Killzone 3 Review
Weighty shooting action and magnificent visuals collide in this great follow-up.
- Core shooting action is weighty and satisfying
- Campaign is filled with interesting set-piece battles
- Terrific maps make competitive play an absolute blast
- More environmental and gameplay variety than before
- Astonishing visuals.
- The story is awful
- Co-op play is local only and is hampered by frame rate problems
- Not all changes to the online multiplayer are for the better.
Like its predecessor, Killzone 3 is immediately striking for its gorgeous landscapes and glowing lighting, which provide a hostile, not-quite-familiar backdrop to the heart-pounding first-person firefights that often occur on the planet of Helghan. But to dismiss this sequel as a mere visual showcase would be a disservice to the core action, which maintains the excellence that distinguished Killzone 2. There's a heft as you move, jump, and shoot that you rarely feel in shooters, but it works for Killzone 3, giving every shot that finds its mark a satisfying sense of impact and keeping you mindful of where you step before you wade into a sea of gunfire. Set-piece battles energize this foundation, mixing up the pace by putting you in a jetpack or inside a lumbering armored suit. It's unfortunate that not every aspect of the game maintains the same high standard of quality. The storytelling is so awful as to be embarrassing, yet there's so much more story than before, and its frequent interruptions injure the flow of the single-player campaign. And the tacked-on local cooperative mode is a missed opportunity, and problematic in its own right. Yet for these few steps back, there are steps forward too, making Killzone 3 an exciting follow-up to one of 2009's best shooters--and one of the most beautiful-looking games to grace consoles yet.
In Killzone 2, it was easy to ignore the story. There wasn't much context for what made the red-eyed Helghast so hated and feared, beyond the fact that they waved fearsome flags that not-so-subtly evoked images of Nazi Germany. Nevertheless, the story focused on the well-meaning but interchangeable grunts on the front lines of the Helghan invasion to generic effect. In Killzone 3, the Helghan leaders, with their evil-scientist scowls and bushy mustaches, all too often take center stage. You see their atrocities firsthand, but these caricatures and their teeth-gnashing war room antics are beyond laughable. The game spends far too much time elaborating on their political machinations, complete with pounding fists and wrinkled brows. You can skip the overlong cutscenes, but they intrude often enough that the flow of battle suffers. Granted, like the rest of Killzone 3, these scenes are gorgeous to behold. Blustery images of heroes Sev and Rico making narrow escapes are as slick as any sequence you'd see in an action film. But it's hard to be invested in the fate of characters you don't care about, fighting an enemy characterized not by their cause, but by the color of their eyes.
Where the story stumbles, the action more than rises to the occasion. The M82 returns from Killzone 2 and remains a pleasure to shoot. Smooth animations make it enjoyable to go from standard shooting to peering through the sight of this assault rifle. Ruddy blood erupts from your enemies; weapons sound powerful; and animations effectively convey the jolts of bullets hitting armor. The boltgun, the flamethrower, and other Killzone 2 favorites return, though the new weapons pack plenty of punch as well. With one of them, you can charge up a glowing green orb of energy that plows through scores of enemies, leaving corpses in its wake. It functions much like Killzone 2's lightning gun, in the sense that on the few occasions you get to wield this powerful beast, you feel like an unstoppable supersoldier. Another potent weapon lets you switch between two modes, raining artillery fire onto Helghast and vehicles. It's put to memorable use in a boss fight of sorts in which you take on an impossibly enormous walker firing upon your collapsing base with machine guns and missiles.
Like so many shooters, this one often funnels you down narrow corridors carved through the trash and rubble of its war-torn vistas. This predictable foundation is prevalent in the first hour, but gives way to memorable set-piece battles that define the Killzone 3 experience. In the best of these, you don a jetpack and thrust into the air with the same satisfying sense of substantial weight that has always permeated the series' movement and gunplay. The first time you lift off is great fun, giving you a chance to load up Helghast troops with lead from above. It's just as rewarding to fire at foes in jetpacks as they hover above, looking like winged demons summoned from hell. Shooting one down causes him to careen about before crashing into the terrain--or possibly, into you. This entertaining change of pace is accompanied by a change of scenery; rather than battling in the dusty Helghan desert, you feel the chill as you make your way through drifts of snow and soar above icy ocean waves.
"New scenery, new mechanics" is a major theme in Killzone 3. Not only do you make your way through a hostile sci-fi jungle, but you do so stealthily, stabbing your foes in the back in particularly dramatic fashion. In a wintry war zone, you pilot a speeder while launching missiles at the aircraft that zoom above and in front of you. An enjoyable battle in yet another frontier closes the game, though this brief final chapter is too easy to feel like an actual climax. Nevertheless, it's a better conclusion than Killzone 2's, and it's preceded by a series of progressively more challenging firefights that raise tension levels. For even more variety, you can also jump into the action with a Move controller and navigation controller in hand. This method of control is much as you'd expect: you move using the thumbstick on the navigation controller, and you adjust the camera, aim, and shoot with the motion controller. Everything moves smoothly and precisely, and the auto-targeting adjusts in smart ways when you aim down the sights of your gun or turret.
Even the more standard levels that stick mostly to running and gunning do a good job of giving context to your actions and keeping intensity levels high. For instance, you fight your way through a junkyard that funnels you through its corridors in conventional fashion, but then pits you against hovering security drones that deliver death surprisingly quickly, all while a couple of Helghast snipers take aim. Killzone 3's enemy AI is fantastic. Your adversaries flee quickly from the grenades you toss, are quite accurate when they throw their own, and sprint to more effective cover spots when your gunfire causes the sheet of metal they were hiding behind to fall away. You are often accompanied by a mostly competent AI teammate. He might cry out that he can't get to you to revive you when you go down, even though he's crouching right next to you. But apart from these rare blips, the artificial intelligence is wonderful. On the occasions when you are part of a larger battle and accompanied by numerous soldiers, your foes are just as focused on your comrades as they are on you. As a result, you feel like a proud cog in an authentic war machine, rather than a simple bullet magnet.
Yeah, it's unfortunate how unremarkable the story is. If it had been a bit better (with characters that were fleshed out a little more), the game would have probably been a lot more memorable, as in remembering the fact that the game came out the same year as Dead Space 2 (which was my personal favorite of 2011), or any of the other great titles. Another reason that it's unfortunate is because there's actually a lot to the Killzone universe, which shows that the game has a lot of resources, but few to none of it being explored.