The changes won't please everyone, but they're enough to engage us on a level Killzone 2 never could. We pirouette on the upper-tiers of the map. Blue lights. We snap down into the sights of our light machine-gun and unload a dozen bullets into the target. As a crisp, satisfying spurt of crimson acknowledges our pin-point aim, the target, an ISA soldier, rotates its firearm in our direction, before punching off a round and collapsing to the ground. The shots muddy our screen, and we sprint forward now the cross-fire has exposed our position. A turret lies wasted on the ground. We pull out our repair kit and fashion it into a working war-machine. But the blue lights are on our tail. The recovered turret repositions itself as we seek refuge behind it. It pumps out shots at sprinting blue targets. We reposition, etching out enough room for our point of cover to paint the closing blue around us. We miss. The screen goes red and we're on the floor, flowing with exhilaration.
What's most striking about Killzone 3's multiplayer, and destined to be most divisive amongst fans, is just how immediate it is. The previous game obstructed players with as many hurdles as possible: the infamous control scheme, the layers of server lists and complicated game-types — it took an entire play session just to get into a game. With Killzone 3, you hit "Go" and it just works. That's not to say the multiplayer lacks the depth of its predecessor. The series' excellent rotating matchtype, Warzone, and multiple character classes are still present to add personality and variation to the gameplay. It's just been streamlined, and for the better in our humble opinion.
Without the option to customise match-types as in Killzone 2, the initial roster of three playlists can seem a bit measly. As we already touched upon, Warzone is undoubtedly the star of the show once again, keeping players constantly on their toes by rotating objectives as the match progresses. There's a palpable satisfaction to completing the Search & Retrieve objective before chaining into a killstreak as the game-type switches to Body Count (or Deathmatch). Team communication is not a necessity like in other PS3 shooters such as MAG, but staying in contact with your peers clearly puts you in an advantagous position. It's a trait emphasised by the game's solid integration of Squad and Clan support.
Rounding out the playlist roster is Operations and Guerrilla Warfare. The latter is a simple re-skinning of the traditional Team Deathmatch gametype that's common-place in all first-person shooters, while the former managed to capture our interest for a significant number of rounds. In essence Operations is a simple attack-and-defend mode in which the ISA and Helghast brute it out over a series of control-points. The formula isn't quite as dynamic as Warzone, but what makes the mode interesting is the narrative thread depicted through each round. One game saw us take control of the ISA on a barren scrapyard wasteland, entitled 'MAWLR Graveyeard'. Here we were tasked with recovering a battery against the Helghast's resolve, and transporting it out of the environment. Cut-scenes portray the narrative development of the battle, using models of real-time players to add a little je ne sais quoi to the action.
As with the rest of Killzone 3's multiplayer, character classes have also been streamlined. There's no mixing-and-matching on hand here, and the unlock system is much more straight-forward than in the game's predecessor. Completing objectives within the multiplayer will net you XP, which will help you proceed through 45-ranks. Each rank awards you with an unlock point which can be used to unlock new abilities for each of the classes. Players will undoubtedly have their preferences — we opted for the Field Medic and Engineer. Each of the classes have a unique set of secondary abilities which are paramount for the success of the round. The engineer, for example, is able to set-up turrets, which can be a useful tool in defending unmanned territories. Likewise, the Field Medic can revive downed players with a satisfying zap of Killzone's medi-gun. There's a definite depth to learning all of the classes, and players will need to in order to stay competitive, as there can be an emphasis on adaptation depending on the battle's requirements.
Drawing influence from Killzone 3's main campaign, the limited array of maps on offer all look stunning. All suffer from minor frame-rate hiccups, but nothing necessarily detrimental to the experience. The variety on offer is fantastic, ranging from snow-capped industrial environments, to a long city valley bordered by buildings with great vantage points. Visually the environments are absolutely stunning, the jungle map being a particular favourite of ours from an aesthetic perspective. Unfortunately, the roster feels a little light. While the appearance of a "Downloadable Content" icon on the game's menu suggests we won't be waiting long for more content, we would have preferred a couple of extra maps on the disc just to ensure longevity.
With the improved controller response, we found ourselves really enjoying the gunplay in Killzone 3. Guns have a satisfying heft, with the delight of their firepower accentuated by the classic Killzone chirp each time you nail a kill. We also really appreciated the rejigged XP system — increasing as you combo killstreaks and objectives. There's something way more satisfying about earning 100xp for a kill than Killzone 2's singular point. The introduction of Ribbons award you with subtle performance upgrades as you persevere through a round, which gives a nice little indication of progression as the game proceeds.
Of course, the usual complimentary array of leaderboards, statistics and medals are on offer to help track your multiplayer campaign. While the tweaks are great, it's the ultimate sense of immediacy that's likely to win Killzone 3 its place as our go-to PS3 shooter. Sorry MAG, but it's time we replaced you for a new model. And Killzone 3 is definitely that new model. The gunplay is sharp, the action is fast, and the game-types, while limited, are a lot of fun. We would have liked more off the bat, but what's here will definitely keep us occupied until the inevitable DLC. The changes are destined to be divisive, but Killzone 3 is definitely the development the series required.
Killzone 3 is available on PlayStation 3 now. You can read our full review of the single-player component right here.