War… What is good for?
Several multi-million dollar video game franchises, apparently. 2011 has been unofficially dubbed by certain cynical members of the video games press as “The Year of the Shooter”, not that 2010 was necessarily a dry spell, and sequels are looking to make-up the bulk of the pack. Why so many sequels you may ask? Well, video games have become big business. Huge, in fact. When Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 was released it broke all sales records in the entertainment industry. Yes I said entertainment industry, not just for video games. For the first five days of it’s release, CoD: MW 2 was averaging over $100 million per day in sales. That’s over a $100 million more in five days than the biggest film worldwide. $100 million per day is the kind of money that gets peoples attention, and it also explains some of the design changes in Guerilla’s follow-up to their PS3 exclusive smash: Killzone 2.
Killzone 2 was an incredible title for Sony. It was released at a time when the PS3 was suffering from inferior multi-platform ports and a very noticeable lack of quality exclusive content. Killzone 1 on the Playstation 2 didn’t deliver at all, and with Microsoft attempting to make the most of their Halo and Gears of War licenses: the pressure was on. Thankfully, it didn’t disappoint. KZ2 eschewed the modern day and WWII ‘realistic’ shooters such as CoD or Battlefield, and even the intergalactic alien-blasting of Halo and went for something somewhere in the middle. Players found themselves filling the dirty boots of Tomas ‘Sev’ Sevchenko as he and his fellow ISA soldiers attempt to take the fight to the evil marauding space villains that are the Helghast in craft that are essentially beach landing boats from Operation Overlord fitted with jet packs. Whilst not necessarily Oscar-worthy material, the gameplay stood out for it’s frantic, brutal and exciting depiction of near-future war.
So what about Killzone 3? Does it live up to the hype? The answer is yes… and no. I had very high expectations for this title, and I am pleased to say that it lives up to many of them, and whilst it is by no means perfect, the faults are just about minor enough that the gameplay remains solid; not only is it as a worthy successor to the PS3’s best FPS, but surpasses it in several crucial areas.
So what works?
The game developers told us it would be bigger, badder, and more brutal. In fact, they emphasised the action so much that they downplayed the excellent cover system of the previous title. I am pleased to say the cover system is in tact and is a very, very necessary part of the game. Killzone 3 still retains the best feature of the franchise: making you fight for every inch as you progress through each brutal combat zone. The Helghast don’t go down easily, and on the harder difficulty modes you will find yourself sprinting for cover, picking your shots and choosing your moments to advance very carefully, which is very satisfying indeed.
Most of the changes to the single player campaign are effective ones. Remember getting your head blown off while trying to revive Rico? Well now if they are available your major team-mates will attempt to revive you a limited number of times as well, which keeps the action flowing nicely. You now have unlimited sprinting in the offline campaign, which is also a nice touch. Although it is a fairly linear game; the cover system, the design of the levels and the constant weapons racks and ammunition boxes ensure that major battles can be tackled in different ways to suit your mood and style. As promised, levels are definitely bigger. Not necessarily longer in terms of gameplay, but there is more territory to be covered and a greater scope overall, and there is a more three-dimensional feel to some of them as you’ll find yourself dealing with enemies firing from all directions more often than before, including above or below you.
The new brutal melee system is an interesting little touch, although it’s much more satisfying in multiplayer. You can now carry three different guns offline: a standard rifle, a pistol and a ‘heavy’ weapon; which works superbly, allowing you adjust your approach a bit more on the fly. Just like in Transformers: War for Cybertron you can now take that gigantic turret weapon with you, expanding the roster of heavy weapons to include a mini-gun and the devastating WASP which comes complete with ‘artillery mode’ and the most amusing trophy I’ve unlocked. To sum it up, they really have upped the carnage and the pace in a satisfying way.
Cosmetically it’s an overall improvement. The graphics within KZ3 are mostly superb, but only mostly (see below for what doesn’t work). The first thing you’ll notice is that the world is not quite as a dark as the first one, and that the bombed out city of Pyrrhus looks both realistic and gorgeous in a dystopian sort-of-way. The new environments all have their own unique feel and support the change of pace that each one brings. Graphically, Guerilla have succeeded in making it more epic than it’s predecessor: more of the environment is destructible, grenades and explosions send dust and snow flying believably into the air, and the general feel of the game world is much larger, more varied and immersive. The mission which features your attack on the gigantic MAWLR in particular really make you feel like you’re taking on an impossibly large foe.
The weapons in Killzone 3 have been tweaked a bit and are more balanced than previously. They still feel and sound satisfying, and the overall sound design really draws you into the action, especially during that mission towards the end. A few more A-list actors have been brought in to add to the cinematic feel of the game. Whilst I don’t have much to write about for the cut scenes in my “what works” section, Malcolm Macdowell and Ray Winstone do their best to hold your attention, joining Brian Cox as heads of the Helghast military and war machine respectively, and initiating their own battle for control behind the scenes.
The single player campaign isn’t particularly long, at about five hours on Veteran mode during the first play through, but what’ll keep you coming back for more are the excellent online modes. There are three games types to choose from: the ever-popular Warzone, with it’s constantly shifting game types for a single map returns; ordinary Team Deathmatch is also included; and they are joined byt the new Operations mode in which you must complete set objectives for each map, and the very minor perk of seeing successful characters ‘star’ in brief cut-scenes. FYI: if you find yourself especially motivated to repeatedly be one of those ‘stars’ then you have a clinically defined narcissistic personality disorder and should be doing anything competitive, ever. The class system has been revamped and now resembles other shooters more closely; they’re more balanced, with more upgrades and the ability to buy those upgrades with points earned rather than the linear system of the previous game. The online maps are bigger and more varied than before, emphasising the overall three-dimensional feel again and the importance of the new class system too. Teamwork is definitely rewarded, and players again have the ability to form squads to achieve their objectives more effectively.
And What doesn’t work?
Unfortunately, there are a few too many things to mention in this category for what should be a premium title. First on my list is an issue with the graphics. Fair play to Guerilla for throwing in 3D support for those lucky enough to have a set and actually enjoy using it, but it puts some serious demands on the processor and it shows even when you’re not using it. Texture pop-in can be horrendous in this game, whether it’s online or offline, and seriously detracts from the experience at times. Also, there are technical hitches, my copy has completely crashed whilst loading up the next online match, and the new respawning feature in the single player campaign is less than perfect, one time I spawned dead repeatedly and there was nothing I could do but start that whole section over again.
Ever get the feeling you’re playing Call of Duty: Space Nazis? Well, I did at times. You just get the impression that the developers were simply trying to cram too much into this game, ticking off a massive list as they went: Scripted deaths? Check. Throw in a stealth mission? Check. Pointless on-rails sections? Check. Jet-packs? Check. Mechs? Check. Zero-G? Check. And the list goes on. It’s even got co-op, but offline only! The most frustrating thing is that some of those things actually work really well, but they’re under-used. There is only one brief section which has you creeping around killing soldiers with your silenced sub-machine gun. The new jet-packs they showed so much footage of are really fun to use, but they only feature in the game that one time, mechs too. To make matter worse, with all the carnage shoe-horned in earlier in the game, the final section feels half-baked and is a definite anti-climax.
And the last thing I have to mention is the terrible, and I mean terrible storyline and cut-scenes. Somewhat bizarrely, Guerilla have turned every single plot point in this game into an uber-testosterone fuelled action sequence. It’s got it all: kung-fu fighting, bullet-time death sequences, and all manner of against-the-odds ridiculous nonsense. Here’s an idea: if it’s action, let me play it. And driving it all forward are a pair of grunts who have decided that every single direct order is “bullshit” and backed up by such gems as “You can either help me or get the hell out of my way!” If the previous title was not exactly Oscar-worthy, this is down-right bargain-bin.
Bottom line: Guerilla have tried too hard to include every little thing that a blockbuster action title might have, and this time they haven’t let solid game design do the talking. However, Killzone 3 still manages to deliver an epic shooter both on and offline.