My initial thoughts of Killzone 3 were much the same as Killzone 2: gorgeous graphics, great weapons, with a tired, cliched grunt war story... now with jetpacks! Fortunately, Guerrilla Games and Sony made a few changes for the better and I'm happy to say I enjoyed it better than I did its predecessor.
The story begins where the last game left off, although the beginning is clever. It's sort of a flash-forward, flash-back sort of thing. You once again take control of Tomas "Sev" Sevchenko with his moronic partner Rico Velasquez (the idiot who turned Scolar Visari, supreme ruler of the Helghast, into Swiss cheese at the end of Killzone 2). Sev and Rico regroup with Captain Narville (who is not terribly pleased with Rico's trigger happy behavior) and try to bug out before the entire Helghan military descend upon them.
Meanwhile, there is some weird internal politics working in the Helghan hierarchy in the wake of Visari's death. It's not obvious to begin with how that's going to play out beyond giving you different sorts of enemies to shoot, but it does add a welcome level of suspense. It's nice to have a proper face to your enemies rather than just the non-descript red goggles.
You then flash forward six months as the feeble pocket of ISA resistance is trying to stay hidden and off the radar as they wait for reinforcements to come all the way from Earth. You can tell it's been a while because Sev's hair grew out. Now, as opposed to pitched battles in and amongst the ruins of Helghan cities, you're forced to employ more guerrilla style tactics to survive against overwhelming opposition.
The Killzone franchise is best known for it's graphical prowess, and this third installment is absolutely beautiful. The destructible environments, smoke, particle effects, lighting, and facial animations are all stellar. The environmental detail is right up there with Uncharted 2: Among Thieves and God of War 3 as far as I'm concerned. The cut scenes really are impressive, especially considering everything that is going on... very fast and chaotic, but again, it's beautifully rendered.
The gunplay, which people seem to either love or hate, is still pretty good in my opinion. The guns all have great weight to them, you can practically feel the recoil. Your Helghast foes are tricky, being quick and employing good use of cover. The guns still pan a little slow for me; tracking a running foe can be frustrating. Tweaking the controls helps a bit. There are some great high intensity gunfights, especially towards the end. Seemingly endless waves of Helghan forces bombard your position. The sets are so gorgeous I wanted to take my time and have a look around, but that's a bad idea-you'll get filled full of holes. Also, for those sections where you have help, the bizarre little health gun that magically zaps you and your fallen comrades back to health is back! I don't know, it looks... silly.
They solved the ammo shortage problem from the last game as well. It seems like the levels are liberally sprinkled with ammo dumps, so you won't have to rely on those crappy Helghan weapons. Actually, I take that back... some of the specialty guns you get in the latter half of the game are pretty beastly, so I won't complain. There is the awesome energy gun that makes people explode (reminds me of the movie District 9) and the Bolt Gun, with exploding bolts for crazy damage.
One thing I really like with Killzone 3 is the fact that the developers added enough different types of gameplay beyond the standard shooter parts that it's actually well paced. The vehicle components (including a really cool bit where you ride a mech) break it up nicely, even if most of these sections tend to be "on rails." There is also a lengthy stealth/sniper section that was borderline stressful in both good and bad ways. Good in that sneaking around, melee killing guards then running and hiding was very well done. Bad in that it fails as stealth missions often do... when you get spotted. It's best just to give up and let them kill you, start again from the last checkpoint (which were thankfully pretty frequent) and try a different route. I just get annoyed when it seems like the only way to move forward is to die enough times that the correct path is found by process of elimination.
The jet packs are pretty sick, I have to say... although what their purpose is beyond making you jump higher and thus presenting an easier target, I'm not altogether sure. In a game that revolves around cover-based shooting it seems almost counter productive. Having said that, it's still super cool, and the controls make them easy to maneuver. What's frustrating though is that they are, if anything, underutilized. You have them briefly on one section (that level is really short) and then they are gone. However, I've heard they can be a blast in multiplayer, much like Halo: Reach, and that particular section in the campaign is a blast to play, so it's worth it.
But Killzone 3 is not without some problems. The ally AI can still be a little wonky as your teammates tend to run right in your line of fire. The motion blur problems aren't as bad this time around (something that annoyed me with Killzone 2), but I still think it's noticeable. Also, for some weird reason, there is a delayed reaction when you smash open doors. Swinging your weapon at the door doesn't cause a reaction until a full second later. The first time it happened I thought I'd done something wrong, and pressed the melee button again when it suddenly fell apart. The guy on the other side started filling me with hot lead while I went ahead and impotently swung my rifle again...
Speaking of unnecessary technical frustrations, combat can still be maddening in some places. So can the checkpoint locations and respawn points. I hate it when you reload right into the middle of a crossfire-it hardly seems fair. On the technical front there are other issues, like glitchy graphics (which is understandable to a point) and even some freeze moments.
The story is riddled with the same war cliches (we don't leave our people behind, disobeying direct orders because of what is thought to be "right") that we've suffered through time and again. There are also some oddly elongated follow the leader sections at the end of most sequences. I can't understand why they drag out the way they do unless it's just to allow you to gaze at the gorgeous environments without getting shot at...
I also think the characters are... unsympathetic. Velasquez and Narville drive me nuts with their constant back and forth bickering. Shut the hell up already and shoot something! I get what they are trying to do, but it's just too ham-handed for me. The whining Helghan politics sections are well scripted, but they all seem completely sociopathic and selfish without an ounce of reliability.
Like Killzone 2, the soundtrack and voice acting are all too familiar, but the sound effects are some of the best I've heard. The clattering of the guns, screams of the fallen, and the explosions are all fantastic. I'm not sure if it was my playthrough, but sometimes the lip syncing was noticeably off. It's like the audio and the animation didn't sync up properly. Tsk, tsk... but then it goes right back to being fine.
I feel the need to quickly mention that Killzone 3 is completely Playstation Move integrated, right down to the awesome gun peripheral. I haven't tried them out personally, but it sounds fun. The game is also 3D enabled, so if you've got a shiny 3D TV you can check that out as well, although I've heard that it is less than impressive.
I'm not a huge online multiplayer guy, but I have heard that this is pretty good in Killzone 3. It has a fairly large following, and some fiercely loyal fans. Maybe one day I'll try it, but if you're looking for something a little different, it's worth checking out.
I had a bad feeling that my conclusion regarding Killzone 3 is, as I said in my intro here, much the same as Killzone 2. It boasts both the same positives and negatives that seem to plague the series: great graphics, awesome sound effects, pretty good gunplay, cliched story, and technical issues. But I have to say that I enjoyed this third installment quite a bit more... it may well have been the jet packs, they make everything better.
Score = 8.3 / 10