Killzone 3

Killzone 2 was an interesting game, short, sweet, and very, very pretty. Can Killzone 3 do better? Well, no. No, it can’t. It does have a split-screen two-player campaign mode though. That’s why I bought it anyhow. I don’t really care about other forms of multi-player. Maybe cross-console campaign mode. That’s about it.

High Quality Video Lo-fi Version Part 1 Lo-fi Version Part 2.

Splitscreen gameplay shot

Splitscreen!


One of the silliest complaints about Killzone 2 was that its controls were sluggish (we’re not talking about input lag, ‘though that was also a criticism) or some such nonsense (Isn’t it amazing how many euphemisms there are for ‘it’s different’). As a result, the developers have … are you ready to groan, because we all know what I’m about to say and why it’s bad, right? … listened to the fans … and by listened to the fans, I of course mean listened to its detractors who wanted a Call of Duty with prettier graphics. So the controls have been redone. Now, rather than the weapons having a good feeling of heft, like well, guns, they now feel like toys, or in fact, the same toy. The uniqueness of the each weapon is just gone. The rocket launcher handles much like the pistol.  The sniper rifle which actually required steady hands since any movement holding the pad effected your aim in Killzone 2, is now just like the other weapons, but with zoom.  It actually suffers for being harder to use since of course you ended up using the motion detection to finish the aim of a particular shot. Killzone 2 also had a wonderful recoil system that really knocked your shots off course forcing you to fire in short bursts if you wanted any accuracy over range. Importantly this gave the enemy weapons a very different feel than your own. Helghast (enemy) weapons are very rapid-firing and clearly designed for close-quarters, going off target due to recoil quickly, whilst the ISA’s (that’s us) are more versatile ranged affairs. No more in Killzone 3, whilst the weapons do have different spreads, they’re now they’re pretty even in terms of recoil. Overall, the spray of the weapon is kept to a comparatively small area no matter how long you stay in full-auto. The games media will love it, and call it “tight”. Don’t you just love buzzwords?

Unfortunately, the attempt to Call of Dutify the game didn’t stop there.

As the blurb inspiring review from Gamesrader says: “It’s as if every complaint critics levelled at Killzone 2 was taken into account and fixed.” For the worse.

The whole dynamic and how the game is played has also been affected. The wonderful thing about Killzone 2 was its non-stop intensity and the feeling that the invasion of Helghan was very, very much an act of attrition. With each bloody footstep the ISA take towards the Helghan capital a monumental act of sheer will and determination. The Helghan soldiers were tough and took colossal amounts of damage to put down permanently (outside of head-shots), but that’s okay, so did you.

What Killzone isn’t, is your average fast-paced shooter. Yet clearly thinks it is judging from the number of deaths you’ll deal with in Killzone 3 due to being made of glass and the ability of enemies to shoot you in cover. Not enough to make you respawn quickly like in any other fast-paced shooter, unfortunately. In fact it’s now slower to respawn because Rico or a second player can revive you when they feel like it, although it’s all rather arbitrary whether or not your computer controlled partner can. As a result, and despite other things which you’d think would make the game overly easy like the conveniently spread out and not exploded infinite caches of ammunition for every weapon, it’s tougher than Killzone 2 and shouldn’t be. Doubly so when you read the descriptions for the difficulty levels.

Looking at the play length of the game, it feels quite short, I didn’t actually time myself, but even if it isn’t actually shorter than Killzone 2, it certainly feels it. This is probably to do with Killzone 3’s forgettable story and dialogue unfortunately. I’m not going to spoil it in case you want to play, but where the ending is supposed to be a giant exclamation point at the end of a three part story beginning with the first Killzone it’s over so quick you feel a bit “was that it?”

Killzone 2 was about the ground battle to Visari’s palace after a failed air strategy was stopped dead by the Helghast’s experimental Tesla-esque weaponry, it had the ISA forces and yourself moved, ever, ever onward to your target. It had a sensible, yet still varied sequence of different locations to make it interesting. Killzone 3 on the other hand, simply adopts the Call of Duty trope of using the stock set of terrains for “variety”. Rather than the myriad awe-inspiring sequences with the massive trains and unusual spaceships of Killzone 2 we get the usual parade of Arctic, desert, jungle (Helghan has those?). There are bits that try to be different or more Killzone 2, but don’t really work quite as well. The ship sequences in Killzone 3 feel too clean, whereas the junk-yard sequences feel too messy, never finding that happy medium, always being too little, too much, but mostly just … bland. Which is a terrible shame since the textures are very detailed and well drawn, surpassing those in Killzone 2. We’ll talk about the graphics more in a bit.

The most blatant nod to the “fans” is the entire section of Killzone 3 that’s lifted from Modern Warfare 2. Aren’t these sort of games bizarrely homoerotic enough without the disturbing big brother relationships ala Roach and Soap? Yet here again Killzone 3 has an annoying habit to genericize itself to conform to Call of Duty tropes. There’s an entire stealth section half-way through the game that is just the demo of Modern Warfare 2, the major differences being it’s jungle instead of tundra, and the other guy isn’t Scottish and has more facial hair. The worst part is that I really enjoy stealth sections and this was no exception, but I enjoyed it so much less due to the derivative and overdone nature of the sequence.

The big brother thing continues throughout with Rico, but is at a far more tolerable level. In Killzone 2 you really felt like you were an equal (to Rico) member of Alpha Squad. Yes, Alpha Squad, that was cool wasn’t it? You don’t really feel like a Squad in Killzone 3 however, more like a lesser partner, with Rico (who outranks you only very slightly) telling you to stay behind him and other similar suggestions (which you can of course dutifully ignore). It doesn’t stop there though unfortunately. You don’t really feel like you’re part of a larger ISA force either. I mean you see them around and they’ll occasionally run ahead of you and get killed pointlessly, but they never advance with you or fight alongside you like in Killzone 2. A rather unpleasant side effect of this is that it kind of makes the Helghast look comically incompetent. In Killzone 2 with you fighting as part of a larger structure, you’re the few good men who push the effort past the tipping point. In Killzone 3, you personally slaughter literally hundreds of Helghast men, and you don’t even feel particularly heroic for doing so. Of course, you kill hundreds in Killzone 2, but you get the impression the ISA and Helghast would be at a standstill without you, and so it doesn’t give the impression of comic ineptness to the Helghast force, and the ISA give you constant positive reinforcement to allow us to do what we do. The game is possibly even aware of this as several times in the dialogue it’s touched upon. Nothing, nothing in Killzone 3 surpasses the feeling of taking Visari Square with the backing of the ISA in its predecessor. It’s such a shame too, it was great being credited for the method of heroically taking down Heavys in Killzone 2. It’s a great example of what I mean by the enemy seeming inept in Killzone 3 by comparison. In Killzone 2 the Heavy is introduced as a metal-encased monster armed to the teeth with high precision, extreme rapid fire ordinance, and calls out to you in a deep, threatening baritone. In Killzone 3 it’s a silly tin man who can’t hold his gun properly.

A large heavily armoured soldier with a huge gun

Silly

What happened to the events of Killzone 2 anyway? Why are Rico and Sev not at each others throats by this point? That was definitely the way that things were headed in Killzone 2’s wonderful character development, but they just kind of … make up. Killzone 3 of course doesn’t really have character development, it barely has any banter between the members of the ISA, you get ordered around a lot, that’s about it, no development. Humanisation of the characters and forces has been replaced with an arbitrary six month gap. I kid you not.

Thing is, Rico is actually less interesting in Killzone 3 anyway. You’ll be thankful he’s actually calmed down right until the realisation of just how much duller and less interesting he’s become. Plus I’m certain the kind of problematic psychoses Rico suffers from would not be solved by the period of time portrayed with no psychological help.

What happened to the moral ambiguity as well? In Killzone 2, you start to get the impression that not only are the Helghast not as bad as initially thought. We see their homes are not unlike our homes, and that you aren’t really the good guys either. That rather than being motivated by justice and the pursuit of peace, you’re motivated by base revenge, or at least Rico is. It’s like neither of you are good, but it is necessary to believe so to fight on. Not so in Killzone 3, you barely see evidence of the Helghast civilisation, it’s all dusty battle-grounds or clinically clean instalments. More than that, the Helghast are cartoonishly evil.

You know who totally shouldn’t have died in Killzone 2? Scolar Visari. Gorilla Games evidently agree and have him posthumously teaser the game in the opening cinematic. Having a voice actor who can convincingly mix Hitler and Churchill was a stroke of genius that doesn’t play out as well in Killzone 3 due to a slight case of death. Instead Visari is replaced by two admittedly cool and interesting characters who are there to replace Radec and Visari in Killzone 3. Mostly the problem is one of not getting to really interact with them, what I mean is, with Radec, well, you actually get to fight him, and he’s a worthy opponent through various points in the game, even if you don’t personally interact with him until the end fight. With Visari, whilst you don’t get to fight him, he’s with you all the way through, his voice blaring propaganda through the capital city’s loud-hailer system, and of course, you have the brilliant ending sequence with him. To contrast, in Killzone 3, we never even get to meet one of the villains, we seem to be interested in him purely because of his relationship to the other one whom we get to very, very briefly meet and that is spoiled very early on by making it into a “how did we get here?” moment.

Orlock and Stahl face off

Visari and Radec's Replacements


I’ve been deliberately avoiding talking about the technical aspects of the game since they’re … well, not much different from Killzone 2, the graphics are still amazing, the sounds genuine and brilliant and everything else, so consider this the least important part of the review if you like. Pre-patched Killzone 2 for me had the loading times right, each area would stream off the disk and pretty much of the time the game would not pause in the slightest completely immersing you in the action all the more. Post-patched Killzone 2 no longer did this, having an irritating second or so pause as the rest of the area loaded in. Killzone 3 on the other hand, if you watch all of the cut-scenes that don’t look like cut-scenes you get basically no loading times. If you skip, you’ll have to wait, and if you dare to load a level that isn’t the next one you’ll be greeted by an extraordinarily long loading screen (with no Killzone 2 hologram to play with). It uses the technique of loading the level behind the cut-scene, but rather than the cut-scenes be movie quality they’re made to look much like the in-game graphics, which is odd since despite the fact that they’re pre-rendered they have terrific screen tearing in them and slowly go out of sync in you’re in the “wrong” screen mode.

You know what the solution is? Let us install the game. Make it optional to keep the Games Media happy if you must, but the hard drive is there for a reason.

Graphics-wise, there isn’t a huge amount of difference, but it is there, Killzone 2 has dark, bleak, smoky effects and is hugely post-processed, whilst Killzone 3 is, more saturated, cleaner looking, and as mentioned earlier has some gorgeously detailed textures. In other words, whilst I’m sure that in a technical sense Killzone 3 is better, it doesn’t look very Killzone and so despite the technical considerations, Killzone 2 still manages to look better in terms of atmosphere and feel, especially in explosions. Besides which, Killzone 3 obviously has to make compromises for the split-screen and stereoscopic 3D. Both games have full body awareness, so it seems like Call of Duty can’t hold back every shooter, thank goodness. Strangely, Killzone 3 has a problem where you’ll hit the edge of things you’re trying to shoot over, but I can’t figure out why, since Killzone 2 doesn’t have the same problem, but I’m guessing that this will be patched in time anyhow.

Screenshot comparing Killzone's 2 & 3

Killzone 3 is less ... Killzone


Let’s talk about some of those extra features, first of all, the stereoscopic 3D. It didn’t work very well on my PS3 since it isn’t connected to a television that does the particular type of stereoscopic signal that the PS3 supports. I feel like I’m missing very, very little.

There were complaints about input lag in Killzone 2. It’s marginally less so in this game, personally I never thought it made any difference since this is Killzone, not Call of Duty, Unreal Tournament, or some other fast-paced twitch/die shooter. That’s not a criticism of that type of game, there is room for both twitch/die shooters and slower more attrition-esque affairs.

Split screen is fun, but has the same problems many implementations of split-screen do. Where are the options? What are we using the extra screen estate for? How come I can never change the layout in these games? I could have wanted a horizontal split or a vertical split without black bars and a smaller viewing area. I may even have wanted the black bars, but have all my HUD elements shifted to that area so they get in the way of my smaller view less. It was though, still tremendous fun, even if the developers do need to think more about their co-op implementation, like, where’s the four player console to console version? Why can’t I jump in and out, can’t they play Haze first? It’s a shame too, because Natko is the second player, and I quite enjoyed Natko in the last game, he was the resident bad-ass with the terrible ‘mom’ jokes who finally gets serious later on, yet still tells terrible ‘mom’ jokes. He’s completely silent for some reason. I’d put it down to the co-op implementation entirely if it wasn’t an overall problem with the lack of important humanising contextual banter betwixt the game’s characters. The glitches in split screen will hopefully be patched out, as it really stands out as the part of the game with the least polish.

I really wish game developers would play Haze. Whilst Haze is, frankly, not the best of games, it did do multi-player exceptionally well. You start a campaign that is capable of multi-player, and at any point other players may join you, either over the network or locally (should you allow it) without any restrictions you don’t choose for yourself. In contrast, in Killzone 3, you have to start a co-op campaign and then the other local player has to be with you at all time. It could have been done more like Haze, although it would have made more sense with Killzone 2’s set-up as Killzone 3 just has yourself and Rico. And Natko if you’re playing split-screen, who isn’t really in the game since despite being the demolitions expert says absolutely nothing and lets Rico do everything Sev doesn’t. Including stuff you’d expect a demolitions man to do. A terrible shame when Natko actually had some of the most amusing soldier-type banter.

Killzone’s Move support is reportedly quite good, so I did have a reasonably long go before switching back to the “normal” controller. There are several things that I personally find irritating about the Move controller. It begins quite quickly with the calibration, a few games tell you to point the Motion Controller at the TV and (most) others tell you to point it at the camera, but I want to end up aiming at the TV. I’ve taken to doing that since it seems to work just as well, if not better. I’ve also taken to holding the Motion Controller at an angle so that the trigger feels more natural. Luckily, the Playstation seems to take all this in its stride, which makes for a versatile controller that’s great to pick up and play … but then … so is a light-gun. In fact, this is what I keep coming back to, whether it is with the Wii-mote, the Playstation Move, or even to a lesser extent, Kinect. Yes, the technology of yesteryear worked better for 90% of the applications these controllers are supported for. Better because it tracks the screen and not to a camera and doesn’t magnify horizontal sensitivity. Even with Playstation Move you can set how much it moves rather than just track the screen. The damn thing just doesn’t shoot where you point it, so you can aim very accurately, just not by look, you have to get the feel of it down too. It doesn’t help that all of these controllers have a quite significant lag to them, a real noticeable, problematic one, not like when people usually complain about input lag. The Playstation Move has this problem to a lesser extent, but very assuredly is not 1:1 motion.

A gun pointing farther right than usually possible

Move support lets you aim off center with the gun.


That aside, back to Killzone 3 specifically. The Motion Controller works in the game to shoot guys on-screen and taken to the edges turns your view. The not-explained options for the Motion Controller are baffling, but it becomes clear what they’re for and what they do after a brief play around. The percentage style settings add an extra layer of confusion to the mix, where when you have turn-speed set to 0%, you can still turn. Anyhow, it feels a little like cheating, using the Motion Controller, a little like using a mouse and keyboard for a game you’ve played on a console. Speaking of which, why not support mouse and keyboard controls, I’ll bet they’re a hell of a lot easier to include in a game than Playstation Move! It helps that you can turn off all the helper modules to create a fairer game, the main advantage touted aside from being more intuitive is to increase the immersion, this isn’t really accomplished except in terms of the melee stabbing motion which is quite fun. I’m sure the Sharp Shooter / hunk of plastic gun attachment would help. The Move controls feel tacked on, even more so than Heavy Rain’s did, which is odd considering that Killzone 3 was released with Move support already built-in. A smaller problem would be that it can make the weapons of the game glitch through the scenery a little. Actually, I think they’ve tried too hard to accommodate the Motion Controller as a device mostly for new players with its helper functions. I reckon the best Motion Control player could possibly beat the best traditional controller player, but I suspect that if the Motion Controller player has a lapse in concentration, the consequences would be worse. It is certainly more tiring. If you’re used to the Dual Shock control pad, you’re better off sticking to that, unless you want to re-train yourself. Point is though, that it really is a viable alternative. Bit of a shame it’s unsupported in split-screen.

Sounds in Killzone 3 have a far greater dynamic range, with no way to narrow the range in-game. Which makes the voices too quiet, I suppose you can turn them down as a separate channel, but it isn’t ideal. As a bonus, it supports high quality DTS. It isn’t unusual for a game to be lacking dynamic range options, so it’s not really a detriment to Killzone 3, on the other hand, it is unusually loud, so make of it what you will. Killzone 2 just has a narrower range, but does seem to do environment adjustments better. The echo on your gun’s report in the Helghast factory in Killzone 2 is excellent as are the sounds of your external walking armour, which is lacking depth in Killzone 3. Thankfully both games resist the temptation to use invented military terms with the soldiers speaking reasonably clear English.

The implementation of gravity sections in Killzone 3 is … confusing. The gravity is supposedly off, yet you stay attached to the ground and when you jump you fall back down, however, when you throw a grenade it’ll travel for a bit and then grind to a halt. Then the bodies and dropped equipment, well, they float about and very gradually come to stop. All three of these implementations are at the same time in the same section, so it seems like “no gravity” means low gravity for you. No gravity, but lots of friction and almost no momentum for thrown objects. And then no gravity, and very little friction for other objects. In other words, it isn’t very good. The windy items look out of place without Killzone 2’s wonderful post-processed effects making everything look, well, windy. Plus the objects that they copy/pasted into Killzone 3 make little sense outside of a giant high-speed tunnel. Another oddity is the lack of any bonus bits for the single player, gone are the optional extras like finding Intel briefcases or Helghast symbols.

Killzone 3 is not as good as Killzone 2, but it is still head and shoulders above most shooters, mostly because you have a head and shoulders, but that isn’t saying much, is it? And it does have a pretty good co-operative mode. We have to ask ourselves, is this really worth the investment? The answer is no. Not for full price. Not when Killzone 2 is better in (almost) every respect.