California Literary Review

Video Game Review: Killzone 3


April 6th, 2011 at 1:41 pm

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Killzone 3 box art
Killzone 3

Release Date: February 22, 2011
Platform: PlayStation 3 (reviewed)
Developer: Guerrilla Games
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Genre: First-Person Shooter

CLR Rating: ★★★★☆

Battling British Space-Nazis

Nazism is, and has been, almost universally recognized as a symbol for “evil” in the world. Few right-minded people contest the monstrousness of the deeds committed under its banner, and the power of the Swastika as a religious symbol has been forever tainted by its use as that regime’s icon.

What better way to cast your enemy as villainous than to liken it to the forces of the Wehrmacht and its leaders to a certain dictator with a talent for delivering a good harangue?

Why, then, is it so entertaining to cheer for the “Nazis” of Killzone 3, even as one must, by necessity, pull the trigger on every single one of them?

Killzone 3

You’ll end up feeling sorry for these red-eyed fascists.

Billed as the PlayStation 3’s exclusive, landmark shooting game (the last of which just so happened to be Killzone 2), Killzone 3‘s single-player campaign picks up mere minutes after the end of its predecessor, following the gung-ho duo of Tomas “Sev” Sevchenko and Rico Velasquez, two elite soldiers who, due to an unfortunate trigger-finger itch, just botched up an invasion of the planet Helghan, home to millions of Helghast (the aforementioned British Space-Nazis), all hungering for the blood of the Space-American ISA soldiers.

To un-botch the situation, Sev and Rico go on a whirlwind tour of Helghan, driving vehicles, blowing things up, and shooting thousands of red-eyed fascists all throughout. In the background is an internal power struggle within the enemy ranks, a stubborn military man (played by Ray Winstone) facing off against a snakeish technocrat (played by Malcolm McDowell).

The narrative jumps back and forward in time, from the days immediately after the ISA invasion is broken by a renewed Helghast assault, to six months later, as guerilla resistance fighters (Sev and Rico among them) harry the Helghast’s attempts to crack down. While generally well-acted, in no small part due to Winstone and McDowell’s talent, the plot itself is too weak to withstand its unconventional delivery.

The game also suffers from an unintentional crisis of character. Sev and Rico are portrayed as bog-standard gung-ho soldiers, with little distinction from the hundreds of other “stars” decorating the cast rolls of every military man-shoot.

On the other hand, the Helghast are overly emphasized as the embodiment of pure evil. Every soldier wears a dehumanizing gas mask featuring glowing red eyes. Helghast industrial design seems to ooze hostility and menace, as if their civilization has somehow internalized evil and are beyond empathy or redemption. Hell, Helghast target ranges are decorated with wooden silhouettes of surrendering prisoners.

The end result is that the Space-Nazis are presented so comically that players are incapable of truly hating them. Helghast soldiers end up as despicable as Lex Luthor or Dick Dastardly. Their “evil” underscores the fact that the would-be heroes are really just a bunch of jerks.

Killzone 3

If one could smell games, this would smell like explosions.

Substandard stories are hardly a new thing to action-shooters, though, and the thin plot serves its purpose in delivering as much bombast and spectacle as a war-porn game must.

The other thing a war-porn game must deliver is a satisfying experience of fictional warfighting. Thankfully, Killzone 3 delivers on that, and in spades. Space-Soldiers and Space-Nazis alike gun each other down with thrilling intensity.

The clatter and bang of assault rifles and the dull thump of grenades and explosions establish an aural impact to match the game’s gorgeous presentation. Reflections and light make all the grime apparent. Dust and embers float lazily in the air, as if to deem war as a sacred thing to flatter and worship, as well as a hellish experience to be feared and shunned.

Simply stated, the experience of combat in Killzone 3 is stunningly visceral, almost matching the excitement of visiting a real-life practice range to shoot a gun for the very first time. Attacking enemies in melee often results in a “brutal” attack, in which eyes are gouged, necks are slit, and enemies are “neutralized” in as gruesome a fashion as possible.

The feeling of power is disturbingly intoxicating, almost (almost!) lending credence to hysterical claims that such games condone and encourage violence in the real world.

Killzone 3

A modern-day Zeus versus the giant robot from Star Wars.

War, however, is not a solo experience. Despite the fact that players can play the single-player campaign co-operatively, the lifeblood of Killzone 3 pumps through its multi-player options. Which, fortunately, are many and varied, though all ultimately centered around introducing enemies to the business ends of bullets.

Players can choose between several “classes” of soldier, each with unique abilities and tactical styles. The stealthy Infiltrator can disguise himself as his enemies, the better to shoot them in the back. The leader-like Tactician can summon a helpful escort robot to add to his allies’ firepower, the Sniper can turn invisible while he draws a bead on his foes, and the Medic can save his comrades by healing mortal wounds. Players can further customize their abilities by earning experience points, which can be distributed towards unlocking new weapons and abilities, allowing the game to reward its fans for the time and effort they spend playing it.

Besides the now-mandatory “deathmatch” mode wherein every Space-Nazi is out for himself, Killzone 3 best stands in its “Warzone” mode, a unique twist on the way shooting games mix up their experience. Warzone games periodically rotate their objective types every few minutes while on the same map. A team may spend ten minutes in a team-on-team deathmatch, and then switch off to a “capture-the-flag” type of game, or transition into an “Assassination” mode, marking one player for death, to be protected by his teammates or perforated by his enemies. Warzone mode helps each game feel varied and ever-changing, keeping the experience from feeling static and demanding that players change up their styles to succeed.

Killzone 3

War is hell, but heavenly with other people.

Killzone 3 delivers handily on its claims to the top spot in PlayStation 3 shooting games, compensating for its weak narrative with grand visuals and booming audio, as well as a generous and rewarding multiplayer component. It won’t win any awards for great innovation but provides players with a shining example of refined, confident execution.

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Killzone 3 Trailer

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