Here's a dangerous fact: I didn't much care for Killzone 2's multiplayer. Try and momentarily contain your frothing bile secretions, and force down those feelings of unbridled hostility for a second, and hear me out. I just couldn't get on board with the control scheme, for a start, and,while I could appreciate that Salamun Market was an exceptional bit of design work, I found the game required a bit more work than I was prepared to put in before dishing out the good classes and abilities.
So, getting down to the brass tacks, it's particularly nice to see the Killzone 3 multiplayer beta sorting most of the things I saw as problematic in Killzone 2, while keeping the game's identity. Oh, and it also adds whooshy jetpacks. Bonus.
The first thing you'll notice is that the controls, which Guerrilla insisted weren't broken, have been fixed. Input delay has been radically reduced, and the overall feel of movement has been attuned to make everything comparable to its contemporaries. The weightiness of everything in the second game might have been a unique offering, but standardisation is probably going to go down better with most people. Guerrilla has also been gracious enough to include an 'Alternate' control scheme (L1 for zoom, R1 to fire) off the bat, which 99.9 per cent of players will immediately switch to straight away.
It's particularly easy to see where inspirations are being drawn. Aiming down the sights is now a huge priority - even in close quarters combat, ironically. Whereas Killzone 2 had you hip-firing three miles across the map with perfect accuracy, now you'll invariably find yourself zooming in. Shooting from the hip feels the same as before, but Guerilla loves scopes so much they've even given the shotgun a reflex sight. Aiming and movement speeds have both been bumped up while looking down your scope, too, which makes the whole game feel like it's sheepishly (but successfully) trying to answer its own call of duty.
The scoring has also been adjusted alongside other shooters. Now you get 100 points (instead of 1) for a kill; 50 for killing a turret/drone and reviving or repairing; and 25 for an assist. Ribbons are awarded for performing certain actions, too, and receiving one gives you a mini-boost for the rest of that match: the Silent Footsteps ribbon, for instance, does exactly what it says on the tin.
All classes are unlocked at the start, so there's no more having to play for three weeks before gaining access to the Saboteur. On the other hand, each class only starts out with basic abilities - each perk must be unlocked, and can be upgraded through three levels. Some other tweaks to the old favourites are soon felt, too: Tacticians can no longer drop spawn points, for instance.
Weapons recoil is nonexistent at the moment. Guerrilla has already stated they're looking into this, but as it stands you can pretty much pew pew away for minutes without your gun kicking up into the air. This means the high-levelled players (and there are already zillions, which is crazy) can consistently headshot you to death without breaking a sweat.
Three maps are supplied with the beta, with the twisting, maze-like corridors of Frozen Dam looking like the most popular of the bunch - it's also the only map playable on the new Guerrilla Warfare (read: Team Deathmatch) mode. There's also the swirling mess of urban destruction (with pilotable mechs) that is Corinth Highway, and futuristic scrapyard Turbine Concourse, which can be played in Killzone's still unique Warzone mode, juggling various gametypes (Team Deathmatch, Search and Destroy etc) on the fly.
Each map is chuffing massive. It's easy to get lost in the intricacies, which means there's a fairly steep learning curve to begin with and the game makes little effort to funnel players in and around the action. There's a certain virtue with that mentality (it feels charmingly old-school) but it does require you to spend a fair amount of time getting to grips with the levels, though that's to be expected of any multiplayer game.
The visuals are gorgeous. Everything looks suitably grim, but nothing looks as washed-out as in Killzone 2; you'll find each map to be seeping with colour, alongside impressive particles and effects. Guerrilla also seem to be following the current trend - see Bad Company 2 or Medal of Honor - of making their environments busy and hostile, ensuring that you're sometimes contending with bloody snow while trying to root out the enemy team.
Part of the fun, of course, is spotting bugs - 'Alpha Code' is emblazoned across the screen at all time, which should give you an indication of the game's status. A few things I've noticed: the framerate seems to take a chug whenever a group of mechs start exploding everything in your vicinity, and there's a particularly troublesome staircase in the Dam that I seem to get caught on every time I try and tackle it.
More important is the way the game juggles its spawn points. The game often tries to walk a tightrope between giving you a few seconds of relief and birthing you straight into the action. But it's not always perfect - I often find myself catapulted into immediate death, especially on Guerrilla Warfare, which is always frustrating. I like to think it helps that every one of my (many, many) deaths is helping Guerrilla perfect the system for the finished game, though. I'm kind of like a hero, when you stop and think about it.
There's also a bit of a noticeable delay between rounds. Post-match screens kick off with sixty seconds of map voting (which is about forty seconds too long) before a loading screen, and then there's another twenty-odd second countdown before you're allowed to get stuck in. All this seems a bit too long, to be honest. Still, it's easily fixed.
While it's important for all of those negatives get addressed in time for release, it's particularly easy to cut Guerrilla considerable slack when the actual rhythms and tics of Killzone 3's action are already this good. There's a noticeable pleasure from stalking around the game's battered corridors and collapsed spaces, and even the feedback from each kill is more satisfying than Killzone has ever been in the past. Bung in mechs and jetpacks and, well, colour me excited. I've never been one for Killzone's multiplayer, but it looks like the third time might just be the charm.
Killzone 3 will be available on 25 February 2011 for PlayStation 3.