When it comes to big-name first person shooters, Bungie have managed to set the Halo franchise apart by delivering games that are as sought after for their single-player campaigns as they are for their multi-player. That’s quite unlike the Call of Duty and Battlefield games, where online multi-player is the main draw, and the campaign mostly a secondary distraction. In 2009, Guerrilla Games placed the Killzone franchise firmly on Halo’s side of the fence with robust online multi-player component without compromising on the single-player experience.
Killzone 2’s campaign was a thrill ride from start to finish, with high production values and stellar gameplay, and it was worth the price of admission all on its own. For two years after its release, Killzone 2 has remained the most visually impressive console shooter by a country mile, and with Killzone 3, Guerrilla have once again raised the bar. But a good looking game will only get you so far, and while Killzone 3 does right many of the wrongs of its predecessor, it also falters in areas where it previously succeeded.
Like two peas in a pod
Killzone 3’s campaign will have you jumping across timelines quite frequently, but the story picks up right after Killzone 2’s tantalizing yet ominous ending. But what made Killzone 2’s conclusion so memorable is probably the undoing of Killzone 3. You see, while Killzone 2 had you fighting the Helghast all the way through, it also made you root for them, and a major reason for that was their enigmatic leader – Scolar Visari. His absence in Killzone 3 has left a gaping hole, and one that neither of his two aspiring successors comes even close to plugging. With Visari gone, the Helghast are projected as a directionless people, a far less sinister enemy than the fanatical warriors of Killzone 2, so going up against them doesn’t feel quite as daunting.
Many of the changes in Killzone 3 are in direct reaction to the criticisms of its predecessor, and one of these complaints was that the campaign took itself too seriously. Well, if the alternative is Killzone 3, we’d much rather have it the somber way, because in trying to be campy, the game falls in an uncomfortable middle ground that’s neither here nor there. Killzone has a rich back story, but none of the past games used it well and neither does Killzone 3. Instead, it feels like the only purpose of the story cutscenes is to connect the various missions and environments rather than build up a plot. The cinematics are poorly directed and often pointless, and the cliched dialogue and voice acting don’t help matters either.
Thankfully, Guerrilla have also improved in many of the areas where Killzone 2 suffered, and these go a long way towards making up for the disappointing story. The biggest change is the variety, both in level design and gameplay. You’re no longer just trudging through brown industrial environments; this time there are beautiful jungles, though not the kind we’re familiar with, there are snow covered Helghast bases, and there are the burning ruins of Pyrrhus. Besides looking different from each other, the levels also play differently. From close counters combat in narrow corridors, levels will suddenly open up for more long range firefights with various levels of elevation and alternate routes.
Death from Above
There’s also a memorable stealth mission where you’ll use the environment to your advantage. There are more on-rails vehicle sections, both on the ground and in the air, and these are set within intense set pieces. While the cutscenes are less than convincing, the set pieces are masterfully created, lending a lot of frenzy to the action. Like Killzone 2, you’ll also get to man a mech from time to time, and the biggest new addition to your arsenal is the jet pack, which is a great way to appreciate and exploit the well-thought out level design. Jetpack controls are simple enough too, so you can engage enemies and move around at the same time.
Controls have also been tweaked. It retains the signature weightiness, but the slight lag and sluggishness in turning, which many loved but many more seemed to hate, has been done away with. So movement now feels a lot quicker, which I’m a little disappointed by. In Killzone 2, you actually felt like you were running around carrying heavy armor and a big weapon. Now you feel superhuman, almost gliding around like in Call of Duty. Many of the popular weapons from Killzone 2 return, with a few additions to the arsenal. From sounds to animation, all the weapons pack some serious punch, but one disappointment for me is the ability to now carry two primary weapons instead of one, in addition to a pistol with infinite ammo. Killzone 2 actually had moments when you’d run out of ammo and have to look for guns dropped by enemies. It made you more judicious with your shooting and it made you favor certain weapons over others. Now there’s an abundance of firepower; another step towards making Killzone more accessible, I guess.
Where are you Master Chief?
Killzone 3’s campaign is more fun than any single-player shooter I played last year, which is quite a big deal, but as a follow up to Killzone 2, it’s a bit of a disappointment. Story and characters make or break a single-player experience; that’s where Halo succeeds and Battlefield falls short. It’s where Killzone 2 excelled and Killzone 3 falters, but that doesn’t take away from the massive steps forward the game has taken in level design and gameplay. So while it may not be a memorable single-player campaign, it’s still one that you must play. This time, you can also buddy up with a friend a play through the campaign in split-screen, or use the PlayStation Move to play instead of the Dualshock. The motion controls work surprisingly well, although the traditional controller is still the way to go.
Killzone 3 is a beautiful game, and while Crysis 2 and Rage will put up a decent fight later this year, right now, there simply isn’t a better looking shooter on consoles. From lighting and snow effects to animations and artistic design, this is as good as graphics get. The cutscenes do tend to break the flow at times, but for most part, Killzone 3 is a seamless showcase of technical brilliance.
Shouldn't have eaten so much
Just as important to the Killzone experience is its class-based online multi-player. At the time of writing, we weren’t able to try out this aspect of the game, but the recent multi-player demo is a fair indicator of what we can expect. It’s quite similar to the successful Killzone 2, except that the game does away with the server browser and relies on match-making instead. All classes are now unlocked from the jump and you can now unlock the weapons and perks you want rather than having them unlocked in a predetermined order. The clan system returns, and combined with the leveling system and newly introduced killstreaks, the online multi-player will keep players coming back. A few other features are added and removed all over the place, but this is still uniquely Killzone and it’s something both fans and newcomers will enjoy.
As an overall package, Killzone 3 is hard to pass up, and despite my slight disappointment with the campaign and certain apprehensions about the changes to the multi-player, I can’t not recommend it. The campaign is still one of the best around, and its multi-player pedigree is undeniable, and that’s more than you can expect from most first-person shooters.
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