Hands-on: Killzone 3

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Hands-on: Killzone 3
Following yesterday's presentation by Guerrilla Games at a San Francisco media event, in which the developer outlined its ambitious plans for Killzone 3, I played two sections of the featured demo. Described as "extremely early" by Guerrilla and Sony staff, the segment I played, "Frozen Shores," is actually a level from later in the game's campaign. It takes place in the frigid Helgan arctic, which is home to iced-over oil rigs and, according to the mission description, an arms factory.

I headed toward one of the rigs, riding in on an Intruder dropship. I manned a gun turret during this on-rails sequence, picking off enemies and destroying sections of the oil rig as the ship swerved to avoid enemy fire. Massive pieces of the rig bent, collapsed and fell into what I can easily say is the best-looking ocean I've ever seen in a game. The scene was stirring, if not somewhat bleak due to the near absence of color in this stark world.

As ISA Intruders seem wont to do, the one I was on crashed, kicking off the on-foot majority of the mission. Thus began a gameplay sequence so incredibly intense that I was barely able to focus any attention on surveying the details in an attempt to draw distinctions between this experience and Killzone 2. It was all a blur of red, white and glowing eyes. Blood soaked into the snow and oil barrels exploded all around, as those creepy Helgast goggles haunted the scene.
The next section of the demo level featured the new jetpack-propelled Helgast troopers. Looking like something that Metal Gear Solid art director Yoji Shinkawa had designed, these guys sport heavy armor straight out of some mecha anime. I took on three at once, dispatching them in different ways. One I brought down with a headshot; another exploded when I shot his fuel tank; and the third went skyrocketing off (on fire!) after I damaged his jetpack. Not much later into this segment, I acquired my own jetpack from a downed trooper and used it to complete a platforming sequence. That's right: platforming.

The jetpack is best described as a "boost pack" -- it allows its wearer to take off vertically into the air for a very short time or to burst forward in a kind of "dash" move, but it can't be used for true free-form flying. To navigate across an expanse of ocean flowing with ice,

I used the jetpack to complete a platforming sequence. That's right: platforming.

I had to boost from chunk to chunk, headed toward a Helgast base. The jetpack has an integrated machine gun, which occupies one of your two weapon slots. You also can't take cover with the pack equipped; but switching to a secondary weapon allows the pack to fold up neatly onto your back.

I sailed up into the exterior of the base, into the next area of the demo, which featured a nonlinear level design. Fighting through the base, I was often presented with a direct route, which would draw heavy fire, or a couple side paths that offered more cover (but slower advancement). Speaking of cover, it's now possible to slide into cover while running -- a welcome mechanic. Cover objects are now more susceptible to being blown apart, which worked for and against me. If enemies were dug in behind sandbags or even metal plating, for example, I could destroy their cover with sustained fire. In fact, the environments in Killzone 3 are much more destructible overall than in the last game. Once I got my hands on a "swarmer" missile launcher, I was able to fire volleys of mini-missiles at oncoming tanks, using the alternate-fire mode to designate targets and launch the equivalent of small artillery strikes. I had a blast (ouch!) using this weapon to destroy cement columns and just about everything short of large buildings, too.

I gave the so-called "brutal melee system" a go with mixed success. This new gameplay feature was only working with the stock ISA carbine rifle, which had at least five different melee attacks associated with it -- most being contextual, based on an enemy's proximity to objects in the environment. In one case, I smashed a Helgast in the face with my rifle, knocking off his helmet, and then hit the melee button again to kick him, spinning him 180 degrees onto a control panel. Approaching where he lay and pressing melee once more, I grabbed his head, smashed it into the panel, and then stuck my knife in his back. "Brutal?" Check. (I was told that each weapon will have its own set of melee attacks, making use of the environment and nearby objects in various ways. It could be pretty cool, as long as it blends smoothly into the core shooting gameplay and doesn't leave you unnecessarily open to enemy fire.)

Apart from the jetpack platforming and dropship on-rails sequence, what I played was very similar to Killzone 2 -- and certainly in terms of visuals. While covered in snow, this segment looked a lot like the crisp yet colorless environments of the last game; though I did spot some subtle visual improvements outside of the environment, like increased weapon detail.

The trade-off of visual quality for the 3-D effect isn't worth it.

I'm incredibly eager to see some of the game's more colorful areas, especially the jungle environments Guerrilla has promised.

I'm going to wrap up my thoughts on my first impressions of Killzone 3 by talking about the game's 3-D mode. This feature was a big part of the game's announcement and was pushed pretty heavily during the preview event, where it was shown off on two large Bravia 3D TVs (which Sony is also gearing up to promote). There was a lot of talk at the beginning of the evening about how the 3-D mode would actually make Killzone 3 more intuitive to play -- more "immersive," if you will.

Putting on the required glasses, the 3-D effect was clear -- but the images were fuzzier looking and exhibited some pronounced shuddering. The trade-off of visual quality for the 3-D effect isn't worth it; at least at this stage of development. Running in "normal" mode, Killzone 3 looked much better. Guerrilla says it's been designing the game with 3-D in mind from day one, and I'm sure there's some optimization to be done, but I can't see the novelty ever being worth the graphical sacrifice. On a more promising note, however, I was told that running the game in 3-D mode will not affect its frame rate.

3-D disappointment aside, I'm eager to see and play more of Killzone 3. Guerrilla's overall pitch is an exciting one, so I'm hoping (just not expecting) to see an updated build at E3 in just a couple weeks time.
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