Killzone has always been something a little different. Sure it was
conceived as a Halo killer and at first glance appears to be yet another
brown and grey first person shooter, but delve a little deeper and
there is a lot to like; well, at least one thing since the series was
originally launched: the Helghast. Now, before you point out that
they’re merely space Nazis (a fact confirmed by the inclusion of a
Hitler lookalike and several other of the most hated people from last
century; save for Churchill because it’s America that saves the day
here, not Winston; in fact the baddies are British!) let’s get one thing
clear. From an aesthetic perspective the Nazis knew what they were
doing. There’s a reason Michael Jackson was a fan, and it’s not blue
eyed, blond-haired Aryan boys. On top of that half of the Hig high
command have beards (and aren’t quite as mind numbingly stupid as the
ISA high command; they’re only really stupid), and I’m not talking
goatees or those hipster-cool scruffy homoerotic beards that so many
actors are downing testeroids as part of a pathetic rebellion against
the cultural embrace of metrosexualism; I’m talking real, genuine
nineteenth century beards that are not merely a hairpiece but a
lifestyle. The sort of beards that symbolise technical achievement in
graphics: they’re not afraid to do hair modelling!
The Nazis may not have had as impressive beards, but they used brown and grey well with just the right spattering of black bondage boots and red eyes; oh wait, that’s the Helghast. Guerrilla Games unlike many other brown and grey devs realise that all presentation potential comes not from the allies, but the axis. That’s why Killzone 2 greeted you with a propaganda speech, not a boring briefing or touching, on the fence war quote that you might find Call of Duty or its ilk spouting.
Killzone 3 opens in the same manner, but this time it does it a great deal prettier than last time with funky looking red menus at the end of the intro (which make it particularly hard to see what rank people are in the multiplayer!). The game itself begins in a far more dignified way than 2 did too with a rather tedious and long winded tutorial giving a nod so obvious that it’s more of a broken neck to Halo 2. I say more dignified because 2’s opening was even more boring. Immediately you had Rico chest bumping, fist pumping and scratching his testicles then making you smell his hand.
But things have changed this time around. Rico is a different man; instead of him being a dick to everyone, everyone is a dick to him and I do say dick because despite the promise the swearing is used in the dialogue to no better effect than in the first game; it’s still there for the shallow frat marine kill ‘em all bravado and serves little other purpose than to make the target audience feel at once at home. Admittedly it shouldn’t do much else, but there’s not really any more to the dialogue than that. Soldiers have feelings too; even if frat boys don’t.
It’s a rather humorous response to criticism of Rico: instead of just killing the horrible bastard they make everyone in game hate him and give him a beard; okay, the beard worked. For awhile I almost liked him; he looks pretty sexy in caveman fur. It suits him. But then I had to play with him. When it comes to gameplay he’s just as annoying as in 2. He does very little other than get shot and scream for help, or a new annoyance that he cooked up for us since last time: whenever you die he can revive you, but most of the time he chooses not to. Yup, it might be an interesting mechanic if he was capable of taking two steps around some cover to revive you rather than apologise in his gruff manner that he can’t heal you because you’re out of reach. I thought frat boys were meant to be fit. They do play gridiron, don’t they? Oh, that explains it…
The good news is that Guerrilla Games has tried to address some of the other criticisms of the last game in a far more effective manner. The game still largely consists of carefully measured, highly choreographed linear set piece after set piece, but the intensity has been raised a notch above placid. Though, most of the time you’ll still be sitting behind a handy crate or low lying wall the perfect height to shoot over and with the new cover system you can even cling to it. However where as in Killzone 2 you would often find yourself in a big area where there would be a convenient weapons cache full of a sampling of the relevant weapons for the terrain at hand giving you a vague, false sense of freedom, in 3 most of the set pieces are a little more set. The environments are often smaller, but this is a good thing rather than bad. It means that the enemy positioning and movement can be handled a little better when the designers know exactly where the player is going to be.
This linearity is what gives the campaign an extra intensity; you will find yourself sometimes pinned down which very rarely happened in 2 and have to brutally fight your way to the next position of cover. The AI is still very defensive and you will never find an enemy sneaking up to you—except for capture troopers which are a nice little extra flourish in some areas of the game. You might have found yourself a nice place to hide and shoot from, but you will have to be mindful of capture troopers who will run at you from nowhere, their knives brandished. Well, not really because given that this could add perhaps just a little too much tactical nous to the campaign for your average console FPSer fan they are generally used in more open areas where you won’t be hiding behind cover and thus have no trouble seeing them coming. Or in the game’s many well disguised corridors.
Of course there is one major improvement that doesn’t have any draw backs: variety. No longer will you be stuck in crumbling urbania and dusty deserts. There still is a fair dose of falling down houses now dripping with fallout, but it is dispersed well with large helpings of psychedelic alien jungles, icy vistas and minimalistic 2001 space ships that even have a little illogical gravity trick or two to spice things up. You can’t actually float around unless you’re dead, but you can jump really high!
Each area has its own hooks to compliment their set of set pieces. There are jet packs and icebergs, (pro-tip shipbuilders: include jet engines on your ships and you won’t have another titanic disaster) gooey alien plants that will both hide you and explode. Don’t try hiding behind the exploding ones actually. Even when the game is referencing Star Wars and forcing you to play through one of those on-rails sections that everybody hates (or at least I do; if you’re going to make a light gun shooter be sure to include an actual light gun) it’s hard to not like the campaign this time around. It tries its gosh darn best to address many of the issues of 2 and succeeds in enough places to make up for the places where it fails. There’s still no real sense of pacing, but this is a post-Call of Duty first person shooter so that can’t be held against it too strongly.
But there are other areas where this pandering to public opinion and criticism really upsets the balance. The multiplayer.
My Beard is Camouflage
Let’s get two things out of the way first: this isn’t just Call of Duty, and for the record, Killzone 2 itself borrowed from the modern first person shooter template with its class unlock system. Sort of. I like to look at it another way. The changes aren’t merely a case of imitation; it’s a genuine desire to make the Killzone 2 system more accessible and streamlined (there’s that word again).
No longer does it take a carefully aimed headshot or half a clip to
kill someone, nor do you feel like you’re actually controlling someone
carrying a five kilo gun and wearing ten kilos of armour. Now you can
zip about as fast as you like, aiming your gun as if it was made out of
cardboard. Any extra precision that the new feel of the controls may
give you is made somewhat redundant given that you no longer need to
aim: a single shot to the foot is enough to kill someone instantly. A
shot with a knife.
Knifing has replaced a good old wallop to the head, but in doing so has resulted in there being something of a cool down between melees, and of course if you do manage to get up close and personal you will give your fellow combatant a gentle kiss while you plunge your Swiss Army Knife through five layers of steel armour during which you will be forced to watch a pretty animation while someone shoots you (or stabs you) in the back.
However, the satisfaction of stabbing someone in their prettily rendered face is probably enough to make the frustration of how vulnerable such an action makes you just bearable. Just. Hell, it’s almost as satisfying as the simple act of firing a gun in Killzone 2 with heavy recoil and excellent sound effects (that don’t sound quite so hard this time around). There was nothing like it. I guess the only thing that could have made it better would be if you could put another bullet in it and just shoot that fucker again…and again…again. Oh well, nothing’s perfect.
Truthfully the extended stabbing animation is not really much of a problem due to how fast paced the game is. With the increased speed and more powerful guns that feel like water pistols in terms of recoil (if not accuracy) and satisfaction in the simple act of shooting you will find that except for the invisible marksmen everyone will be running around at full hilt randomly shooting each other. Oh, and even the sniper rifle doesn’t have much recoil.
The maps are smaller and are less open with more corridors and isolated indoor sections; even on the larger, more open maps there’s always a pile of rubbish or debris to hide behind so gone are the days where you need to carefully learn the map not just in terms of entrances and exits, but sizes of rooms or outdoor sections and the distances between them because a more maze-like structure actually means you are provided with more protection due to the smaller number of angles where people can shoot you from. It’s a lot more frantic, and a lot more brainless. Hell, you can’t even go and answer the door for fear of auto-spawning and thus auto-death. No more spectating which is somewhat understandable given the smaller roster. Still you won’t be so compassionate when it kills you.
This chaos is especially apparent in Guerrilla Warfare with its complete lack of spawn points for each team; instead replaced with random spawning. It removes spawn camping and replaces it with random people spawning in front or behind you. Kinda like randomised spawn camping!
Killzone 2’s multiplayer is a hard act to follow. To me it was something special, and something that I had not seen before. Well, not in a console first person shooter. Every game (not just warzone) was one long tactical slog where the position of spawn grenades was highly important, and team work came into the equation. Here you almost always feel alone due to the fast pace. It’s a little hard to organise a premeditated tactical move when any time taken to think and use your brain will result in said brain being stabbed.
But the thing is it’s fun, and not quite as generic as I’ve probably made it sound. While the individual qualities of the classes and special abilities have no doubt been toned down to a certain degree it’s still a vastly different experience to play as a marksman or a medic for example—while we’re on medics another lovely mechanic change is that no longer do medics have to aim at you to revive you. That means you’ll be being revived a great deal more than in Killzone 2, and like in Killzone 2 you’ll only be revived to be quickly killed again by the person who killed you. On the bright side you’ll die with a full clip and extra health this time. The humiliation.
There are a million things to nitpick and given that I’m clearly not going to be winning any awards for brevity I’ll grab the pickaxe and go for the nits. We’ll get to the crabs in a moment.
Teenage Moustache Mistake
The badge system has been replaced with a medal one in which you gain medals for doing simple things such as getting a certain number of kills with a specific weapon. No, that’s literally all you do. There’s no epic challenges like getting 10 kills during capture and hold (technically there are medals to unlock for mission based objectives, but they don’t require you to do anything of note; completing one objective is enough), and while the stats don’t take 50 seconds to load now there are far less of them; hell there is no in game leaderboard for anyone but your friends or clan! If you want to see how bad your arsery is compared the rest of world’s derrières you’ll have to go to Killzone’s website.
But perhaps it’s a good thing given that each time you change region your global—err, local leaderboard stats become null and void. Which brings us to our first crab of the day, and it’s a particularly nasty one that will require a bit more than talcum powder to fix. The matchmaking.
There’s one thing it does right. Namely the new squad system which in terms of playing with your friends is a God-send even if it’s lacking when it comes to gameplay which we will get to in a moment. You see gone is the ever so useful international server list where you can see what games are taking place, how many people are playing them, and you could choose to join a game with more than two other people. Now this could be completely dependent on my crappy Australian connection, but I had to try a variety of servers before I could actually play a game with a reasonable number of other players; not a fatal flaw obviously, but one that would not exist if a server list had been used. And a server list with the squad system (perhaps a little better implemented so that it’s easier to invite and receive invitations) intact? Well, that would have been just wonderful.
Now on to one of those ideas that would have seemed really great in theory. It’s no secret that spawn grenades could make spawn camping very easy on some maps in 2. But the thing is except on very rare occasions with the combination of squad leader spawn, spawn grenades and boost it was usually possible to at the very least spread the spawn camping out over a few different spawn points and lessen its impact. Hell, spawn camping could backfire and you could trap all the silly spawn camping fools near your base!
With the new system where there are set spawn points on the map that can be won and lost by tacticians. If you are unlucky to be on the team that has lost all the major spawn points you’ll find that the other team has an almost insurmountable tactical advantage that by the time you’ve managed to deal with you will already be 4 games behind and the match will have been lost. Even something less drastic than spawn grenades such as squad leader spawning could make things far more fluid.
As it is even when you don’t end up being camped in, but most levels on Warzone end up being faced with several choke points due to the static spawn points which means all the combat takes place with the defending team sitting pretty and trying to defend while the attacking team throws everything at them through a few corridors of battle.
And there’s no real custom matches. Oh, sure they’re back now, but that’s only unranked—and you’ve got to be invited to join! I don’t know about you, but I don’t have 23 PSN friends (with Killzone 3 at least!) so 2 hours of pure warzone is still out of the question.
Of course it wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t mention some of the little things that make genocide easier this time around. You are now rewarded for disarming bombs and the like, and capturing territories and most importantly of all there are now assists. Finally, recognition for all those kills I should have got that were stolen from me! (And for all those people I stole kills from too.) Plus turrets have rockets so they’re no longer completely useless.
And there is one major, wonderful new addition to multiplayer: Operations. Sure in pretty much every game the attacking team wins, and there are only three maps, but at the very least Operations has the potential to be the new unique and interesting mode that Warzone was to Killzone 2. In it the ISA has to complete a few sets of objectives such a taking over territory or planting bombs and the Helghast has to defend. If the Helghast win even the first round then it’s game over then and there because the objectives actually affect the playing field in cutscenes that show off the best players, or random ones that accidentally glitched their into the other team’s cutscene…for example you will have to blow open a door within a time limit, and if you don’t then obviously you can’t continue.
It works wonderfully at its best, but is begging for more maps and players. Two of the three maps are snow based making the lack of variety even more apparent and given all these DLC map packs that have come out quite soon after the game’s release I think one can raise one’s eyebrow as to why there were not more maps included on release; I mean on release as part of the normal package. In fact the whole game is begging for more players, even on the smaller maps. Given the fast paced chaos that Killzone 3 is going for 32 players may be just the sort of extreme sensory overload pyschedelica that Guerrilla Games was looking for, and then a game half full would still have an adequate number of players.
Oh, and there’s jetpacks and mechs for Christ’s sake, and it works better than you might imagine. The jetpacks are basically super jump with a fully automatic machine gun, but—wait a minute? What’s wrong with super jump with a fully automatic machine gun?! Sure, mechs might be a little more fragile (and agile) than you would imagine for a hulking piece of metal, but for the brief few moments that you’re a walking gun emplacement you’ll feel like a God; until someone shoots you in your heel.
I almost forgot co-op; oh wait, that’s because 40% of the screen is taken up by a black boarder so that the each split screen occupies a corner of the television instead of half. I almost wish I had forgotten it! There are vague murmurings of online co-op in the future, but we’re still back in the present I’m afraid! And perhaps it will result in another DLC loop where instead of playing the same map time and time again you play the same level. Ugh!
Clean Shaven Disgrace
But there is one unforgivable flaw in multiplayer: none of the character classes have beards. Now that we’ve got that disgraceful and truly shameful design decision out of the way let’s try and form some sort of summary.
It’s Killzone, but not as we know it. It’s Killzone for your console FPSer fan with a short attention span. Everything is shiny and bright (some of the snow maps made me temporarily blind until I turned down the brightness) and you’re constantly bombarded with extreme numbers and information on how much of an awesome dude you are taking the braggadocio of the ISA to the single player. This is the sort of shit Pac-Man sees when he’s had one too many pills and has a thousand ghosts are chasing after him and the last ghost he ate was actually a poisoned mushroom; this is the very moment that he realises he’s in the wrong game because the matchmaking system wouldn’t let him play with his friends because the international patches weren’t rolled out at the same time so that different regions of the game were playing with different firmware versions crystallised in an LSD strobe light of high numbers and FUCK YEAHS! And then he vomits before a ghost gets him.
But the thing is the Helghast are still bleeding heart dictators that you can’t help but love, and the multiplayer is still a lot of fun.
Killzone 2 was a love it or hate it affair in many ways. The dynamic online play was not for everyone and the mediocre campaign was only just saved by sympathy for the Helghast and hatred for the invading ISA. Killzone 3 is almost the same. It’s love it and hate it. I love parts of it and hate others, and I’m not quite sure yet whether I love it more than I hate it. But that’s better than being a mediocre game with no vision or intention that inspires only apathy. Here they have a plan; perhaps it’s just not the best one.
Plus it features Julian Assange as the villain. I’m sorry, but that takes balls.