When it comes to sequels to popular mainstream games, developers tend to religiously adhere to the ‘bigger is better’ philosophy. It’s almost like there’s an unwritten code among them, dictating that a successful sequel must have larger levels, more enemies, and bigger bosses. But as games like Resistance 2 have proven, shoving a 300-foot boss into a game is useless if you’re unable to weave engaging and interesting gameplay around it. That’s what Guerrilla Games has attempted to do with Killzone 3, particularly in the preview build, which we recently had the opportunity to play.
The preview level has you – Tomas Sevchenko aka Sev, and your Alpha team buddies finding yourselves in uncomfortably close proximity to the MAWLR, a 900-foot Helghast boss, which is so big, it takes up the entire level. Naturally, the objective is to take it down and make it out alive, but as always, that’s easier said than done. Not only is the MAWLR continuously unleashing a barrage of rocket and machine gun fire your way, but you’ll also constantly find yourself up against a variety of Helghast soldiers for intermittent fire fights to divide your attention.
The scale is immense, and there’s always the feeling in the back of your mind that while you’re picking off Hig solders one by one, one stomp of the MAWLR’s football field-sized appendage is all it will take to wipe out the entire ISA battalion. As in Killzone 2, you won’t have much time to stop and take in the sights. You’re constantly on the move, sometimes trudging through narrow trenches in close combat situations reminiscent of the Call of Duty games, while at other times, the level opens up for larger gun battles with varied levels of elevation and avenues for flanking the enemy. Flanking and blind-siding an enemy allowed us to get close enough to try out Killzone 3's new melee combat.
From simply snapping an enemy’s neck for a quick and dirty kill to shoving a knife through a Helghast soldier’s glowing orange eye, and then twisting it around for good measure, Killzone 3’s melee kills are full of glorious gore and brutality, which makes the risk of getting close enough to the enemy so worth it.
If you’ve played Killzone 2, you can probably imagine that Alpha squad leader Rico Velasquez won’t be winning any popularity contests at the ISA any time soon, and his actions haven’t made him the most trustworthy squad leader around either. This is very well conveyed in this particular level, with Captain Narville always unwilling to do things Rico’s way, regardless of whether he’s right or wrong, and the otherwise close friendship between Rico and Sev also feels somewhat frosty. This obviously leads to a lot of friction within the group, which will be very interesting to watch unfold over the course of the game. While most of the returning characters look nearly the same, Rico seems to have aged far more since Killzone 2 and now sports an afro and gruffy beard, a far cry from the clean cut model soldier he once was.
Killzone 2 set the graphical benchmark for console shooters, and Killzone 3 is set to raise the bar even higher. Despite the constant presence of a 900-foot boss, explosions going off all the time, and several soldiers and enemies on-screen, the game handles itself brilliantly, with not a single noticeable drop in framerate. And this was an unfinished preview build. The lighting engine has been bolstered too, with constant lightning and explosions lighting up the environments believably. There isn’t a pixel out of place and though the environment here looks similar to what we saw in the last game, the developers have promised more variety in terms of environments in the full game, including snow and jungles.
The preview level ended with the Alpha squad taking to the air to finish off the MAWLR, which had been softened up with rocket attacks for what seemed like a good 30-45 minutes. It’s a fitting and frantic end to the level, with your craft steering violently to avoid being taken out. After spending all this time in its deathly shadow, you finally get to hover over the metal monstrosity as you land the killer blow. Guerrilla have nailed the David versus Goliath experience; a handful of men had taken down a boss the size of a small town. This, though, was just one level; a tantalizing sliver of what Killzone 3 will bring to the table later this month.
Killzone 3 is scheduled for release on February 28 for PS3.