Killzone 3. With a divisive sequel that abandoned core ideas while adding new ones just a few years behind it, what Killzone 3 would become is anyone's guess. Would it change the formula again? Would it be more modern or more old school? Or would it just be another experiment gone wrong like the last two sequels? Would the AI at least finally be smarter than shovels? (SPOILERS for Killzone 2)

This review is for the PS3 version of the game.

I don't know what they needed to do that they didn't until now, or if it was pure luck, or if they just kept having bad luck, but Guerrilla Games finally does it in Killzone 3. It finally WORKS. Everything works. The story isn't nails on chalkboard. The characters, save for Rico, are actually likeable, even the villains. The plot serves the game instead of giving excuses for it. The dialogue is sometimes actually enjoyable. There's more than two weapons in your inventory, guns actually hit their targets with some amount of accuracy, the cover system doesn't break half the time... are these tears I feel?

Killzone 3, for those of you who heeded my advice and just watched the opening and ending cutscenes of Killzone 2, know exactly where it starts. Visari lies dead. The Helghast capital was nuked to stop the ISA invasion and to enrage the people of Helghan against the ISA, who are blamed for the bomb. The few ground troops remaining are left to retreat as a new Helghast fleet flies overhead, revealing that they are totally outnumbered and without a single means of escape unless they move immediately.

Upon just starting the game, you will notice one distinct thing -- the voice acting is seriously improved. Most voice actors, save for the new antagonists, can't hold a candle to Bioware's talent, but they at least get the job done far better than anyone before now. Most characters have far more appealing voices, along with a few retconned personalities and story details that genuinely just seek to improve the experience rather than be held back by what was barely there in Killzone 2. Petrusite is green, Narville is far more concerned about his men than being a brash arsehat, Sev actually seems to be barely keeping it together at times, and Rico... is still an arsehole but he actually gets his comeuppance due to his killing of Visari. Natko is only present in co-op as the second player, and only mentioned once by a single NPC.

What do you mean everyone hates me? I'm just an insulting stereotype who got Garza killed!

With Visari dead, new villains had to be chosen, and while their speeches can't hold a single flickering spark to their predecessor, they have so much more personality. They are polar opposites, and watching their banter fly as they vie for power is great. They chew up the scene and are an entire side story, making their whole internal war both background to the main campaign and at the heart of the story. Most games wouldn't be able to pull of a dual narrative like Halo 2 did without Halo 2's kind of flabbergasting finale, and yet Killzone 3 manages it. While the ISA fight to survive, the Helghast battle over everything else as they try to stay afloat without their emperor.

While it is a bit disconnecting that each side of the story only interacts in a very Resident Evil 6 fashion, it's compensated by each aspect being solid. The ISA's loss makes sense, and it takes an interesting alternative twist on the WWII parallels Killzone is known for. Instead of just being "we won", it's "we killed Hitler, but the Nazis' won anyway". They really could stand to explore this setting more detail, especially from the Helghast side of the situation, but I'm willing to look past that.

In addition to the far more solid storytelling, Guerrilla finally took the time to polish the game mechanics. You won't be taking cover and ending up facing a direction you didn't want. You can carry one primary weapon, one heavy weapon, and one pistol now, so you rarely are stuck with just one weapon until you can swap to another. While there's no electricity gun this time round, all the unique weapons (Flamethrower, LMG, MG, Heavy Sniper Rifle, Petrusite Gun, Boltgun, Alt. LMG, Rocket Launcher, Mortar Cannon) can be carried with a rifle, so you are far more encouraged to be creative. They are less numerous than in Killzone 2, but it makes each encounter special. Also, there's only one Heavy miniboss this time, and it actually stands out as far more challenging than in the previous game. The rest of the single player campaign also fairs far better, including a relatively linear, but still featuring mini-sandboxes, stealth section that is tragically short.

This is insane! You call the last two games putrid but now you praise us? Are you a madman sir?

Going to cover sends you sliding forward. Melee kills with the knife are automatic instead of requiring to whip it out. The D-Pad is a refined weapon swapper now, so grenades can only be fired via a tap to the R2 button. The D-Pad is also once again used for sniper rifles, but the sixaxis has no impact on it this time. In multiplayer though, the D-pad is saved for special abilities, as you can only carry up to two weapons in multiplayer (which is far more reasonable).

Speaking of multiplayer -- Killzone 3 is quite the upgrade. Forgoing the obtuse, and rather unwelcoming unlock system of Killzone 2, you have access to all classes at once, but can only maximize them through investment of points. You unlock points slower than in the average shooter, and the experience point grind may turn off those not immediately sold on the multiplayer, but I can attest to how long term unlocks can pay off. For example, a rank one Tactician can just scan ahead and slowly unlock new spawn positions, but a max rank, fully upgraded one can call in support drones that pound enemy positions while rapidly capturing additional spawn areas and alerting everyone to incoming hostiles. Similarly, an Engineer at max rank can capture enemy remote turrets and be a walking demolitions expert. Infiltrators become ninjas, Marksmen are unseen snipers and upclose stealth support, and Medics are front line assault men who keep themselves and allies alive. All these classes are fairly well balanced, and have a variety of weapons to choose from.

Alongside your class, you can pick a perk. Perks unlock as you rank up, and they range from added armor to silent footsteps and trading in your regular grenades for proximity mines. You can only use a single one but they can drastically effect your playstyle. A tactician with two primary weapons can become a breach and clear while a Marksman can use silent steps to creep up on enemies and melee them or go unnoticed on radar. This is genuinely the first multiplayer in ages I've played where you're encouraged to play with stealth, and I've seen it work, not just in my own experience, but watching other players implement similar tactics. Killzone 3 is probably one of the most flexible multiplayer options on the market, and not just in these systems.

Edit: Oh and no killstreak perks -- you just get extra XP. You do get ribbons but they only give passive boosts, not tank armor or anything stupid like that. And you get a health bar! See:

There are three game modes: Guerrilla Warfare (wink wink), Warzone, and Operations. The first one is straight up deathmatch, nothing more. It's fine but it lacks the inventiveness of the other two modes. Warzone takes modes like CTF, KOTH, Conquest (from Battlefield and Battlefront), and other regular multiplayer modes and puts them all in one, and they occur at random. Each round (with about five to eight rounds total), will randomize them and change who is attacking and/or defending in each. Objective locations for each side are fixed, but it still breathes a lot of variety into the multipurpose built maps.

Operations is probably the most impressive if sadly malnourished mode in the game. Across three maps (Frozen Dam, Akmir Snowdrift, and Mawlr Graveyard), you'll experience a cinematic multiplayer variant on traditional objectives. Between each objective, and at both the start and end of the game, you will see cutscenes featuring the best players in them. If you do well enough, you might be the guy leading the charge. Barely do anything, and you'll just be in the background as the battle ends. Each side can win, although the Helghast victory cinematic is the same on every map as they are always the defenders. While repetitive, the map layouts are seriously tweaked and it may very well be one of the few multiplayer modes that singleplayer fans may like as it feels like a singleplayer mode, just with other people running the NPCs around you and dying doesn't restart the clock.

I'm trying to look for something bad to say about Killzone 3, but really, outside of a few bad one-liners, the fact Rico stays alive through the entire adventure, and that some moral grays are only finally addressed in the last few minutes of the short five to six hour singleplayer campaign (yes that in of itself is also a negative), there's not much I can hold against it. I'm honestly torn, as I wanted it to be a 10/10, but I will admit it is actually a 9.5/10 experience. Still, I am nominating it for my GOTY alongside Thomas Was Alone and Dishonored. Nothing's perfect, but Killzone 3 cuts it close as the PS3 exclusive to beat.

Planning a Surprise (SHH!),
Paradigm the Fallen

You keep jumping and some day you're going to land on something more stubborn than you!

Trivia: Killzone 3's beta was my first multiplayer shooter experience on the PS3. I waited a year or so before I finally could get the game, and it is my most used game on the platform with over forty hours clocked in.