Killzone has always been something of a divisive franchise, accused of all things from all angles whilst still generating the sort of rabid player and community passion that developers would kill for. Killzone 2 built on the premise of the first with weighty controls, crisply grim visuals and a no-bones, action-thriller pace of all-out planetary invasion. It courted controversy for touched up screenshots, poor multiplayer and a development period full of delays and unmet promises.
For the third issue, Guerrilla took an admirable stance of listening to both the specialist press and the community, addressing issues and keeping expectations in line with potential. Sony also lined it up as a flagship for the new technologies of Move and 3D, piling the pressure on its exclusive FPS.
Generally, the game has been slightly less well received than the second, scoring 87 per cent on the almighty Metacritic rankings compared to the second's 91. It's probably at least partly down to the law of diminishing returns - Killzone is the target of many accusations of low-innovation - but Activision has proven beyond doubt that that law is far from universal.
Four percent isn't much of a drop, then - and some reviewers were completely bowled over by Killzone 3. Destructoid editor Jim Sterling, for example pulled a full marks out of the bag in a review which praises the attempts to shore up the gaps in the last game, and applauds the cementing of its strengths.
Special mention is reserved for the unapologetically intense pace of the game, littered with set pieces and "some of the biggest, toughest boss challenges you'll find in a first-person-shooter." Sterling also finds no fault in the newly tightened and responsive controls, one of the community's main gripes about Killzone 2. It hasn't lost its signature heft, however, with Destructoid claiming that "Killzone 3 is still one of the only games around with a true sense of heft and realism, simply presented in a faster, more receptive way."
Although the game has "a better story, richer characters, quicker gameplay, more variety and fun gadgets", Sterling's highest accolades are reserved for the multiplayer, which he calls "one of the most refined, polished and perfected online multiplayer games in the business." High praise indeed, which will undoubtedly set the cat among Bobby Kotick's pigeons. The variety of modes, support weapons and classes are all singled out for mention.
Brutal melee kills, superb voice acting and a lavish production budget all round out Sterling's assessment, which concludes in no uncertain terms. "Killzone 3 is as close to perfect as online shooters get, and I do not say that lightly...I don't think the PlayStation 3 has ever had quite such a rounded, satisfactory package as this, with this level of polish, refinement and pure, simple, unpretentious action."
Eurogamer's Dan Whitehead sticks with an eight for his review, somewhat disappointed that Guerrilla changed many of the aspects of Killzone 2 he'd enjoyed most, but acknowledging that this was exactly what fans had asked for. The eagerness of Killzone 3 to express itself as variedly as possible, he says, has led to a lack of distinct identity "almost becoming just another slice of FPS pie in the process."
Plaudits are laid at the feet of the game's tremendous visuals and production, and Whitehead is another reviewer who feels that the controls are just right, eschewing some of the last game's heaviness whilst "it still mercifully resists the lure of run-and-gun bombast." A new slot for heavy weapons and the added ability to have your NPC team mate revive you help allay frustration in the game's harder sections, although there remains "a level of ferocity that means you can easily be killed in less than a second, even on normal difficulty" which "may still leave furious toothmarks in your Dual Shock."
Weak plot and good voice overs are hit upon again, but once more multiplayer is the star of the show, where "more nimble controls fit snugly with genre standards and the different ways of playing strike a pleasing balance between what you expect and what you'd hope to see."
For Joystiq's Andrew Yoon, the picture isn't quite as rosy, only eliciting a seven. In fixing many of the holes in the Killzone 2's experience, Yoon says, Guerrilla has neglected to make the game as enjoyable as it might.
Though handling is "as if someone hit fast-forward on the game engine", that lack of Killzone 2's trademark controller lag "makes similar classes of weapons feel nearly indistinguishable from one another", reducing tactical value. New variety and the gimmicks of low gravity and jet-pack pilotting are lost all very well, but "every brilliant moment is countered by another of frustration, anger, or boredom." Excessive reliance on rails sections is defamed, as is the use of "temperamental objectives your way that tend to be unclear and poorly communicated."
It's online play which rescues Killzone for Yoon - doing "what the campaign simply cannot, which is to make you care," although only three game modes leads him to "wonder if Killzone 3's multiplayer offers enough content to remain competitive with the other players in the space."
So, many problems addressed, but for Yoon at least, a lot of personality lost in the process. As he summarises - "Killzone 3 certainly offers more bells and whistles than its predecessor - it's just a shame they've been affixed to an inferior game."