At a critical moment in Killzone 3’s campaign, players are prompted to “press circle to launch nuke.” I of course pressed the button, and as I watched the ensuing mushroom cloud, the weight of my actions set in. I had just unflinchingly committed a borderline war-crime with a press of a button without a second thought. It was almost enough for me to start questioning one of the more controversial topics related to violence in videogames: namely, whether or not digital violence desensitizes players to real-world violence, or even encourages it. But although I casually pondered the possible fallout of my unthinking quicktime-event reaction, I realized that more than anything, the catastrophic explosion caused me to more fully appreciate the adept pacing and ferocious moments leading up to this particularly disastrous one.
That’s all in line with developer Guerrilla Games’ stated intent to improve Killzone 3’s story quality over the staid narrative of its plodding and gloomy predecessor. The solution, as is so often the case, meant turning to Hollywood, hiring actors like The Departed’s Ray Winstone and classic Hey! It’s That Guy Malcolm McDowell, but also snapping up veteran game and comic author John McLean-Foreman to lend a fresh set of eyes to the arching narrative.
Although Killzone 3’s story still takes a backseat to all the running and gunning (it will still make sense to those who prefer to button-mash through all the game’s cutscenes), it’s still a marked improvement over Killzone 2. Certainly, it’s hard to miss that the game takes cues from action movies like Black Hawk Down or Predator, particularly its reliance on the famous “never leave a man behind” storytelling cliché.
The story concerns itself with a war between the Human Interplanetary Strategic Alliance and the dreaded Helghan, with the enemy’s inner circle falling apart due to political infighting and espionage. Once again, players take control of Tomas “Sev” Sevchenko as he and his squad are more or less abandoned behind enemy lines during an invasion. Sev receives word that the ISA has surrendered while behind enemy lines, and that’s when things get sticky. His ranking officer gets taken prisoner, and so of course Sev decides to risk his bacon to get him back because, hey, you never leave a man behind.
The behind-enemy-lines story gives the game a primal urgency, perhaps best exemplified by the addition of devastating melee attacks. Get close enough to a Helghan soldier, and Sev can firmly plant his thumbs in their eyes or perform a lethal tracheotomy with his field knife. Melee attacks may sound like a minor addition, but they add much more strategy to the game’s many firefights. Fulfilling though it might be to get up close and personal, doing so greatly increases the chances of Sev getting caught in the crossfire, which in turn makes it much more difficult for his comrades to revive him, should he go down.
The game puts up a fight, too—even on the easiest difficulty, the Helghans show no remorse and are far from stupid. Fortunately, Sev’s teammates aren’t dummies either, and are perfectly able to back players up and even take enemies down on their own.
Eventually players will snag a trophy for massacring 500 Helghans, and it’s a great credit to Killzone 3 that all that killing never feels repetitive or humdrum. To me, it felt more like, “Wow. 500? Really?” That’s no doubt due largely to the sizeable levels set in constantly changing backdrops, plus the variety of vehicles used to traverse them. Players will go from jet-packing along arctic wastelands to sneaking in jungles far prettier and lush than anything in Lost Planet 2. And though the paths through every location are linear, they never really feel restrictive, mostly due to to the chaotic, unscripted nature of combat. With so many bullets whizzing by, it can be easy to get turned and lose one’s bearings on the battlefield. But the disorientation is fun, not frustrating, and somehow Killzone 3 manages to make fights feel dangerous, something missing from many shooters.
Visually impressive though Killzone 3 may be — it supposedly uses 100 percent of the PS3’s mighty processing power — there are moments in the campaign where the flow gets broken up by strange hiccups. Though there are no loading screens, it’s impossible to ignore the times when, just as in Killzone 2, the game halts for a microsecond while transitioning into the next big chunk of a level. There are also occasional moments where scripted sequences won’t launch because some teammates aren’t in the right location, or Sev isn’t facing the right direction. Or even more noticeable, when teammates will bark the same command over and over like “Plant the demo charge on the turrets!,” even though they’re already talking and saying something else.
Those are mere quibbles, though, in what’s an appetizer for Killzone 3’s main course: online multiplayer. Sure, one can play through the main campaign co-op, or face off against 15 other CPU-controlled bots offline to test their mettle, but the bulk of the game’s time in the PS3 drive will be spent in online team deathmatches. Maps and game-types are well-designed and varied, and for anyone who prefers a bit more of a purpose behind their wanton killing, there’s a standalone multiplayer-only campaign called “Operations.” In it, Helghast players must protect a dam facility, while the ISA must attempt destroy it.
Though not particularly revolutionary and perhaps even a bit derivative, Killzone 3 fires on all pistons from start to finish. Hell, how many other games nonchalantly turn launching a nuclear bomb into a quicktime event?