Designers of futuristic first-person shooters are slowly running out of inspiration. It’s a sad state of affairs, and the creators of Killzone 3 know it all too clearly. In an attempt to make their new title stand out of the crowd, Guerrilla Games have taken what they know will sell and affixed a varying selection of bells and whistles to it. What we’re left with is a hollow shell of a boring military shooter, supplemented with jetpacks and other annoyances. Guerrilla should have focussed more on its core mechanics and plot as opposed to pebble-dashing its title with mediocre vehicle sections that have little to no rhyme, reason or pleasure attached to them.
The plot centres around the misadventures of our two bumbling, vacuous protagonists – Sev and Rico. Whilst being more than proficient with curse words and inflammatory remarks towards their commanding officer, our duo fail to engage with the audience in any appealing way whatsoever. On many occasions I found myself trying to nudge the chubby machine-gunner off a building, so as not to have to listen to his ‘wisecracks’ anymore. Sadly, the portly bugger never quite goes over, and the torrent of nonsensical military inanity continues unabated. The narrative follows the remaining units of the ISA invasion force desperately trying to get back home after their failed insurrection of the Helgan capital. The overall tale in the Killzone franchise is not a bad one, but its direction and implementation is as atrocious as the most asinine of budget movie. As a race of people, the Helghast could be viewed as the victims of the franchise. Ostracised from society and forced to scratch a living on a barely habitable planet, it’s no wonder they’re angry at humanity. Unfortunately the themes which should present themselves with such a fanciful yarn are never explored. The Helghast are space Nazis, nothing more, nothing less.
Much of the story is focussed on the power struggle, which has presented itself due to the assassination of the Helgan leader – Scolar Visari. These sections of the plot are by far the most interesting, as they reveal snippets of the Helgan culture beyond the shaved heads and gas masks. Sadly we endure more time with the much less interesting ISA task force, who spend so much time squabbling and fannying around that any cutscene which features them becomes repetitious and aggravating. I felt I was cheering for the wrong side on several occasions. We follow our petulant heros as they struggle to find some semblance of aptitude and escape their hopeless situation. This leads to more varied environments that include a dense, dank jungle and a glacial weapons facility. Whilst the inclusion of newer environments does make for a pleasant change, the locales seem slightly forced. The jungle sees you silently-stalking Helgan troopers with stealth and precision, two intrinsic skills which are thrown out the window as soon as you’ve got to grips with them. This contextual approach to level design jars horribly with the rest of the game, and feels like an extended tutorial as opposed to something fresh and fluid.
The core shooting mechanic in Killzone 3 is altered slightly from its predecessor. One of the more unique features of the Killzone titles is the heft and weight of its actions. Running over open ground, slamming into cover and aiming down the sights took effort and patience as your movements were slow and forceful. It was an interesting approach and gave the game a chunky, deliberate personality. With the sequel, this has been reeled in slightly and your movement feels all the more fluid and floaty. This means that the core mechanic of the game is much more instantaneously recognisable to FPS veterans. Whether or not you prefer this alteration is down to your preference, but ultimately, it feels more of an attempt to replicate the mainstays of the genre. Luckily for the developers mowing down wave upon wave of Helghast is still hugely entertaining, due mainly to the wonderful impact physics. Anything which makes this sadistic pleasure easier is a grand achievement in my book.
One of the most important aspects of Killzone 3’s universe is that the majority of its design seem realistic, or at the very least, feasible. This gives the environments a familiar yet exotic sheen to them which adds impact to the on-screen action. The design of Killzone 3, whilst not hugely original it is at least functional. One aspect of the design, however, that is absolutely astounding is the sound production. The breadth and scale of the score adds a sense of depth to the title, which seems lost on both the scriptwriter and the director. The music moves from bombastic-military pomp and circumstance to lonely, heartfelt string solos in a breathless heartbeat, underlining the frailty of our protagonist’s situation. This music carries the tone of the game much better than the hammy, predictable melodrama which unfolds on-screen.
The wonderful score is matched by some of the best sound design I’ve heard in some time. The cracks, bangs and chimes of your arsenal sound suitably meaty, but it is the environmental effects that set the game apart. From the cacophonous-static humming of an arc-cannon charging to the buzzing roar of white noise propelled by a giant walking battle tank, Killzone 3’s soundscape is not only brutally immersive, but oddly believable. It’s this level of detail and polish that we’ve come to expect from the franchise, and sadly the quality of the audio only highlights the issues with the writing and direction.
The script only occasionally peeps over the parapet of functional tango-talk and clichéd military bravado, and when it does, it’s not really worth listening to. This is a real shame, as the Killzone Universe is certainly an interesting one. Never – not once, do our brave protagonists question their involvement in the ongoing conflict. The ISA are defending an institution who caused the anger and resentment inside the Helgans. It’s a fascinating set-up and its potential has never been explored.
Complementing the terrible story and script is some of the worst direction I’ve seen in a game of this magnitude. Cut scenes are dropped in seemingly at random and offer very little in the way of tension, drama or narrative progression, but instead break any sense of involvement you may have had with the game. I was shocked to laughter at certain points, as life-changing events were casually brushed off by an overly blasé lead character. It has an amateurishly unfinished feel to it, and it’s ugly viewing. Again, it’s a real shame, as the potential that this title has for an involving and heartfelt plot is clear to see, but unfortunately we are stuck watching boring characters doing tired things over and over again.
Killzone 3 has decided to shun some of its more unique elements in favour of a more Call of Duty-like approach. This is a massive, massive shame, as the hefty movement mechanic gave impact and intensity to firefights. Thankfully, some of this individualism has been retained and, while the visuals seemed to have slipped since the second title, they are still well detailed and occasionally spectacular. It strikes me that Killzone 3 is an unfinished game. Certain aspects of its production seem slightly out of place and peculiar. I only spotted a handful of new weapons in the single player, but then another selection of firearms available in the multiplayer. The campaign is short when compared to other shooters, and its plot seems to aimlessly weave its way around the new environments as opposed to the other way round. The enemy AI hasn’t developed any further and the inclusion of novelty additions, such as jetpacks, only compounds their stupidity.
How has this happened? As a franchise, Killzone showed real promise due to the unique set up of its story. With this instalment, it appears the developers have attempted to mould the series into a cheap, generic clone of countless other shooters. Couple that with the attempts to appease the consumer complaints present in the previous titles, and somewhere along the way Guerrilla have forgotten to make a good shooting game. The core function of a shooter is to have varied and dynamic combat within the framework of the AI. If Killzone 3 had sorted this aspect of the game out I wouldn’t have besmirched the vehicle sections or other occurrences of novelty fan-appeasement.
Sadly, Killzone 3 misses the mark on too many occasions to be considered a good game. It’s at best a functional title that looks quite pretty. Lamentably, when compared to the masters of the genre, ‘functional’ just doesn’t cut it. Killzone 3 has done a great job of blending back in with the crowd. It’s precise, practical, ticks boxes and has been too quick to shed its defining credentials; credentials that made the earlier games a must buy for any enthusiast. Killzone 3 feels generic, rushed and greatly unloved by its creators. A huge, huge disappointment.