Without the rise of the Internet and its legion of Wiki sites and fan forums, Killzone 3’s storytelling couldn’t exist; there’s simply no reasonable way anyone could possibly remember the ins and outs of this Sony franchise’s ongoing narrative without copious refresher courses, since storytelling is, ahem, not this first-person shooter’s finest attribute. Fortunately, though, for all its myriad cutscenes and on-screen prompts to check your mission objectives, this second sequel’s plot is as superfluous as they come, since as with most FPSs, your true goal is to run forward, stop, kill hordes of enemies using a variety of firearms, and then proceed further, occasionally stopping to press a button or ride an elevator on your way to the next expertly rendered cutscene. It’s a formula so calcified that, when confronted with a level that manages to ever-so-slightly tweak conventions (say, one that requires the use of a jet pack, or a mech suit), the effect is disproportionally revelatory. Something different! Eureka! Alas, those moments are few and far between in Sony’s latest epic, which layers war-narrative clichés on top of sturdy but hackneyed gameplay to deliver a highly polished, frequently frenetic experience exactly like the last passable FPS you enjoyed.
Reinventing the wheel is no prerequisite to success, and in terms of its cacophonous sound design and gorgeous, fluid visuals, Killzone 3 is first-rate. It’s exactly what you’d expect from one of Sony’s preeminent properties, though that also means it’s unadventurous, predictable, and thus engaging merely on a superficial level. Using a tried-and-true control scheme only notable for its crummy cover mechanic (you use the L2 trigger, which leads to frequent instances in which you don’t, in fact, take proper cover), and with levels that—regardless of their size, and the number of enemies—are linear through and through, there’s almost nothing that seizes the imagination or drastically ups one’s adrenaline here. Instead, with a few notable exceptions, it’s indistinguishable from the raft of similar sci-fi human-alien warfare titles, right down to it prizing technological prowess over innovation, and regurgitating as many stale army-saga tropes as possible. From its few-against-many scenario to its endless scenes of commanders barking orders, grunts proclaiming, “Let’s finish this!,” and characters spouting laughably unnecessary profanities, Killzone 3 wears its lack of originality like a medal of honor, as well as its nonsensicality, epitomized by the villainous Nazi-esque alien Helghast all speaking in British accents (courtesy of, among others, Malcolm McDowell and Ray Winstone).
If familiarity sucks any vibrant life from the game, it doesn’t totally diminish the thrills of its action, which operates in various modes—not just straightforward FPS segments, but on-rails vehicular sequences as well—with precision. There’s nothing functionally shoddy about Killzone 3, which affords muscular rollercoaster-ride mayhem that often creates a sense, however false, of your hero being completely overwhelmed by battlefield insanity. Too bad, then, that the game complements its banal level design, cruddy melodramatic cutscenes (which lead to a finale that sets a new standard in anticlimactic cliffhanger abruptness), and entertaining but generally unadventurous multiplayer options with basic combat that’s simply too one-note (the option to play with Move was, unfortunately, not available to me). A couple of brief stages in which you pose as a Helghast soldier have been specifically crafted to show off the PS3’s 3D capabilities, providing layers of visual details (crowded HUD shapes and symbols, gauzy effects) to heighten one’s immersion. Like the rest of the game, though, such three-dimensional gimmickry proves at once beautifully crafted and wholly incapable of masking this serviceable big-budget effort’s been-here, done-that derivativeness.