Killzone 3 may be gaining rave reviews, even our own Kyle MacGregor has expressed his admiration for the game, but I’m unconvinced. While the multiplayer is definitely a step up from Killzone 2, the single player campaign left me less than impressed.
In fact, I believe that the single player campaign in Killzone 3 is three steps backwards for the entire series.
Be warned: I tried to keep spoilers to a minimum, but this is best read after beating Killzone 3′s single player campaign.
I just finished reading the Killzone timeline at the Killzone Wiki. There’s tons of stuff that I didn’t know—either it was all mentioned in the original Killzone or in expanded universe type materials. After reading the timeline, I’m even more convinced that Guerrilla really dropped the ball when it came to storytelling in Killzone 3.
Killzone 3 removes any moral and tonal ambiguity that the second game cultivated and instead replaces it with a 70′s buddy-cop movie mentality coated in a glistening gung-ho attitude and jingoism.
While the Killzone series isn’t known for subtlety, I hold that it is a little more sophisticated than it at first appears. The Helghast’s tri-color scheme evoke images of Nazi Germany, and it’s easy to say that they’re just “space Nazis.” But after reading some of the series’ lore, it’s clear that the Helghast are hard people, created by living in a harsh environment under oppressive economic circumstances.
To be honest, I never played the original Killzone or the PSP exclusive Killzone: Liberation. I started with 2009’s Killzone 2. Based on what Killzone 2 told me, I knew that the Helghast invaded the lush planet Vekta, but were beaten back by the ISA forces in the original game.
From that standpoint (and ignoring most of the story materials not presented in-game), it’s easy to sympathize with the ISA. The red-eyed, gas mask wearing, brutal Helghast invaded Vekta. The ISA is fighting a defensive war to protect their homes. As the player, you help the ISA destroy the invading Helghast force. You fight them off. That could have been the end of it!
The Helghast were the clear aggressors, and you were defending your home. From a logistical standpoint it would have cost the Helghast immensely to create a space-worthy invasion fleet. It’s not the same as building some tanks and rolling them across a border. Destroying their invasion fleet could have been the end of it—you cost the Helghast an incredible amount of blood and treasure (to borrow a phrase)—accords could have been reached. Etc. etc.
Instead, the ISA launches a punitive strike against Helghan. Now you’re the invaders. This “taking the war to them” mentality really opens up a whole host of opportunities for advanced storytelling. Is invading as retaliation right?
Killzone 2 opens with a positive, gung-ho attitude that’s reminiscent of the whole “the war will be over by Christmas” mentality we’ve seen at points in our history. The game’s tone shift as the fighting drags on. Killzone 2 becomes more about the gritty realities of war, and even the game’s control scheme and mechanics reflect that with their weighty, heavy, and methodical feel.
Killzone 2’s ending, while abrupt, sets up what could have been an amazing sequel. Visari who is a “bad guy” but also the same man who spurred the Helghan economy (and apparently held more fringe elements of the society in check if you are to believe his dying words) has just been murdered. His death shows that even the loftiest principles don’t last long in a warzone.
The ending cinematic lets the player experience the full weight of what just happened during the course of the game. You’re an invader trapped on a hostile planet—surrounded. The once shining uniforms and principles are ground into the radioactive mud that used to be the Helghast capital city.
Killzone 3 could have explored all those themes—moral ambiguity—who really is right in this campaign? Are the Helghast just victims of extreme circumstances? Instead Killzone 3 throws all that away.
Tension between Rico and Sev over Rico murdering Visari and disobeying direct orders? That’s gone. It gets brought up once in the very beginning. Then the game gives us Captain Narville—a man concerned with the lives and safety of his troops. As the ISA evacuation plans go to hell, he grows more and more defensive in his strategies—survival is the goal. These are not unreasonable expectations.
But the game presents Narville as a coward when there was little indication of that in the previous game. Sev and Rico (Rico freaking Velasquez) become the voices of reason? What? Every time Narville has a rational plan, Rico mouths off about how it’s wrong—the whole taking the fight to the enemy shtick. Then Rico and Sev go off and do something crazy, and by sheer luck (during cut scenes) and player skill (during gameplay sections) they succeed. The game’s narrative proves Rico and Sev right because the whole buddy cop/Starsky and Hutch antics make for a more entertaining but decidedly less morally ambiguous game.
Promotional materials promised us that Killzone 3 would feature the Helghast caught in a civil war as two factions vie for Visari’s vacant throne. All we get is Admiral Orlock and Chairman Jorhan Stahl yelling at each other (expertly voiced) in cut scenes. During the game the player shoots any Helghast they come across. There’s no distinction between Orlock’s military soldiers of Stahl’s private troops. They all have glowing red eyes and gas masks; kill them all the game says.
Think of the narrative potential Killzone 3 had! What if Guerrilla had really run with the civil war angle instead of leaving it as an afterthought at the very end of the game? There could be rival Helghast factions that could have amounted to some stellar 3-way set piece battles. What if Rico, Sev, and the remaining ISA troops had to choose to ally with either Orlock or Stahl—the enemy of my enemy thing would have been fascinating. Even allying with lower ranking Helghast who were sick of Orlock and Stahl’s antics would have been preferable to what Guerrilla gave us.
Visari was evil, but he never ventured into the realm of caricature. Stahl with his shock of white hair looks like the stereotypical mad scientist. It wasn’t a shock to find out that Stahl has plans to use a secret fleet armed with irradiated petrusite (read: fictional glow-y green stuff) weapons to bombard Earth.
The lines are clearly drawn in Killzone 3. Stop the space Nazis from launching a planet-wide genocide on Earth. And what a great job you do! Let’s just say that the ending of Killzone 3 is full of wasted potential. After Sev’s pathetic last line the game just ends. “You gotta be kidding me!” I shouted at my TV when the credits began to roll. We’re dealing with things like planetary genocide and Guerilla chooses to end with a flat one-liner? Deplorable.
For all its graphical accomplishments and other improvements, Killzone 3 is ultimately a disappointment in storytelling and tone. A story full of potential turns into one of generic space marines fighting evil space Nazis. Yay! Everybody wins! Except people who want a little more depth to go with all the space Nazi shooting.