Killzone 3 Hands-On Preview, 3D Impressions

In debuting Killzone 3, Sony and developer Guerrilla Games sought to highlight the inclusion of 3D support in the shooter sequel. But while the implementation of the tech is as competent as any other recent example, it became a distraction from the bigger picture of all the improvements and additions already at work in this early build.

Guerrilla managing director Herman Hulst gave the usual introduction for a sequel, talking about how the team felt they could do a lot better when they wrapped up Killzone 2 and that everything about this game would be bigger and better. What they showed, and I subsequently got to play, went a long way toward backing that claim up.

The single biggest impression in my mind came from simply how well Killzone 3 already plays for a game so early that it doesn't even have a release window. While its predecessor bore the number two, it was the first game in the series on the PlayStation 3. Though undeniably gorgeous, I felt it got bogged down putting that show on the screen. Here the gunplay felt good. With just the basic assault rifle I could get shots from the hip more or less where I wanted, and then pop up the sights for a better targeted shot, draw a bead, and get off a couple placed rounds all in rhythm.

I also got to play with a couple of new toys: the jet pack and a multi-warhead rocket launcher. The jet pack is more a boost assisted glider rig, as the clamshell wings that unfold when it activates indicate. Guerrilla said the exact feel for the flight model is still very much a work in progress, but I like where it's headed. Launching off with the L1 button gave a satisfying kick-in-the-pants feeling, lifting me pretty high off the ground. Once airborne, that feel immediately transitioned to that of an overly heavy parachutist as he descended with boosters slowing the fall. The initial lifting shots can not be chained in air, but there is a propulsion boost--it gives a brief in the direction the stick is being pressed and can be used a couple time before falling back to earth.

Every shooter seems to have its rocket launcher, and in Killzone 3, it's a devastating weapon. The primary fire launches swarm missiles that streak toward the target like something from an anime with giant robots. In targeting mode, it becomes an anti-armor weapon, firing a primary warhead that climbs into the sky, comes down directly over the target, and then bursts immediately overhead to shower the impact zone with explosives.

Hand-to-hand combat also received attention with what Guerrilla dubbed the "brutal melee system." Don't read too much into the use of the word system, though; functionally, melee remains a one-button attack to use as a supplement to firearms in up-close fights. The "brutal" part comes from their creating a number of weapon-specific and situational animations for the kill move to make them more satisfying. In this demo, for example, there were a couple different knife stabs, including a gruesome one that sank the blade to the hilt in an enemy's forehead.

Hulst stated that the area in this demo represented ten times that of a typical level in Killzone 2. Whether exaggeration, the design certainly opened up considerably from its predecessor. In the arctic areas I played, the feeling of confinement to a single corridor was greatly reduced. There was definitely still a direction to go but at the same time the spaces felt natural. I could circle around and through different buildings, moving forward how I wanted to.

As for 3D visuals, Killzone 3 employs shutter glassed and an into-the-screen effect for the most part. One of the challenges Hulst pointed out about going 3D was getting the crosshair positioned in 3D space. Their solution senses the environment immediately behind it, and the intended movement, to place the crosshair in the scene. As Hulst demoed, this had it moving on and over background elements and then behind smaller foreground pieces like poles. The effect was not nearly so pronounced in the very controlled, linear space of a derelict freighter ship that I played through later on. Taking on jet pack-equipped enemies showed off the 3D well, but to me, it seemed a fatiguing gimmick that detracts from the experience more than it adds after the initial gee-whiz moment passes. I'm more interested to see what improvements plans for game's multiplayer--Hulst promised more on that later this year.

Developed by Guerrilla Games, Killzone 3 is a PlayStation 3 exclusive.

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