are left with furious combat and few completely safe locations within which to regroup. Indeed, those that may be safe now won't be for long. This keeps the pressure on and the lead flying, and luckily there is no shortage of the latter with resupply points generously sprinkled along your path. Even better, your ability to sprint for extended periods means they are never completely out of reach.
For much of the game you are joined by Master Sergeant Rico Velasquez from Killzone 2, or on occasion, an entire squad of marines. Happily the AI is rock solid, and your progress is never hampered by overzealous or snagged team-mates, and in fact staying with them is vital for your survival chances as they can resuscitate you three times – assuming they can reach you – before you die outright and have to restart from the last checkpoint.
One thing that has always been contentious in first-person titles are the vehicle stages, and although the numerous ones on offer here are better than most and you'll dish out some impressive destruction, frustration will still set in for many. There's simply so much is going on that it is often difficult to know what to shoot or what is harming you. Thankfully these levels are comparatively short.
Killzone 3 as a whole also suffers from – for lack of a better phrase – a “wow factor”. Exceptional presentation and a certain jetpack level aside, there aren’t any events or encounters that really kick things up a notch or warrant particular mention, and this is a shame as things start off in intriguing fashion. Unfortunately, the majority of the blame for this falls squarely on the shoulders on the abysmal story and dull characters – one-dimensional clichés, the lot of them.
Even Malcolm McDowell’s voice talents can’t breathe nuance or life into the action-movie-level lines his evil capitalist spouts. Another small gripe is the brief loading pauses every now and then, but fortunately these never occur within combat.
Once you are done with the eight-hour single-player campaign (which can also be played through in split-screen co-op), you may wish to dip your toes into the online multiplayer, because it is remarkable. Here story matters not, the abilities granted each of the five character classes are actually innovative, and the eight maps are well-designed and balanced.
The best mode is Warzone, a Killzone 2 staple where objectives roll on one after another, so there is no mucking about in lobbies, just glorious non-stop gun-play. Add in a levelling system where points can be spent on anything you wish rather than be restricted by class, and a botzone where you can practice without humiliation, and Killzone 3’s multiplayer experience is among the best available on a shooter right now.
The bottom line is that while it offers veteran FPS players nothing new, Killzone 3 does boast some of the best console FPS graphics yet, and very slick gameplay to go along with it. Lack of innovation and the horrible story aside, it’s an outstanding release that all PS3 owners should get their hands on as a matter of priority.