Killzone 3 delivers everything that you'd expect from a modern shooter. The mythology and story of the campaign is entertaining and fun to watch, and the multiplayer will undoubtedly be played by millions of people across the world for its generally well-balanced classes and unlockable perks and weapons. Killzone 3 does so many different things very well, but it just doesn't have the one feature or aspect that pushes it into the pantheon of gaming excellence.
The one part of the game that comes close to perfect is the cinematography. Somehow, the Helghast city that was just ground zero for a nuclear strike is heart-wrenchingly beautiful, with the husks of broken buildings and embers flittering across the red sky. After the native flora and fauna take over, the city is transformed into a vibrant landscape that feels like a living, breathing ecosystem. From there the game travels to a craggy, wintry coast that looks more real than an obligatory "snow level" should. Finally, the ships and explosions in space are on par with the gritty look of Battlestar Galactica or Firefly.
That's right, Killzone 3 has fully embraced its science-fiction setting. The new technology and weaponry introduced by the Helghast civilian contractor Chairman Stahl are devastating and fun in their green gooey wonder. Unfortunately for the Helghan people, Stahl has designs on filling the recently deceased Emperor's shoes and he clashes with the military for control of the state. Malcolm McDowell, of A Clockwork Orange and Star Trek: Generations fame, plays Stahl adequately, but his vocal performance lacks the punch that the rest of the cast offers.
We meet the good guys, the ISA, right after the events of the last game. Sergeant Rico Velasquez just gunned down the Emperor against his orders to capture him alive, and Captain Narville is the authority figure who constantly yells at Velasquez for not listening to him. In between, is Sevchenko, who is busy doing a bad Jake Gyllenhaal impression for most of the game. The military banter between these three characters is generally above-average and I liked that the writers didn't shy away from a colorful expletive when warranted. Other than these three, the supporting cast is largely forgettable, and I still don't know why the token female Jammer is included other than for eye-candy.
Every common trope seen in shooters over the last ten years makes an appearance in Killzone 3. From the get-go, you are encouraged to use cover, but most obstacles can still be shot through by your opponents, leaving you frantic to find something solid to hide behind. The frequent on-rails sequences are definitely fun and showcase the lush environments well. Getting to fly around in short bursts using a jetpack suit, complete with a machine gun, is fun but other than one nicely laid out boss fight, you don't get to explore the world with it.
The variety of infantry rifles and machine guns all feel very similar, but the selection is peppered with standard deviations: shotgun, sniper rifle and rocket launcher. The special weapons stolen from Stahl's troops are fun but have severe limitations. The Bolt Gun shoots heat that explodes with a delay on bigger targets, while an experimental weapon shoots green mist that makes enemies bodies burst like water balloons. It's a nasty effect, but the "ammo" runs out too quickly to keep the novelty of it worth filling up the weapon slot.