For me, it's the new Operations mode that forms the highlight of Killzone 3's multiplayer. Here eight players take on the role of ISA troops undertaking a mission under duress, while another octet control the Helghast troops opposing them. Each timed match breaks down into several distinct segments, with a separate ISA objective in each. One map finds the supposed good guys attempting to seize control of the MAWLR - the massive robot who pops up towards the end of the single-player campaign. The ISA start out by trying to capture and hold a pair of control rooms; if they manage to do this in time, a crane lifts a vital MAWLR component onto a conveyor belt, only to find it threatened by a massive crusher. The disabling of the crusher forms the next objective, and if this is accomplished there's a final assignment to capture a trio of batteries.
In a neat touch, these linked objectives are sandwiched by brief cutscenes, with the best players on each side cast in major roles via superimposed labels. With only three scenarios available it doesn't take long to see all the videos, but their presence helps to make Operations an engaging experience - especially when you're all but forced to work with your seven team-mates. When both sides put the effort in it's not uncommon for matches to go right down to the wire, and the minor cinematic touches help to make you care about the situation at hand - something Killzone 3's campaign routinely failed to do, for me at least.
I'd actually go one further than that, and say that the multiplayer modes here are the main reason you should pick up the game at all. Many of the things I disliked about the narrative campaign actually make a lot more sense here. In single-player, the game hops from location to location and from set piece to set piece, but it all feels a bit clinical, as if it's simply running through a list of required elements. Online, toys like the criminally-underused jetpacks get a chance to shine. The most powerful gadgets - the jetpacks, and the stomping exoskeletons from early in the campaign - are still limited to one map each, but that's hardly a problem as you'll be revisiting them time and again.
The maps themselves also seem to benefit from their narrative amputation. Their visual diversity still stands, but here they also gain character thanks to the different strategies they demand. Arguably the most original creation is Akmir Snowdrift: a setting that forces you to battle your opponents in the middle of a heavy snowstorm, one that limits your vision to just a few feet in front of you. This map is also a good example of a key difference between the game's single and multiplayer components. Online, the blockbuster graphics still help to escalate the chaos of battle, but now it's a fight that you actually give a shit about winning - not least because you don't have to put up with Rico's detestable bawling.
Over the past few days I've seen a fair few complaints online that Killzone 3's multiplayer has been dumbed down - or "COD-ified", as some have put it - in order to broaden the game's appeal. Personally, I don't see that as being the case, beyond the aforementioned problems with people playing solely for kills. While there are invariably other comparisons to be made, I think that the Guerrilla Games has done a pretty decent job of crafting an accessible, class-based shooter. On the whole, it feels fairly well balanced too: I've heard moaning that the improvements to sniping model have made the Marksman an overpowered choice, but that seems odd given how deadly a tooled-up Infiltrator can be. You do get a lot of Marksmen online, but there's no one class that seems to be going neglected - and that probably says it all.
Aside from some of the structural revisions, the only likely area of complaint from Killzone veterans is the removal of custom game searches. You can express a preference for which map you get when searching in three available modes, but that's pretty much it, and while you can track stats via the game's official site, there's nothing approaching Bungie's levels of chin-stroking exactitude. Still, with three decent modes, a sensible unlock system and a good spread of map variety, there's no doubt that Killzone 3 offers one of the better multiplayer experiences currently available for the PS3.
And so we turn to the final, million-dollar question: does the strength of Killzone 3's multiplayer make up for its single player shortcomings? If you're the kind of gamer who spends months perfecting their FPS skills, grinding XP and learning maps like the backs of their hands, then clearly you're going to have a ball here. On the other hand, there are plenty of people who will be mainly be interested in the game's single-player experience, and most of these folks will be left disappointed. This is a big budget "event" title, a supposed rival to the likes of CoD and Halo, and as such it's supposed to deliver the goods on all fronts. Even if you believe that online gaming is the heart of the FPS genre, that doesn't excuse the developers for producing such a by-the-numbers lonewolf experience.
To repeat myself one final time, this isn't a bad game - it's just one that relies too heavily on its own sense of technical achievement. While the graphics may well be the most impressive we've ever seen, the impact of their detail eventually wears off - and once that happens you're left with a competent but overly linear shooter, with superficial set-pieces and a plot that's impossible to care about. When you compare this game to the best exclusives on Sony's console - to the likes of Uncharted 2, LittleBigPlanet and Heavy Rain - the truth is unavoidably clear: Killzone 3 lacks heart, and no amount of visual wizardry can make up for that.
VideoGamer.com Score8 Score out of 10
- It looks amazing.
- Multiplayer is deep and accessible
- Curiously bland, despite the set-pieces.
- Lacking in charm and character.