Sunday, March 6, 2011

REVIEW - Killzone 3.

I've always liked the Killzone games. In mid-2004 I bought a demo disc from a local supermarket. There was a bunch of crap on there, but it also contained the demo for Killzone - a title I'd never heard of before - and I likely played it fifteen or twenty times.

This was after Halo happened, mind you. I'd seen Halo, I'd played Halo (the grass texture was incredible, for its time) - but I found myself completely absorbed in Killzone. I was unaware, at the time, that Sony was touting it as their "Halo killer," and that fans were surely spitting vitriol at each other across the cyber-chasms of the internet in defense and attack positions.

I just loved that demo. And I liked the game. Unlike Halo, it wasn't a neon-bright frantic firefight over huge, open terrain. Killzone was very focused - very urban, and nearly claustrophobic at times - and felt more like a simulation of combat than a game. It was built on an interesting science fiction foundation, but the moment-to-moment gameplay was an almost-disturbing exploration of what happens when people start throwing bullets at each other.

It was tense, vital, and thoroughly engaging.

But it's not really cool to like Killzone, is it?

It seems like we must also offer up an apology when we admit that there's something special about these games. Sheepishly - it's something one feels a bit ashamed to admit to. Naturally, one could only like it and prefer it to the competition because of an insane consumer bias - so it almost feels like one should apologize for saying it - but man... Killzone 3 is fantastic.

Imperfect as every game is, surely, but still - this is an exemplary product.

It sidesteps the ridiculous trappings that often accompany science fiction in favor of a considered, researched, thoroughly cerebral approach to building its mythos and its worlds. The story they've created has always been about how even in a righteous war, there is a moral cost. There is a history, here, that makes each side right, in their own way - and gives one a feeling of unease when they stop and consider what they've done.

But now's not the time to worry about who's right or wrong. Yes, our Earth government abandoned the colony on Helghan - its people were left to suffer and, over generations, adapt to the foul environment we left them to. They are right to hate us - but now they're shooting at us. They're killing my friends and comrades and I'll sure as hell take down any bastard who levels his irons at me.

Killzone 3's finale hammers home the moral cost of victory in an absolutely spectacular moment of triumph and sickening reality.

At the same time, while all these weighty issues are on the table, it manages to be a thoroughly entertaining product. Utterly gorgeous from tip to tail, Killzone 3 is a miracle of technology. Load screens are almost nonexistent, there is no install to run - you just fire the disc up and try not to bleed from your eyes as they are assaulted with incredible effects, crisp textures, masterful animation and an unbelievable draw distance.

Unlike its thoroughly urban predecessors, Killzone 3 is a staccato rapid-fire of wonderful environments. The snowy peaks we've seen so much of give way to a forest of madness, where plant life evolved from insects. The long-favored urban combat is here, but so is a (remarkably attractive) junkyard and, well, there's more I won't deign to spoil.

Gameplay switch-ups are tossed out at a regular pace, each never outstaying its welcome or separating itself too much from your comfort zone - and great pacing drives you ever-forward. You may be sneaking through a swamp with a silenced pistol one moment before returning to the series' visceral cover-based shooting for a frantic battle of attrition, and shortly thereafter find yourself manning the gun on a chainsaw-driven Ice Saw.

It's just fun. It mixes up the (excellent) standard shooting of Killzone 2 by constantly running you across gorgeous set pieces and throwing huge handfuls of glittering confetti in your face. "Surprise!" it cries. "Here's your very own Mark IV Exoskeletal Suit Of Pwnage - enjoy!"

Like sweet candy.

Killzone 3 even made me not-hate Rico - and we all hate Rico.

In Killzone 3, at least, he's an idiot among other just-as-dumb idiots - and this time around it really does feel like he has the best of intentions, as opposed to just being... y'know, a dumbass.

While the overall narrative of Killzone 3 is still rather engaging - feeling suitably grand and important - it fails to get the player past a suspension of disbelief at the behavior of its leads. The behind-the-scenes power play for the seat of Helghan power all feels legitimate enough, but the constant, childish bickering and suicidal strategies of the Earth-friendly ISA forces is simply ridiculous. Focused on the smaller moments of storytelling, Killzone 3 drops the ball - but the greater story being told across the breadth of the game still, strangely, manages to inspire.

The game's other significant weakness is almost a non-issue - four times throughout the campaign I noticed dialogue seemed to fall out of sync with character animations - which does break immersion, but not to the point where it really mars my affection for the title.

Immersion is what Killzone 3 does best, thanks to its wonderfully reactive world, its snarling, feral weaponry, its vicious, impactful treatment of bullets, rapid pacing and phenomenal overall presentation.

That, one must admit, is the highest praise one can give any first-person pursuit. Upon picking up the controller, this is a world one lives in.

Enemies feel terrible and dangerous, cover is your BFF, and the heavy, confident weapon in your hands is your salvation. It retains Killzone 2's seductively weighty feel, but drops the controversial "heavy" controls in favor of the more popular, responsive alternative - which purist may decry, but the campaign has been balanced accordingly.

Like the first and second title, it's a visceral, gritty, grand experience with a beautiful backdrop of interstellar conflict and hazy-gray righteous indignation. Like the biggest names in modern action, it's constant assault of huge action, awesome set pieces, thrilling switch-ups, sky-high production values and sweet, sweet gun porn.

Killzone 3 is a great FPS, and there's no shame in that.

-incredibly immersive
-stunningly attractive
-excellent sound design
-gorgeous animations. I never tire of reloading my assault rifle.
-a technical marvel
-the gunplay is much more responsive, but still manages to feel weighty and significant
-vicious-feeling weapons
-the pacing just clips. I didn't want to put it down
-huge variety in environments
-gameplay switch-ups never miss their mark
-enemy AI is pretty impressive
-I love the way snow deforms as you walk through it
-great art direction
-the MAWLR fight was just... wow
-engaging story
-Sev is badass. We love him. And Rico sucks less
-Malcolm McDowell
-incredible ending

-Rico is still an idiot - but so is everyone else with the ISA
-the moment-to-moment storytelling seems ludicrous at times
-the audio went out-of-sync four times during cutscenes
-I feel like I have to apologize for being so impressed with it



  1. Great review. I planned on picking up KZ3 to play multi with the PA forumers, but I haven't made the purchase yet. I'm a bit worried that the location of the big TV (far from the wireless router, and the PS3 gets about 50% signal strength) will make multiplayer a shoddy affair and make it necessary for me to lug the PS3 into my room (right by the router) whenever I want to play multiplayer, so the fact that I had heard mixed reviews about single player kept me from the insta-buy. Your review pushes me in the "yes" direction. Have you played any multiplayer? I hear it's a blast, and I certainly enjoyed the open beta when I played it at a friend's house.

  2. I actually put more time into the multiplayer for KZ2 than I have anything aside from GTAIV - about ten or fifteen hours - but no, I haven't touched KZ3's.

    That said, from what I hear, it's fantastic. I've also heard some buzzing that the fact that the Tactician class can no longer lay down their own spawn points does harm to the experience, but no - I haven't tried KZ3's myself.