Killzone 3 Review
In our eyes, Killzone 2 represented an evolution in the first-person shooter category, due primarily to the core mechanics and unparalleled visual presentation. That heaviness, the feel of an elite soldier weighed down with a massive amount of equipment, is what set it apart. Now, to be fair, Killzone 3 is one of the most polished, intense experiences you will ever have this generation, but it almost feels as if Guerrilla Games made a concession of sorts. In other words, they saw the immense success of Call of Duty, fielded all the complaints about “dead spots” in KZ2, and overreacted. So, they went and “lightened” KZ3 to the point where it feels too much like any other FPS. Still, it remains a step ahead due to that aforementioned refinement, stellar AI, wonderful balance and pacing, a fantastically satisfying campaign, and excellent multiplayer.
I have to start with a small caveat when analyzing the graphics. Perhaps it’s because three years have passed since KZ2, or maybe it’s because Guerrilla implemented some sort of shading or coloring style that doesn’t quite agree with me. The detail is amazing, to be sure, but facial animations during cut-scenes aren’t overly impressive, and there seems to be an overabundance of black and silver. However, some of that is subjective and the bottom line is that, overall, KZ3 is indeed a graphical tour de force: the environments are meticulously designed, there’s actually a fair amount of variety, special effects are top-notch, and the animations are some of the best you’ll ever see. It’s the whole package that stands head-and-shoulders above the competition, just because of the attention paid to every tiny visual element. With every step, you see another example of gargantuan effort on the part of the developers.
The technical aspects of the sound are just as good, if not better, although I’m still not a fan of some voices. Sev is solid and so are a few other main characters, but for some reason, I thought the Helghast side sported much better voiceover work than the ISA side. In terms of soundtrack and effects, Killzone remains the cream of the crop. No other shooter can equal KZ3 in regards to diverse, fitting, and supremely effective music selections, and no other shooter has this beautiful, memorable blending of combat effects. In short, no FPS battle sounds quite as good as a KZ3 battle, and that’s the long and short of it. There’s an urgency and a crispness to every gunshot and explosion, and the cries of the combatants are just plain invigorating. The soundtrack is a nice mix of pumping orchestral tracks, which serves to complement most any situation. With the exception of a few lackluster voices, the sound is a major highlight, and I can’t stress that enough.
You know what a shooter is and few require a control explanation. Therefore, let’s just start with what I mentioned in the intro: the mechanics alteration. But lest I give the wrong impression, let me be clear about one thing before the elaboration- in comparison to the competition, the basic control is basically blameless and almost entirely without fault. One could argue that developers have long since mastered the foundation of the FPS, but this is still worth noting. But when we think of Killzone, especially after what KZ2 accomplished, we tend to envision a higher bar. Personally, I had hoped to see a simple honing and refining of the “heaviness” found in this game’s predecessor, but what we got was, in my eyes, an overcompensation. It’s still not exactly like the slick, speedy, sliding-on-glass feeling of CoD, though; there is more weight involved.
While I’m on the subject of perceived drawbacks, I should also add that I’ve been pondering the cover system for the past few days. It works well but I’m wondering if it’s even necessary… Firstly, I don’t think it’s a great idea to have the crouch and cover button be the same (L2), and secondly, I’ve been killed several times because I was “stuck” in cover. You really sort of adhere to the obstacle that’s providing cover and that can pose some issues. Also, when you zoom in with R3 while popping out of cover, you remain exposed unless you hit L2 again. It’s just a teensy bit awkward and after a while, I found I just wasn’t using it that often. We’re all so used to playing shooters a certain way that I keep thinking a cover mechanic is best restricted to third-person games. Oh, and finally, I don’t find the story to be all that impressive, but it has its moments. No spoilers here.
With all that out of the way, I’m happy to say that Killzone 3 is an accomplishment of the highest order. The balance and pacing puts this one amongst the elite titles of the generation; one minute you’re in a pitched, chaotic battle (hoping the controller doesn’t slip out of your sweaty hands), and the next, you’re sneaking about in the dark, knifing unsuspecting Helghast and executing perfectly timed head shots. The first one and a half to two hours consist of the most engrossing, rewarding gameplay you’ll ever have the pleasure to sample. You’ll deal with competent snipers, get tossed into a trench with flamethrower-toting enemies on the rim, pilot a futuristic killing machine, and slink through the grass, avoiding detection. You’ll then embark on what seems to be a suicide mission, which includes manning a mini-gun in mid-flight and testing out those nifty jetpacks.
The unbelievable environments and the challenge the Helghast AI presents keeps us involved; you really can’t let your attention slide. I liked the addition of the ammo crates – it added a dose of realism, to some extent – and you always experience this invigorating combination of fear and aggression. It’s sort of like, “oh holy sh**, here they come,” followed almost immediately by, “yeah, come got some!” I’ve played just about every shooter of the generation thus far, and I can’t think of one that presents the player with such an immersive atmosphere. That alone is worthy of a high ranking because I believe it embraces the gamer; it effectively puts us on the battlefield. I’m not sure why other critics didn’t feel this, or if they did, I wonder why they didn’t mention it. This hectic, ceaseless adventure hits you right between the eyes from the start and just never lets up, and it still manages to boast great pacing.
The AI has enemies lying on the ground to shoot, firing back over their heads, flanking, constantly moving in the open, taking appropriate cover, and in general, making every battle feel dynamic. The open battlefields contrast well with the cramped areas (of which there aren’t many), the fierceness and ruthlessness of the Helghast is better depicted and downright chilling, and when you die, you die because it was your fault. The game can never be blamed for cheap shots, cheating AI, or poor collision detection; i.e., “damnit, I was hitting him the whole time and he killed me!” Most every area is loaded with activity and looks fantastic, and you always want to keep playing. Perhaps that’s the best indicator of a top-tier title. Then, you have to factor in the multiplayer, which features plenty of different modes, very distinct and challenging maps, and of course, all those continual updates and alterations, which are appreciated.
Many will dismiss the multiplayer, likely because they say it wasn’t the best in Killzone 2, but this element has come an awfully long way. There was evidence of that in the beta and you can bet the team will continue to work hard at fleshing things out. As it stands, it’s pretty damn good, although it’s tough to get an idea of how well things work with a lot of people involved (game isn’t out yet, remember). It seems stable although I should mention that the single-player campaign came close to freezing on me a few times. It never actually did, but it was close. All in all, the single-player campaign will leave you breathless and the multiplayer, with its class-based system and very diverse gameplay – you can really experiment quite a bit – amplifies the experience. I know Black Ops will be the perennial favorite but I really believe KZ3 has it where it counts online. And it feels a lot different, too, which is a huge plus in my eyes.
Despite a few reservations, which I will admit are more personal in nature, Killzone 3 is a game that begs to be played; an experience that begs to be had. It’s super intense and is, in many ways, the epitome of nonstop entertainment. You never feel like it’s getting too repetitive, you always feel completely involved in what’s happening, the story isn’t great but it certainly plays a bigger role than it did in KZ2, the AI is awesome, and the control, balance and pacing are all nearly flawless. I am not a fan of the cover system (which I also believe is slightly flawed), I would rather they kept the same weight – although I must reiterate again that it’s definitely heavier than CoD – and the voiceover work and parts of the story can be spotty. This, combined with the escalating competition in the industry, results in a significantly lower overall score in comparison to KZ2.
Still, I really can’t see how this game isn’t worthy of an elite 9+ score. I just don’t get that at all. I could’ve been more lenient in this review; I fail to see how less than a 9 is accurate. But we’ll talk about that a little more tomorrow, when our very first video commentary for a review goes live. For now, we’ve got a little teaser for you; it introduces you to our new attempt at branching out, and also introduces you to our official PSXE YouTube channel. This is only part of what we have in store, though…the future holds something even bigger, so stay tuned.
The Good: Fantastic environments. Excellent soundtrack. Solid, stable control. The best AI in the business. Pacing and balance are huge highlights. Intensity is almost unparalleled. Story is more prominent. Significant, rewarding challenge. Multiplayer is diverse and rewards experimentation.
The Bad: A few mediocre voiceover efforts. Cover system is questionable. The removal of a lot of weight may upset KZ2 fans. Plot can be iffy.
The Ugly: "Go ahead, throw another grenade...how many of those you got?"
2/19/2011 Ben Dutka