Shiny but Unspectacular: “Killzone 3” Review

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Killzone 3
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Guerilla Games
Systems it’s available on: PS3
ESRB rating: Mature
System reviewed on: PS3

Pity poor Killzone. The FPS franchise that’s lived on two iterations of Sony’s PlayStation game machines always gets compared to other exemplary franchises. The first Killzone was whispered as a ‘Halo-killer,’ but didn’t have the mojo to keep pace with the Master Chef juggernaut. Killzone 2 stood as a great white hope for Sony during the transition to a new PlayStation, and whipped console loyalists into a rabid frenzy when critics dared judge it as anything less than The Best Thing EVAR.

But, really, the pity comes in when one considers that Killzone‘s never been allowed to create its context and rarely gets judged on its own merits.  The aspirations of the Guerilla Games development house that created the series have been pretty well documented: to build a first-rate FPS for the Playstation platform, to create memorable villains in the Helghast and to ape the thrill-ride experience that large-scale action movies specialize in. Not for nothing, they’ve met those goals that every time out. The problem is that those ends unto themselves aren’t all that remarkable.

Killzone 3 aims to shake things up in a few ways. It still puts players in the middle of a war between marauding space fascists the Helghast and human paramilitary coalition the Interplanetary Strategic Alliance. But the ISA soldiers aren’t a mighty invading force as in the last game. After the assassination of Helghast leader Scolar Visari at the end of Killzone 2, there’s a power grab by a weapons manufacturer Stahl. He’s managed to weaponize an element that could revolutionize the war and wants to test it out on the humans who’re trying to evacuate off off Helghan. (More on And The First Titles For the Nintendo 3DS Are…)

KZ3 does try some interesting things with its plot beats. The Human ISA troops fight on desperate ground and get stranded on Helghan, giving developer Guerilla the chance to throw in some morose reflection and hopeless-feeling emotional dialogue. Main characters Sevchenko and Velasquez also constantly question the battlefield judgement of their superior officer, and it’s different to have so much insubordination in a military FPS.

KZ3 introduces some new tweaks from a gameplay standpoint, too. Certain parts incorporate stealth elements, which mesh nicely with the new, gory Brutal Melee attacks. Still, much of the single-player campaign is built on a typical FPS template: weapons galore, armored assault vehicles, mech suits. All these staples of military shooters show up in KZ3. Even the all-new and very fun jetpacks feel similar to things done elsewhere. Visually, the game tries to change things up with sequences in the Helghan jungle where the grey/brown palette of bombed-out cities gives way to vibrant tropical colors and organic shapes, then to polar wastes that hold some of the most stunning set pieces of the game. Indeed, if there’s any element where Killzone 3 is extraordinary, it’s in the visuals department. The super-sharp level of detail lives in a world where there’s constant tumult.

In the online component, KZ3 offers up class-based roles and leveling up seen in many recent online shooters. You can train up for multiplayer matches in a new bot mode that lets you learn the maps. There’s even a bit of narrative woven into some of these multiplayer modes, where teams need to work together to complete objectives. Sadly, the co-op mode is limited to local play only, meaning you’ll need to buddy up on a couch to play through the campaign. (More on If You Can’t Beat ‘Em… Microsoft to Release SDK for Kinect)

Aside from the experience held within the game itself, Sony’s also using KZ3 to push its 3D and motion-control agendas. This time out, the game stands more as a possibility as to what’s possible on the PS3 more than anything else. Sony’s using KZ3 to preach the gospel of Move, their motion controller that debuted last September. Players can use the Move wand and navigation controller to play through the game in two ways, either held in their hands or housed in the new Sharp Shooter peripheral. There’s a steep learning curve to learning to work the Sharp Shooter and, despite the fact that there’s a high level of customization as to movement sensitivity, it doesn’t always feel worth the effort. The 3D, though, shines. Playing Killzone 3 on a stereoscopic-enabled HDTV will do a lot to sway skeptics. The depth doesn’t come at the expense of reduced graphical fidelity and the whole affair feels more epic in scope. Your eyes will tire, though.

Leaving aside the gimmickry, though, Killzone 3 falls in line with its predecessors. The gameplay ideas are mostly by-the-numbers, feeling programmatic in a way that doesn’t surprise. When the showdown with a giant walking skyscraper of death happens, players will just feel like a box is being ticked somewhere, as if a grocery list of features was assembled. KZ3 aims for cinematic scale, but achieves it in the most familiar of ways: sweeping orchestral score, angled camera work in the cutscenes and tortured character development. The variety of control methods changes very little about the experience. You don’t even get the sense that Killzone 3′s trying to be edgy; it mostly comes across as earnest. For all the things it does well, Killzone 3 just feels… safe. A weird note for an action title to strike.

Official Techland score: 8.2 out of 10

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