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Reviewed by Jason Zingale
he “Killzone” franchise has grown to become a really dependable performer for Sony since its debut in 2004, although at a much slower rate as Xbox-exclusive competitors like “Halo” and “Gears of War.” But while developers Guerilla Games may not crank out new installments quite as often, they never fail to deliver a memorable gaming experience, and “Killzone 3” follows in that tradition as one of the best looking, most entertaining games on the market. A gritty and visceral in-the-trenches shooter with a solid single-player campaign and an impressive multiplayer mode, “Killzone 3” may not feature the kind of over-the-top pizzazz that dominates the FPS genre these days, but what it lacks in style it makes up for in gameplay.
The story picks up right where “Killzone 2” left off, with Rico Velasquez killing Helghast dictator Scolar Visari despite being ordered to bring him in alive. The death of their leader has left the Helghast Empire in a state of internal struggle – with mad scientist Jorhan Stahl hell-bent on wringing control from second-in-command Admiral Orlock – and as a result, all the more unpredictable as they prepare to stage the biggest military attack in their history. You play once again as Tomas Sevchenko, one of the few surviving members of the Alpha Squad Special Forces Unit who must help regroup the ISA’s remaining forces and make a final stand to stop Helghast’s invasion of Earth, all while keeping Velasquez and Cpt. Jason Narville from tearing out each others’ throats.
It’s not the most original idea, but despite a few clichés and some choppy storytelling (including an ending that’s so abrupt you’ll swear there’s some kind of glitch), the single-player campaign is well-paced and boasts a good mix of ground and vehicle missions. There is a good deal of cutscenes peppered throughout, to the point that you’ll wonder whether you’re playing a game or watching a movie, but it’s hard to argue against giving your thumbs a much-needed break with some entertaining clips to help progress the story. The fact that they're so easy on the eyes certainly doesn't hurt either.
As for the gameplay, “Killzone 3” handles a lot like its predecessor, albeit with a few slight changes. It’s clear that the campaign mode was designed with co-op in mind, because Sev is almost always joined by Velasquez or a small unit of soldiers on his missions, and your AI teammates can resuscitate you up to three times before you die and are sent back to the last checkpoint. Of course, this doesn’t always work as intended, because on many occasions, you’ll hear Velasquez yelling that he can’t get to you despite the fact that he’s only a few feet away, but the checkpoints are generous enough that it’s never really an issue. You will die a lot, however, due to a sketchy cover system that allows you to be riddled with bullets even when you’re behind a barricade, so the ability to be healed certainly helps curb any aggravation. There are also a few new toys to play with thanks to the Helghast’s R&D department, including the Arc Cannon, which shoots a green lighting beam that makes enemies pop like balloons.
The gun is nowhere to be found in the game’s multiplayer mode, and understandably so, since it gives you a bit of an unfair advantage. Its absence is hardly felt, because while the single-player campaign may need cool weapons to keep you hooked, online multiplayer shines for a completely different reason. Stealing a page out of the “Team Fortress 2” playbook, players are given their choice of five different classes, each with their own unique skills and weapons. Tacticians can capture spawn areas and deploy sentry drones; Engineers can repair ammo caches and build turrets; Field Medics can heal teammates; Marksmen can use a stealth cloak; and Infiltrators can disguise themselves as members of the opposing team for a short period of time. All five classes are surprisingly well-balanced (although the Infiltrator’s ability is admittedly pretty cheap), but Guerilla provides plenty of opportunity to secure a winning edge by unlocking new weapons and abilities using the XP that's handed out after each match.
It’s a clever way of ensuring that players keep coming back for more – although with the variety of game modes offered, that’s hardly going to be a problem. You can get your team deathmatch fix in one of two formats (Warfare and Body Count, which differ only in how quickly a team can win), or take part in one of four mission-based Warzone games like Search and Destroy, Search and Retrieve, Capture and Hold, and Assassination, all of which were previously available in “Killzone 2.” The newest addition to multiplayer, Operations, combines the first three mission-based games into an extended match that's perfect for those who hate waiting around in lobbies. It doesn’t affect how you play each mission, but it expedites the multiplayer experience greatly, and the inclusion of cutscenes at the beginning and end really makes you feel like you’re part of the story.
Like most first-person shooters, “Killzone 3” wouldn’t be nearly the same game without such a well-rounded multiplayer mode, but its success ultimately stems from a combination of things, including its intense and immersive gameplay (which gives new meaning to the term “realistic”), and some of the best graphics and sound design to date. Heck, even the voice cast – featuring the likes of Malcolm McDowell, Ray Winstone and James Remar – is top-notch, even if the characters they’re playing are hackneyed. It still falls a bit short of its competition in a few areas, but for FPS junkies looking to keep busy until the release of the new "Gears of War," "Killzone 3" is a worthy substitute.