Killzone 3 Review

PlayStation 3 owners rejoice. The long-awaited sequel to Killzone 2 is coming soon, and first-person shooter fans are in for quite a treat. Killzone 2 is one of the PS3’s most celebrated titles to date, with fans and critics heaping praise on its stunning visuals, compelling single-player campaign, and the enormously satisfying multiplayer. As such, it’s clear that Killzone 3 has an awful lot to live up to. Still, despite its success, the 2009 behemoth was far from perfect, and developer Guerrilla Games left ample room for improvement. Specifically, many have argued that Killzone 2’s story was a little weak, the gun mechanics felt somewhat sluggish, and the lack of a co-op campaign disappointed many punters. After spending plenty of time with the follow-up, it’s clear that the studio has listened to its user base and incorporated just about every conceivable fan request into its latest endeavor. The result? A far more compelling narrative, refined gameplay mechanics, not to mention the chance to take on the Helghast with a buddy in the game’s split-screen co-op mode. Crucially, these changes – which are fairly minor in the grand scheme of things – will not alienate hardcore followers of the celebrated sci-fi blaster series. (Check out our video review of Killzone 3 here)

Most gamers make it their duty to defend exclusives. Xbox 360 fanboys have their Halo and Fable series, while Nintendo junkies have their Mario and Zelda games. For PS3 owners, the Killzone series is like their supermodel girlfriend, it’s so perfect it needs very little defending. The good news is that Killzone 3 goes beyond our expectations; the bad news is you are going to waste away playing this game—forgetting all your worldly responsibilities in exchange for week after week of tussling around in the multiplayer, or trying the campaign on a harder difficulty setting.

Killzone 3 picks up some time after the events of its multi-million selling predecessor. After pushing back the Helghast army, the main character, Sev, must work with commander Rico and company to prevent a mass bio chemical attack on Earth. As a member of the ISA’s Special Forces, Sev is one tough soldier. When paired up with Rico, the game feels more like a buddy flick. The duo has some great dialogue that wouldn’t feel out of place in a Michael Bay flick and their partnership and devotion to their mission is incredibly strong.  

On the Helghast side, the empire is under enormous internal strife, with different leaders jockeying for supremacy. From the outset of the game, there’s a real sense that the Helghast not only want their revenge, but they know how to get it, and it’s going to get ugly. Players are given a sneak peek into the Helghan culture through a couple of important cut scenes, but more importantly through the levels that allow you to play exactly like a Helghast soldier.

This is one of the better FPS stories we’ve experienced. There are, of course, huge overtones of Nazism and Communism, and of betrayal and loyalty. You’ll root for the ISA throughout the game, but you may be surprised when you feel sympathy for some of the rulers of the Helghast. The whole story is presented through terrific writing and gorgeous cut scenes.

Despite the ISA’s efforts to thwart the Helghast, the war never ended, and at the start of Killzone 3 you are thrown right back into the action. Just as in previous entries, the game is not all giant gun battles, although there’s plenty of that, too. You’ll have the chance to pilot several different vehicles, all with varying control sensitivity. One minute you’ll find yourself commandeering a snow machine, the next minute you’ll man a colossal gun battery on a flying transport. These vehicle-centric levels offer a terrific change in pace, but it’s all integrated so seamlessly into the game that it feels completely natural. 

The levels provide an assortment of environments to explore. In one level you’ll sneak through a Helghan jungle, in the next you’ll be in a ruined city, and in another you’ll fight through the actual Helghast headquarters. Yes, there is greenery, although it’s more alien wildlife. There’s more than just the typical sci-fi onslaught of war colors, like greens and browns. Killzone 3’s color palette ranges from oranges, to purples, and grays and reds, giving a truly unique look that goes beyond KZ2. Despite the impressive scenery, we did spot a couple of niggles in some of the earlier levels, however. One particularly nasty glitch in the jungle forced us to restart the last checkpoint about a dozen times. In addition, there are also some visual and audio bugs, which is a bit disappointing, but they’re relatively minor and we imagine can be easily ironed out with a patch.

There’s no doubt you’ve already ascertained that the game looks and sounds great, but how does it actually play? Well, the good news is that the gameplay hasn’t changed a great deal since Killzone 2. As such, all the familiar mechanics are very much still in place. You can hide and snap to cover, and your weapons still carry a fair amount of weight. Killzone 2’s gun mechanics were a turnoff for some, and if you fell into that category, it’s worth giving the sequel another shot. Weapons are still heavy, but they are easier to chug around. Guns look incredibly realistic and you have three slots to juggle, enough for a pistol, medium and large weapon. We especially enjoyed the ultimate Helghast weapon, a variation on their green-bio arsenal that disembowels your enemies. One shot takes out a single target, but you can hold down the fire button to charge it, sending out a giant green orb that evaporates anyone in its vicinity.  

Sliding into cover offers some awesome action sequences. If you time it right, you can slide behind cover, quickly jump over it, and then land a series of deadly melee attacks. The brutal melee attacks are just that: absolutely vicious and full of gratuitous violence. What’s great about hand-to-hand combat is the way you can use the natural environment to your advantage. You can smash heads against the road or even gouge eyes out with your thumbs.

The new feature of flying around on a jetpack is exhilarating, but airborne combat proves somewhat of an annoyance. You have limited airtime, so you have to make sure you aren’t going to fall into a swarm of enemies, or land in deadly water. We found it best to fly out of the way of oncoming enemies, find a safe vantage point, and unleash the fury. Still, it’s a cool addition and if you get the hang of it, it becomes more than just a great weapon; it transforms into a vital tool in the art of stealth and ambush.

One of the most requested features from Killzone 2 is the ability to play through the campaign in local split-screen co-op with a friend. Fortunately, Killzone 3 has this feature, and it works just fine. We didn’t get a ton of time to try co-op, but what time we did have was enjoyable. We could see people beating the game on their own, and then playing a second time with a buddy.  

If you are looking for a killer online multiplayer first-person shooter, Killzone 3 is your new home. It’s truly incredible. The campaign takes about eight hours to beat, but you’ll get plenty more content with online multiplayer. The key to multiplayer is the changing gameplay dynamics, just like in Killzone 2. There’s more here than just your rudimentary ‘search and destroy’ type objectives and we promise FPS fans will find plenty here to keep themselves occupied for months on end.

The maps are perfect for multiplayer, with plenty of places to hide, tons of layers, and plenty of different environments and themes. Killzone 3 online does a great job of keeping the war between the Helghast and ISA alive, and the vast majority of missions require the bad guys to defend against the good guys. We played the multiplayer beta, and feel like the actual game has improved—of course, that could just be because we played the regular campaign before jumping into the multiplayer. Our time online was relatively smooth and we rarely encountered any hiccups.

As expected, you’ll gain experience points and skill points as you rack up the hours online. You can spend points on various weapon and skill points, giving even more reasons to spend hour after hour in Killzone 3’s multiplayer component. You can still form squads with your friends, and you can even brag about your top scores on the leaderboards.  

The game supports 3D and Move, and it’s clear that Sony wanted to use Killzone 3 to show off its latest technology. We can’t speak for 3D side of the coin, but in regards to Move, our time spent using Sony’s motion controller was decidedly patchy. It’s difficult to find the perfect balance, and a standard controller works much better. Is it tacked on? That’s hard to say. Maybe we could learn to like it in time, but it’s hard to say if our time would be worth spent on this relatively random feature. Needless to say, we are still waiting to get our hands on that one major title that fully takes advantage of Move’s unique capabilities. Only time will tell if we’ll see anything worthwhile in the near future. 

PS3 owners have so much to do so far in 2011, and Killzone 3 only sweetens the pot. Everyone has high expectations for the game, and boy does it go beyond what we expected. Guerrilla Games once again has delivered a top notch first-person shooter experience worthy of ample praise. It has everything we loved about Killzone 2, plus local co-op, awesome melee combat, and a terrific narrative. This is a must-buy, but we’re sure you already knew that. In fact, Killzone 3 isn’t just a must-buy; it’s one of the best games to arrive on Sony’s flagship console to date – period.



The Final Word

Killzone 3 is one of the best PS3 exclusives. With local co-op, brutal melee combat, and an enormously deep multiplayer mode, it's clear that Guerrilla Games really appreciates its fans. Buy this game as soon as you can.