Killzone developer Guerrilla Games and Sony showed off the first playable version of the PlayStation 3's next entry in the series, a Killzone that feels familiar, but much improved, a bigger world with smarter enemies. Oh, and stereoscopic 3D.
The playable demo, available in both 2D and 3D versions at Sony's Killzone 3 showing, started off with our futuristic squad of ISA soldiers approaching a Helghast oil rig planted in an alien arctic sea. The entry to the level known as "Frozen Shores" started aboard an ISA Intruder, a fly-by attack via mounted mini-gun. After taking down that rig by shooting out its supports, our dropship suffered an unfortunate crash, with Killzone heroes Sev and Rico down but not out and ready to take down scores of glowing-eyed bad guys.
Killzone 3's enemies and gameplay may feel familiar, but its environments certainly don't. As I took down distant Helghast soldiers with a conveniently placed mini-gun, then switched back to the stock M-82 Assault Rifle, snow flakes whipped by, as did the frigid winds of Helghan's shores. Oh, and it did it all in dazzling, but distracting 3D.
Helghast soldiers pop out against the brighter, whiter backgrounds of "Frozen Shores" as if they're illuminated eyes didn't already give them away. The alien army's newest trick, sporting big, unit enveloping jet packs added a little variety to the level. Seeing them pop in, hover down and attack from above added a sense of fright, even though our ISA soldier was indestructible in "god mode." That tension was alleviated the first time we saw a jet packer take damage, spiral out of control and fire into the air like a bottle rocket, crashing to his death.
It was a feeling of something old, something new and a game much improved from its predecessor. Control-wise, Killzone 3 felt solid, its controller layout feeling immediately familiar and its aiming, jumping and on-foot movement easy to acclimate to.
Here's what else is new.
The latest addition to the Killzone arsenal is the turret turned mobile missile launcher known as the WASP. This massive weapon launches an array of nine missiles at any unlucky Helghast target in less than a second. It takes out infantry just as well as it decimates Helghast tanks. It's a hell of a lot of fun to use, especially when you have unlimited ammo.
There are two ways to deploy a cartridge of WASP missiles. The standard firing mode spews a rapid fire deployment of rounds almost as quickly as one can depress the R1 button. That barrage flies frantically at your target, so don't expect precision. It's good for clearing out a cluster of Helghast soldiers or whatever cover they're currently taking refuge behind. A quick tap of the R1 button will launch less than nine, if you so desire, but I was never able to fire less than three at a time.
The WASP also lets you paint a target, fire, and rain down the full nine at once on an individual unit in its alternate firing mode. The launch and the ensuing pummeling was almost instant, but Sony reps said the final firing rate of the weapon in will likely be slower.
Don't expect to see the WASP too often. It's super powerful, perhaps overcompensating, but with just nine rounds per cartridge and a standard ammo supply of three cartridges, expect to use the new weapon sparingly.
What WASP stands for, somewhat surprisingly, was one of those things that Sony "isn't talking about yet." That's right, this acronym is still to be revealed.
Perhaps the highest compliment one can pay Killzone 3's jet pack is that it feels like a natural addition, easy to control with a short learning curve. While wearing the jet pack, a tap and hold of the L1 button on the PlayStation 3 controller will give you a short boost, thrusting your character 20 feet or so into the air, then offer a slow floating descent. The pack feels more initially responsive than its counterpart in Halo: Reach, for comparison's sake.
In the demo level we played, the jet pack came in handy for a quick climb of the Helghan oil rig and a series of hops across a cluster of ice floes between the rig and Helghast base. While wearing the pack, our character's primary weapon was a mounted machine gun, a more than capable option for dispatching Helghast.
My one minor complaint about the jet pack was its mix up of the control scheme. Normally, the L1 button performs a melee attack. That changes when wearing the pack, as L1 fires your jet boost.
Killzone 3's other big talking point of the night was its close quarters combat. Sony reps informed us that only the M-82 rifle was cued up with melee attacks at this stage, so we kept that gun handy. The up close and personal attacks on Helghast soldiers consisted largely of boots to the face, knives in the back and, most fitting of the brutal description, a knife stab into the glowing eye of our enemies. A twist and turn into the skull later, Helghast soldiers fell lifeless.
The melee system didn't feel tangibly different from hand-to-hand attacks from other first-person shooters and the eye-stabbing was clearly early. There was no visible damage to those Helghast soldiers' helmets, giving the attack a less realistic effect. Frankly, I preferred shooting them in the kneecaps to watch them crumple.
Killzone 3's three-dimensional effects, while offering a believable depth and a visually impressive distinction, felt like a lot of games we've already played in 3D. At time's it's distracting, at others it offers a better impression of being there. At one point, it made me nauseated.
HUD items and your targeting reticule layer nicely, at the depth of the TV screen. Entering iron sights is sometimes clear, sometimes disorienting, but always offering a realistic perception of depth. Killzone 3's 3D effect carries with it much of the trappings of the technology—you're better playing centered, there's ghosting, lens shutter can be annoying, and it can sometimes add confusion to the frantic fire fights. As a demonstration of the capabilities of 3D, it's strong, but may not be the ideal way to play an entire campaign.
Fortunately, the 3D effects didn't appear to affect the game's frame rate, moving as smoothly as the 2D version. While the game may have suffered slightly for its 3D wow factor, there's plenty of time left in development for Guerrilla to tweak, improve and further impress us with Killzone 3's big visual trick.
Killzone 3 is currently planned for a release sometime next year on the PlayStation 3. While we wait, here's a whole mess of new media, sadly only viewable in 2D.