There were various different level chunks available to play and I found myself constantly coming back to replay each of them. This was hands-down the game of the show at the PlayStation Beta Rooms event in Birmingham.
The first section is that from the E3 stage demo (colour me excited). I seem to be in the open-air cargo hold of a ship and have just been attacked by Helghast jump-pack troops. If you’ve seen them in action, you’ll know they can be tricky to take down. The best tactic is waiting till they’re forced to land to briefly recharge their boosters. Or you can cook a grenade, timing it to explode in mid-air, right in their hovering faces. However you decide to kill them, the resulting explosion from their packs sends them skyrocketing and then smashing back down to earth with all the grace of a shopping trolley full of engine parts falling off a car-park roof.
The second part of the demo let me have a go on one of the jump-packs. Flight is limited to short bursts to help make the big jumps across the fractured pieces of glacier poking out from the furious sea. The pack enables you to jump further and higher than usual and there’s even a cool boost feature that zooms you forward quicker and also makes you a tougher target to hit. There’s also a cool purple flame effect from the thrusters to indicate boosting. The sound the pack makes is amazing too.
There’s a machine gun built into the jump-pack, it would appear that it’s got infinite ammo too, so you can swoop in and shred everything in sight. The pack handles best in more open sections; the only problem I had was moving around tighter areas and getting too close to walls and barriers. Even so, none of these tight sections were around precarious drops so it didn’t result in any annoying deaths.
This level ended by ascending to the top of the platform to destroy an AA gun by planting some explosives, once again controlled by Six-Axis pad-turning. The jump-pack proved to be great fun, with the Helghast being unable to cope with the aerial threat. Hopefully it'll get much more 'air-time' (sorry) in the final game.
With the anti-aircraft gun out of the way, the skies were clear for a team assault. This involved an on-rails shooter section, using a gun turret mounted to a flying personnel carrier. The craft flies over what is a new environment for the series, an angry arctic sea in the middle of a storm that's hurling a blizzard at the ISA crafts and creating huge waves that are smashing against the huge cliff-like icebergs and the Helghan structures.
The aim was to clear the Helghast from what looked like an oil rig. Shooting the obvious electrical exposed areas around the platform resulted in pleasing area- clearing explosions. As the craft swung around the platform, troops could be picked off with ease and the turret zoom really showed off how every single bullet has an impact as they forced a brutal jig of death from their targets. The structures themselves are blown apart in the assault too with huge sections of them exploding into pieces. Even more satisfying is taking down a fleeing, full enemy drop-ship.
The final part of the game I tried sets the action back on the ground. A new weapon is available, the WASP, a mobile mortar rocket launcher. It doesn’t need to be planted in the ground, just lock-on like you would with a standard rocket launcher, let rip and enjoy the sight of your artillery fire into the clouds before thundering back down to your target. It's deadly against groups of enemies or stubborn foes hiding behind cover. I had a bit too much fun with it though and realised it’s generally provided to take down tanks. The mortar is actually the secondary fire mode, the primary one is the not entirely shabby multiple missile launcher. The mortar’s a lot more fun though.
You're still only allowed to carry a few weapons (thanks a lot Halo) which often means having to leave behind some awesome ones then realising it completes you and running back, hoping it's still there.
This level has a more familiar pace to it than the rest of the demo levels which are much faster than the previous games. The Helghast are dug-in all around trying to defend a building at the top of a hill. The level is linear, but still exciting from start to finish. The slower pace of this level allowed me to absorb some of the refined attention to detail a bit more. The blizzard weather effects are brilliantly atmospheric and mark a great new location for the series. Other little details are impressive too, such as seeing a lone Helghast helmet tumble past out of the smoky explosion cloud of a missile.
Fans of the first game may be disappointed that the Helghan gun still hasn't seen the return of the awesome single shotgun round that acted as the perfect finisher or back-up plan to a sudden empty magazine. Yep, there's no room for a secondary fire function button on any weapon again, probably thanks to the cover system. At this stage using cover still feels broken without any sort of snap-to feature. It's essentially still a clumsy nightmare for any players that only play with one finger for both L1 and L2.
The weapons do feel more deadly this time around though. Or maybe the Helghast’s ridiculous bullet resistance levels have been toned down a little. Aiming and shooting now feels much more immediate than KZ2. If anything I even found it to be a tad over-sensitive, but I'm sure the final game will include a sensitivity slider to fine-tune it.
The new melee attacks were available and boy are they gruesome. You only need to press one button when you get up close, but it will kick off one of many kill animations. The most brutal of which involved ramming a knife straight into an enemy’s eye and really having to yank the knife back out. The only concern I have with these new kill animations is how long they take, as they leave you open to fire from everyone else. Maybe the AI will be programmed to kindly wait as you carve up their buddies, but I’d imagine the online world would be able to rip you to shreds while you got busy.
I’ve not mentioned the 3D on show on some screens for Killzone 3 and the main reason for that is that it was pretty disappointing. There was a little bit of extra depth, but I never exactly felt like the bullets were zipping past me at all. It didn’t help that the 3D TV kept turning its 3D mode off. The graphical resolution takes quite a hit too.
Forget that though, Killzone 3 doesn’t need 3D to become an essential game on our most wanted lists. Even at this early stage I can see how the controls have been tightened up and how the weapons feel a lot more effective than before. The on-rails sections and the inclusion of jump-packs help add some much needed variety to the game and hopefully we’ll see a few more surprising locations to go with this new frozen setting.
Killzone 3 is scheduled for release in February 2011.