Single player review
I miss the days Pissant Private Nobody, caught in a morally vacuous war of attrition, obeying folly orders on the greyest planet in the galaxy. Oh it was a war alright, a war where every inch gained was a major victory for the ISA – whoever they were – a grueling struggle into the beating heart of a planet known only as Helghan – wherever that was. Who was I? Nobody, just another disposable grunt on the frontlines of a war I couldn’t give a crap about.
And that is why Killzone 2 was great. I yearn for that wonderful sense of futility it thrived on. When the bullets were pinging around in glorious 5.1 surround sound, what could a lowly trooper do but bury his face in the dirt? By complete accident – more or less – Killzone 2 had some minor point to make about war: it sucks.
Killzone 3 has something to say, it’s just a markedly less profound point than its sibling made. Killzone 3 says this: on rails scenes in FPS games suck.
Yes they most certainly do and there are more turret sections here than in all the shooters on all the platforms in all the world. And not one of them merits existing. I don’t know if it’s to accommodate the Move support (although I’m informed the Sharpshooter is fantastic across the board) or just because Guerilla are stuck in 2004, but I manned so many turrets in Killzone 3 that by the end (an on rails section, incidentally), I made the comment that this was by far the most technically astounding on rails shooter I’d ever played.
And it is technically astounding, make no mistake. The devastated ruins of Helghan smolder and lie warped while blockbuster space battles rage on above. Buildings stretch out beneath endless mounds of rubble and a mushroom cloud of doom holds sovereignty over the sky. It all makes for a perversely ravishing theatre of war. And you get to drive a robot through it too.
But you don’t stick around Helghan for long. Killzone 3 picks up where the second game left off: Visari’s dead and the Helghan have gone and put into motion the only reasonable retaliation thinkable: they’ve nuked their own capital city. How about that ISA scum? We beat you to it. WE WIN.
And I’d be inclined to suggest that that would be a suitable analogy for the story in general. To say it has regressed would be a euphemism. Yeah so there’s a woman this time and – get this – on more than one occasion she saves you. But it’s a story about saving Earth now, stripping it of that wonderfully gritty, debilitating sense of struggle toward the heart of Helghan. And the words that spew forth from the characters’ lips are utterly inane. Even with the tactless use of “fuck” relegated to just a few pivotal moments, the script is dire. The Helghan are still a people descended from pantomime cockneys, the conquering “heroes” are still so American even Glenn Beck would shudder and I still don’t know why the ISA is even on Helghan. Hey Guerilla, I’m sorry I didn’t play Killzone but would it hurt to recap?
With the dialogue turned to zero and the wonderful sound effects up to eleven though, Killzone 3 can be marvelous. It has never tried harder to be Call of Duty with its globetrotting campaign erring on the side of silliness and its small team of conquering heroes, but beneath all the chaff still resides one of the most intuitive and involving set of shooter mechanics since Halo. If there’s anything in Black Ops that can rival the immense satisfaction of bursting heads with the StA-14 Rifle then I’ve forgotten all about it. And lumbering about the battlefield, plunging into cover like you’re a land-loving whale just feels so right. Absent is the slight input delay oft criticised in the second game and you won’t miss it.
But Guerilla is adamant on swamping this side of Killzone beneath endless cinematics. Rarely do you make it from one battle to another without the blitzkrieg surgically hacked apart by cutscenes. Cutscenes that, more often than not, could, and should, be game-play and almost always boil down to you disobeying orders and darting off to save the day by destroying another giant robot or throng of bad guys. Who thought this primitive tale of East London Nazis vs. American Imperialists could ever warrant an hour and a half of cinematics? Cinematics aren’t even de rigeuer anymore!
What is in vogue though are cover systems, jetpacks and brutal melee kills and Killzone has the lot.
Mutilating the Helghast with gory instant death melee attacks is all in the day’s work of an American space hero and involves placing either a thumb or a knife in your enemy’s eye-socket. It’s hard to comprehend just how worthless melee is in a game like Killzone without having played already it. It’s a game where take just one measly step out from cover, and you’ll be peppered with enough lead to sink a warship. Killzone’s stratagem is one of cowering behind waist-high blocks of metal and popping out every few seconds to send the contents of an enemy’s skull on a one-way-trip out the back. This is a good thing.
And that’s also why the jetpack doesn’t prove worthy of its inclusion either. No military is ever going to use jetpacks in combat. Why? For the same reason no one goes out at night in Croydon, it increases your chances of being hit tenfold.
Killzone conditions you to hide and make your kills from cover; at its most insane you’ll dart toward an ammo dump or forward to revive a fallen comrade. These are risky moves. But half way through the campaign you’re handed the jetpack. Flap up into the sky and rain fire down on your foes! They say, as if dying wasn’t easy enough with the armada of grenade-lobbing tossers, RPGs and snipers loitering around every corner.
Speaking of which, you’ll spend a considerable amount of time lying sideways on the floor. I thought war games were all about brotherhood and camaraderie yet here I lay, in a puddle of my own blood, and my best friend won’t even jog a few yards to zap me with his magic healing laser.
I like Killzone. Honestly, I do. In fact, with Halo MIA it’s probably my favouritest fps franchise about big burly space marines committing mass genocide on odd alien worlds (discounting Bulletstorm). But I’m beginning to have a tough time understanding why. It’s probably the guns and the wonderful mechanics that lift the firefights from the sewage. Just when I’m ready to throw in my towel up pops another rip-roaring fight at the OK Corral. The level designers are also artisans at their craft and you can’t slander what they’ve concocted here. Even the weird forest levels are chock full of flanking alleys, sniping verandas and close-quarters trenches. Battles are dynamic and it’s rare that you’ll feel as though you’re being hauled through a series of poorly guised corridors.
I genuinely think if Guerilla were to lift the mechanics out and leave the rest behind, then hire an actual writer as opposed to delegating scripting to the intern coder and the coffee boy, then they would have something special on their hands with Killzone. They’re so close.
As it is, I’m desperate to know who managed to convince top brass the story was worth 90 minutes of cut scenes, that jetpacks were a good idea, and that following in the wake of Call of Duty was, at least from an artistic standpoint, the way forward after Killzone 2 managed to carve out an identity for the series.
This all comes across as overwhelmingly negative, but that’s only because I pine for those illustrious days of Pissant Private Nobody, his comrades and that invasion we knew nothing of. Hate me again ISA leaders, thrust me forward without clemency, forward into the pits of hell for your futile, morally dubious war. I want to be your pawn again, pushing onward inch by miserable inch; I want to value the soil like only a soldier can, wallowing in the bloodied muck of Helghan begging for my life and aching for the sunny shores of England once more.
I don’t want to be Soap MacTavish.