Killzone has always been one of those series which I've heard about but never had a chance to try. As a Microsoft devotee (no, not a fanboy) since the Xbox's release, I've heard the hype surrounding Killzone titles but have never been able to see the results due to my lack of a Sony console. So, I was stuck in a bit of a quandary when offered an opportunity to play the Killzone 3 beta. I didn't have a PS3 all to myself, but I felt as if I couldn't pass up the opportunity to get in my first real playtime with the third installment of Guerilla's shooter franchise. Luckily, one of the other writers on staff had a PS3 that I could use. Thus, for the first time in my life, I was able to see what all the fuss over Sony’s flagship shooter is all about. After spending a little bit of time with it, I emerged with slightly mixed feelings as to how good the third installment would be.
After finally getting everything up and running, I dove right into the deathmatch based skirmish game mode (the only one offered in the beta) and was blown away by the visual quality of the game. The one level available was a snow covered military installation bordering the sea. The environment and the character models were incredibly detailed, and although the textures could use a little bit more work, the overall impression was certainly a striking one. The impact is capped off when you look away from the military base and towards the ocean, revealing a beautifully rendered rolling sea.
The level which the beta offered was relatively well designed, with a slight emphasis on close quarters combat. Nonetheless, although fighting tended more towards the short ranged, there were certainly still opportunities to take advantage of the marksman class and snipe away on your enemies. However, the multi-tiered and multi-pathed design of the level made it so that it was near impossible for single sniper, or even a group of snipers, to dominate the map.
Once I finally tore my eyes away from the awesome looking ocean and moved onto the actual gunplay portion of the beta I was left impressed with some parts but not so impressed with others. For starters, the controls just never felt quite right for me. On the default settings, the sensitivity felt too twitchy and made it was hard to aim precisely. However, once I turned the sensitivity down one notch it was as if I was turning through mud, a problem which was compounded by the speed with which death comes.
Issues with the sensitivity aside, Killzone 3 plays rather well, although it can’t be said that it breaks new ground. Combat is based around a class system very similar to TF2 and Modern Warfare 2. In the beta there were 5 available classes each with its own skills, weapons, and role in the team. These are all pretty standard fare and range from marksman to tactician. The classes seemed decently balanced, although the marksman did feel a little bit underpowered.
One of the nice parts of the class-based system that KZ3 implements is that there is not one class that can do everything. For example, engineers are the only people able to create ammo replenishment crates, while tacticians are the only class who can acquire spawn points for the team. This means that should everyone choose to be an engineer, your group will have limited spawn points available although there will be plenty of ammunition to go around. Although class selection didn’t play a huge role in the beta, likely thanks in part to the game mode, the fact that classes are limited in what they can do could make for some very interesting choices in Guerilla’s upcoming shooter.
Similarly, the game implements a leveling system, but does so in a way that does not allow for complete freedom. Racking up kills in game or completing certain other actions earns experience which can be used to reach promotions. With each new rank achieved, you are able to unlock new skills or upgrade already existing ones. However, the catch is that many of these upgrades are class specific and scale up in how much they cost. Therefore, you eventually have to make the decision between upgrading your bots a little bit more and making your engineer all the more deadly or increasing your medic’s healing ability. Again, it’s another nice touch that adds some depth to the character creation experience.
As for the shooting portion of the game it is certainly good, but not exactly great. As was mentioned before, death comes quickly in Killzone 3, a fact which requires you to keep on your toes at all times and stay constantly aware of your surroundings. This keeps the game fast paced and intense, but still requires a decent amount of skill to succeed in. The addition of bots (which can be created by the engineer) also adds a solid level of depth to gameplay as they force you take them into account in addition to the standard opfor. My one gripe with the bots is that they seemed unnecessarily hard to take down.
Also, it should be noted that Guerilla games has done an excellent job of integrating melee combat into the game. Actually executing a melee attack requires only a single button press and launches your character into a slick animation which shows one of the characters getting out by the opposition. It certainly isn’t groundbreaking. However, the combination of the speed granted to sprinting players and the amount of damage a player can take before dying makes rushing in for a melee kill at the last minute a viable option rather than just a miraculous, once in a while occurrence.
It wouldn’t be fair to say that I was blown away by my Killzone 3 experience, although that is to be expected somewhat. There are still some flaws that need to be worked out with the game to be sure, but underneath those problems there are some solid game mechanics and decent fun to be had. Whether or not the final title lives up to the promise showed by this early version is to be seen. Until it is actually released, though, it is safe to rest assured that Killzone 3 will at a minimum deliver some very pretty eye candy to go alongside some interesting squad mechanics.