Throwing out the baby Helghast with the irradiated bathwater.
We’ve come to expect limp and forgettable campaign modes from multiplayer-focused first-person shooters. So much so that it almost isn’t worth noting. It’s like bread before dinner or foreplay before sex.
[image1]Campaigns are there to whet your appetite for the multiplayer portion. But the campaign in Killzone 3 is so frustrating and poorly designed—despite its intoxicating visuals—that it goes well beyond the pale of other disappointing campaigns in FPS games past.
The story itself is perfectly serviceable. It’s the typical “Space Marines Save the Universe” plotline. Instead, the real problems arise from a series of cascading design issues. These aren’t bugs—since the game is impeccably polished—no, these are just incredibly poor design decisions.
For example, enemies love to spam grenades. This would almost be forgivable but for one fatal flaw: cover is now super sticky. In contrast, Killzone 2 always seemed to know intuitively when you did or did not want to remain in cover. It was smooth, responsive, and smart. But in Killzone 3, going into cover is like diving head first into a tar pit. Once you’re there, you can’t easily get out again. So those endless grenades turn quickly into endless deaths.
But it doesn’t end there. One-hit kills abound in the world of Killzone 3. Even on Normal difficulty, a single bullet can kill you, and more often than not, you’ll have no idea what direction it came from or who fired it. Adding insult to fatal injury, enemies can now hit you while you’re in cover. I enjoy challenging games, but this is simply unfair.
Moreover, enemies are enormous bullet sponges. More often than not—again, on Normal difficulty—it can take almost a full clip from a standard weapon to kill a single enemy. If you thought the enemies in Gears of War and Uncharted soaked up bullets like water, you’ll be amazed at how absorbent the enemies are in Killzone 3. Perhaps the Helghast could move into the paper towel business and pull themselves out of their abject poverty once and for all?
[image2]In the surest sign of rushed design, the response to the imbalanced difficulty is to give you tons and tons of ammo boxes along the way. You’ll never run out of ammo. There’s no reason not to blast away with your overpowered rocket launchers or machine guns since you’ll be able to stock up around every corner. Rather than correct the many bad decisions outlined above, Guerrilla just throws more ammo at you in hopes that you won’t notice.
The poor decisions continue in the inconsistent use of checkpoints. Some checkpoints are generous, but during major gunplay sections many of the checkpoints are frustratingly unforgiving—sometimes setting you ten or fifteen minutes back. With all the other issues put together, I had to fight the urge to toss the disc to my dog on more than a few occasions.
On top of all that, Guerrilla Games has decided to cram absolutely every gameplay idea they could think of into the campaign mode. There are half a dozen on-rails sections. There’s an ill-conceived stealth level. There is a brief section that plays like the Operations mode from multiplayer. There is an Uncharted-style flashback. And so on. While variety can be a good thing, there still needs to be a solid shooter beneath it all. Like the narrator’s refrigerator in Fight Club, Killzone 3 is all condiments and no substance.
However, the one level that nearly makes it all worthwhile is the much-hyped jetpack level. If the entire game were as good as that single level, we’d be looking at a major reinvention of the genre. Shooting, flying, and platforming work in tandem to deliver on the failed promise of Dark Void. But since this level is also available for free as a demo on PSN, you’re better off saving your money and just downloading the demo instead.
[image3]Playing local co-op helps take the sting off a bit by making the whole campaign a shared experience. The lack of online co-op, however, makes it less of a cure and more of a panacea to the ills plaguing the campaign.
Move support also doesn’t quite measure up and requires far more calibration than it’s worth. And while I’d love to say something about 3D support, I’m still part of the majority of gamers who don’t have a 3D display. I’m sure it’s lovely, but I can’t help but think that all the time spent on these extra bells and whistles could have been better spent fixing the game’s more substantial problems.
Multiplayer attempts a last-minute rescue and mostly succeeds. The online modes in Killzone 2 sucked up more of my time than any other FPS this generation, and Killzone 3 looks like it has kept the torch alive. The community features in Killzone 2 have yet to be matched by any other console FPS game, and the sequel continues in much the same vein, but with some added new twists.
It’s tough to say yet how the custom weapon and perk trees will play out, but overall multiplayer is much faster-paced than in Killzone 2. Strategic team play takes a backseat to fast kills, and most game types favor hot-doggers looking to beef up their KDR. Maps are generally asymmetrical, so balancing may end up being a major issue down the line. And whether you think this multiplayer suite is better than what was in Killzone 2 will depend entirely on whether you prefer the twitchiness of a Call of Duty or the squad-based strategy of a Bad Company.
[image4]Killzone 3 is clearly a victim of two competing forces. On the one hand, Guerrilla aims to please FPS fans looking for bigger, faster, more bro-tastic experiences. And on the other, they’re trying to fit as many bullet points on the back of the box as possible: Move support, 3D capability, co-op, multiplayer, and bot training. Dealing with such intense pressure from both sides hasn’t done any favors to the final product.
In trying to be all things to all gamers, Guerrilla has lost sight of what they do best: letting you shoot interesting enemies with cool weapons in beautiful environments. By filling Killzone 3 to the brim with extras, they’ve let the core game suffer. And while the well-designed multiplayer has been left largely intact, the changes will certainly irk fans of its predecessor.