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Killzone 3
Score: 90%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Developer: Guerrilla Games
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1; 2 - 24 (Online)
Genre: First Person Shooter/ Action/ Online

Graphics & Sound:
I don't envy the guys at Guerilla Games. From the start, the Killzone franchise was saddled with pressure - whether from consumers, the press or its publisher. The first was instantly labeled a "Halo-killer," a moniker it didn't quite meet. Killzone 2 managed to shut up naysayers, but not after spending months as the poster child for unfulfilled graphical promises. With Killzone 3, Guerilla not only has to live up to player expectations, but is also serving as a front-runner for Sony's push into 3D and PlayStation Move support.

Up front, I don't own a 3D TV, so I can't comment on how it looks. But, based on anecdotal data, it's a feature I doubt few will be able to (or want to) experience in the next year. Even without the glitz of 3D, Killzone 3 looks and sounds absolutely fantastic. Characters and environments are getting awfully close to the Killzone 2 teaser. Details are everywhere --- it's great! Only, Killzone 3 is a game where people are shooting at you, so if you stop to check out the ambient lighting or meticulously modeled environments, you're not long for this world.

The downside to the big stride towards realism is the smaller details. There are a few lip-synching issues scattered throughout and, at times, characters seem to lack weight. At one point, I looked back at my A.I.-controlled partner and noticed he looked like he didn't belong in the game world. It's a small detail, for sure, though with the big brush strokes in place, some of the smaller flaws are magnified.

If any one audio element sticks out, it's the guns. Even silenced guns are deafening, adding a sense of power. It's fun.

Killzone 3 picks ups immediately where Killzone 2 left off. The head of the snake has been severed, but the body isn't dying. Instead, it's split between two competing figures, an Admiral and the arms dealer supplying the Helghan war machine, each vying for the top spot. Meanwhile Rico - facing a court marshal for his Jughead move - and Sev are trapped on the planet during an active retreat.

I appreciate what the game is attempting to do with its story, though much like the gameplay, it's fragmented and afraid to dig in full plow. Scenes jump between the unrest within the Helghan government and Sev's struggles. The politics are interesting, but not as interesting as Sev's Blackhawk Down scenario. The story works better when the focus is on him, not the Helghan power vacuum. The game also tangles with continuity within its own structure. I won't give anything away, but you'll see the same scene twice, and its different the second time. Little details like this really ding up the overall experience.

From the start, Killzone 3 throws players into action-packed scenarios. The experience is shorter than previous games, but offers more variety. Gunplay is one of the game's great strengths, yet there's a reluctance to let scenarios play out, disrupting the usually tense battles. There's no need to keep the foot on the peddle the entire time - downtime is important - but at the same time, moments need time to open up and allow for the action to hit full throttle. It's a blast and a half, but ends just short of being truly satisfying. It feels too moment-to-moment and not like part of a greater whole.

Warzone, Killzone 3's signature multiplayer mode, is still an unsung hero. Although the campaign is fun, this is the most compelling reason to pick up Killzone 3 and, at least in my opinion, the best multiplayer experience available on the PS3. Warzone matches cycle through objective-based matches, constantly shifting the focus of each experience. One moment you're asked to defend a location and the next, you're protecting a VIP. It's pure chaos, but loads of fun.

Operations and Guerilla Warfare offer less chaotic, but no less entertaining alternatives. Operations is a attack-and-defend variant featuring between objective cutscenes starring that round's top player. It breaks up the action, but offers some much needed downtime. Guerilla Warfare, on the other hand, sticks to the basics. It's Team Deathmatch, but with all the bells and whistles that form the foundation of the other two multiplayer modes.

Getting into matches is easier than in Killzone 2. Players aren't given as many options when starting matches, though with the trade-off of not finding matches faster. The changes work, though the omission of a Private Match option is odd.

These moment-to-moment battles are balanced, but not without their difficulties. You're usually accompanied by an A.I.-controlled teammate, offering a little extra firepower as well as a revive mechanic. If you go down in a fight, they'll run over and heal you. You're asked to do the same, and more than likely, you'll spend more time picking them off the ground. Unfortunately, your teammate won't return the favor as often. There are times where the A.I. will give up and let you die.

Killzone 3 is not above tossing in a few cheap kill moments. Soldiers will jump from behind corners, or areas will start with you staring down the barrels of a group of perfectly-placed soldiers. I also noted a few inconsistencies between reloads. During a stealthy section, I shot an exploding plant to take out a set of guards. The plan didn't work and I had to return to a checkpoint. The next time, however, it worked perfectly even though the situation was exactly the same as before. I concede there may be some random element at play, but when it can throw off an entire mission, it's a problem.

Game Mechanics:
Killzone 3 is a flagship title meant to show PlayStation Move is useful in games not involving racquets, balls or other sporting goods. Like 3D, using Move is optional and, even with the option, the experience isn't drastically different from the controller. I'm a proponent of motion-based play, but between the Move and the standard controller, I opted for the controller. I did get a chance to check out the Sharpshooter rifle attachment, and had a lot of fun with it, but not enough to recommend a purchase.

Move works the way you would expect. The wand controller mimics aiming, though a little tweaking is required to nail down the experience. The default is okay, but similar to using a mouse, everyone has their own personal bounding box preferences. There's potential here, and doesn't feel like a complete novelty, though its clear the idea still has some hurdles.

Most of the underlying mechanics remain untouched from Killzone 2, though there are a few noteworthy tweaks. Movement, including gunplay, feels faster. There's still a noticeable heft in movements, though it was easier to get around during combat. The transition from a full-on run to crouching behind cover and taking shots is smooth, adding a nice tempo to gameplay. You're still limited to a handgun and a rifle, though you're now allowed to carry a heavy weapon as well. Small change, but with a big impact on play.

Multiplayer also is sees a few tweaks. You still earn skill points to spend on unlocks (both universal and class-specific), though you aren't set to a linear unlock path. The system is similar to some RPGs; you can unlock anything, though some require unlocking previous ones. This opens a number of customization options, letting you build a unique, but still viable character. The changes also extend into weapons selection.

Leveling is, compared to other shooters, relatively quick. I can't play online for hours on end, so leveling has always been a chore. I'm still well behind most players, but I never felt too far behind.

Killzone 3 is the current shooter to beat on the PS3 - at least on the multiplayer side. Single-player has a few lingering issues to clear up, primarily in the storytelling department, though it's a near universal problem for games right now. Maybe one day we'll figure it out. Otherwise, Sony has finally found its cornerstone shooter.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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