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Killzone 3 beta preview: Exo mechs, jet packs and Helghast, oh my!


Here's the thing about the Killzone 3 beta: It's best played with friends. But due to the limited number of players in the beta, the likelihood of forming a squad with your best gamer pals is pretty close to never going to happen. Ultimately, the beta experience suffers because of this -- the mutliplayer modes are based around playing as a cohesive squad, much like in Bad Company 2.

Without friends, I've been forced to suffer the unpleasant randomness that is the general population of PSN players. Most of these folks are horrible teammates.

Gallery: Killzone 3 (beta screens) | 11 Photos

I wish that Sony and Guerrilla Games had instituted a system in the beta for inviting friends, where those lucky enough to get in could then invite friends to fill up at least some of the eight slots needed to make up a squad. Without friends, the beta test seems aimless, at least from the player's perspective, and your impact in any given match often feels irrelevant. All three of the modes are team-based, and two of them require coordinated teamplay, so when matched with unreliable teammates, the experience can become pointless.

The beta features three maps, including Corinthe Highway, Frozen Dam and Turbine Concourse SE-6. Corinthe Highway is easily the biggest of the maps, housing a few Exo Mechs, dilapidated buildings and a massive crumbling highway that you can battle on or beneath; while Frozen Dam is a medium-sized level complete with high walkways to snipe from -- if you can see clear enough through the falling snow -- and plenty of crumbling walls and ceilings from which to get the drop on your foes; and SE-6 is best thought of as "the jetpack level." This larger-sized map features an intricate series of catwalks and corridors, and to best survive you'll need to jet-pack up to advantageous high points and attack your enemies from there.

Gallery: Killzone 3 (beta maps) | 9 Photos

As for gameplay modes, the beta offers Guerrilla Warfare, Warzone and Operations -- all eight-on-eight. Guerrilla Warfare is the vanilla team deathmatch mode from the last game, which is joined by the other returning gametype, Warzone, where the team-based objectives change mid-match: One minute you're playing Bodycount, racing to place toe tags on as many enemy soldiers as possible, and in the next, the match dynamically switches to a capture point–based objective mode.

What's new to Killzone is the Operations mode, a more cinematic, co-operative campaign-type game where one squad acts as the attackers and the other as defenders. The only Operations level available in the beta is played on Frozen Dam and sees an ISA squad attempt to plant some chargers on a Helghan carrier. The match is driven by sub-missions that award progress points -- in order to get into the base, you first have to blow open some doors, then capture some nodes and so on. The squad with the most points gets prominent placement in the cutscenes.

The beta shows signs of real promise for the third installment in a franchise still looking to charm a larger audience.

Operations is quite a bit of fun. When you're part of a squad that's collectively pushing toward a goal or coordinating a defensive stand, the game clicks in a wonderful way. It's not just the pleasure of working toward something as a team and seeing those plans come to fruition, Killzone 3's multiplayer is also deepy satisfying in its strategic balancing act: who's playing which class and the importance of that specific role. When you've got all of these things working together, Killzone 3 gels like few other multiplayer games out there.

The other new additions to the multiplayer are the Exo Mechs and jet packs. The Exo Mech is quite strong and can attack enemies from across great distances, thanks to its instant-kill missiles and long-distance machine gun turret. At first it seems overpowered, but a coordinated attack from a small group of soldiers, even just a pair, can be quite effective against one. Mechs are big and powerful, but they're also quite lumbering, making it difficult for them to deal with attacks coming from several directions at once.

Then you've got the jet pack, which comes with its own mounted machine gun. Like the mech, you can attack enemies from a pretty good distance, with the added benefit of being able to climb vertically relatively quickly. Also, unlike jet packs in other games, the one in Killzone 3 is made to glide. Once maximum altitude is reached, by holding in the shoulder button, you can effectively slow your descent and glide back down. So even when you've spent your boost, you can stay mobile and aren't forced to simply plummet back to the ground like in Halo: Reach.

Despite a frustrating lack of dependable teammates, the beta shows signs of real promise for the third installment in a franchise still looking to charm a larger audience. Killzone 2's mulitplayer offered a decent amount of customization and incentive to keep playing, but Killzone 3's offering is a clear evolution of that system, with more classes and unlockables, and greater variety of gameplay. Personally, I'm most excited about the prospect of more Operations, as the mission on Frozen Dam has whet my appetite for more.

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