Killzone 3 Looks Great, Plays Different, Sort Of Adds YoshiS

I got my first hands-on with the PlayStation 3's Killzone 3 this week. Fantastic graphics are a franchise given. I liked how this one plays and how it made me think of Mario's dino.

Killzone 3 plays faster than Killzone 2. It is still a first-person futuristic war shooter with a cover system, but development studio Guerilla Games is raising your character's turning speed and increasing the accuracy of the game's weapons. The studio is improving the potency of melee strikes, making them work with a single button press when you get close enough — see a flash or a prompt — to deliver a context-sensitive killing move. (Hitting melee but missing that window will deliver a less hurtful blow.) You won't even die as often in the new game, it seems, because Guerilla is adding an element of Killzone 2' s multiplayer to Killzone 3's single-player: Your nearby fellow soldiers — the returning Rico, for example — can revive you if you've been downed by gunfire. (Killzone fans, maybe Rico's not a jerk after all?)

Killzone 3 Looks Great, Plays Different, Sort Of Adds YoshiS

I tried three portions of Killzone 3: A mostly on-rails airborne shooter section, a section that allowed me to test the game's first-person jetpack gameplay and an uphill climb made easier with a multi-shot rocket-launcher. All parts were set on a wintry landscape of snow-covered hills, unsettled seas, ice floes and large metal structures.

The on-rails part was the visual showpiece. As I was in the rest of the demo, I controlled Killzone hero Sev. In this bit he was on a flying assault craft (think high-tech magic carpet or rotor-less, roof-less helicopter) that buzzed down a crevasse to assault a Hellghast oil platform and swarms of enemy soldiers. Sev was on a machine gun and all I had to do was aim, shoot and watch things blow up. A Sony producer watching me raved about the destructibility of the Helghast structure. He directed me to shoot at an enemy drop ship. It did blow up nicely.

Visually spectacular as that first part was, the next section was more interesting to play. In it I gained the game's new jetpack. You arm it like it is a weapon, as it replaces whatever gun is in your hand with what almost looks like spider-legs sprouting from your pack into the corners of your peripheral vision. The jetpack functions a little like Yoshi. Yes, Yoshi, the lovable green dinosaur in the Mario games. Mario gamers know what Yoshi does... he extends Mario's jumping ability, lets him float and gives him an extra mid-air, mid-jump boost.

The Killzone 3 jetpack allows the player to ascend with the press of a PS3 controller's L2 button, but there is a finite amount of ascension allowed — it lasts for just a few seconds — before the player will drift back to the ground. While in mid-air, the player can tap the X button twice for a pair of forward-directed speed boosts. In practice the jetpack feels like it gives you a big Yoshi-style flutter/hover-jump with a variation of a double-then-triple jump option to follow.

I used the pack's thrusters to fly Sev from one ice floe to the next, tapping the speed boost button to help him span a gap. I used all of the vertical lift to get him up the side of a glacier and onto the stairs of an enemy base. The jetpack has an infinite-ammo gun that can overheat but is otherwise great for aerial combat. I got a taste of jetpack vs. jetpack fighting, me against flying Helghast. It was a little disorienting but fun. When jetpack-wearing enemies are shot in the pack enough, their thrusters will misfire and they will careen out of control, a fun trick I last saw in a Metroid Prime game.

Killzone 3 Looks Great, Plays Different, Sort Of Adds YoshiS

The third section I played featured one of the game's new heavy weapons, a WASP launcher that fires three rockets with any one press of your controller's shoot button. An alternate fire mode allows even more rockets to be launched into the sky and rained onto enemies, with the smoke trails and flare effects of a Robotech weapon. I used the WASP to obliterate enemy tanks. I also used it indoors in close quarters and learned that that is unwise.

The three sections I played were heavy on action, light on storytelling. The previous Killzone ended at an interesting and ominous moment and left gamers debating the actions of some of its lead characters. Those characters are back and this game's action picks up a second after the last Killzone ended, the Sony producer watching me play told me. As the action proceeds, Sev and Rico wind up fighting more as an insurgent force, but how the narrative unfolds is still a mystery.

The other unexplained aspect of Killzone 3 is its multiplayer. The online multiplayer of the previous game was re-tweaked many times, dividing the player base. Sony won't go into specifics yet, but the game's producer told me that multiplayer is getting an "overhaul," with details set to be revealed at next month's Gamescom in Germany. I asked about the possibility for co-op play, especially considering the inclusion of that co-op style healing move I described above. The producer again directed me to Gamescom, though I did not take that to be confirmation that the game would have co-op, just that we'll know one way or the other soon.

I liked what I played of Killzone 3 and loved what I looked at. If nothing else, I can declare that Killzone 3 has the best-looking rough seas I've ever seen in a first-person shooter. But that can't be enough! No, we would all like it to be a good first-person shooter, right? The game will be out in February 2011. We'll know then.