F.E.A.R. 3 Review «

EDITOR’S NOTE (2/12/2011): This review was initially published late at night with a score of 3.5 stars. This was an editorial error; the score was intended to be 4 stars, and we chose the wrong option from our dropdown menu (oops!). We thought it important to clarify this, so as to avoid any suspicions of foul play. We apologize for the error! -RS

I want to love the Killzone series. I really do.

Unfortunately, I’m a sucker for a good story, and I’m just as disappointed with the story in Killzone 3 as I was with those spanning the first two entries. For the uninitiated: Earth is at war with Helghan, a depressing rock of a planet inhabited by a bunch of humans who decided that it was a better place to settle down than our big blue ball. Apparently, living on a diet of rock chips and noxious fumes makes people pretty pissed off — fitting, given the fact that Helghan’s biggest export seems to be war (designer gas masks and thinly veiled Nazi symbolism are second and third, respectively).

Kicking off immediately following the death of the Helghan leader at the hands of the gruff ISA (Earth’s one-size-fits-all government) soldiers at the end of Killzone 2, the sequel follows the heroes’ attempts to get back home. What could have been a harrowing story of survival is instead a stilted (and occasionally incoherent) narrative that offers little in the way of emotional impact. The nine chapters sometimes feel more like a patchwork of “blow up those AA guns” and “fight your way to yet another possible escape” scenarios than a fully fleshed-out game. The Helghan political intrigue is more intriguing that the conflict itself.

Of course, likable (or at least interesting) characters are at the heart of any good story, and this is where Killzone 3 falls flattest. Our human heroes are neither likable nor particularly memorable, not exactly a desirable combination when you’re trying to build a franchise. The soldiers seem to spend more time fighting amongst themselves than they do fighting Helghast, and this is a form of conflict that can grate on players if not handled properly. Sadly, that’s the case here. During one testosterone-fueled exchange, I actually found myself wishing for a wisecracking sidekick to lighten the mood. One notable exception was actually on the other side: Voiced by the always-awesome Malcolm McDowell and sporting a creepily sly smile to match, weapons manufacturer Jorhan Stahl steals the show. By the end, I was practically rooting for him to win, humanity be damned.

The game’s uneven narrative stands in stark contrast to the intense, relentless action, which is amongst the best in the crowded shooter genre. Sure, I may have spent a lot of my time fighting through similar scenarios, but at least I had fun doing it. The pacing and difficulty are pitch-perfect, as are a few of the game’s “boss” fights, including a memorable one against a massive walking turret gun. Who knew the Helghans had Metal Gears? I was also a big fan of Killzone 3’s weapons, which feel like they have a true weight to them when fired. Of particular note: the Arc Gun, which made me cackle with delight while I sadistically splattered multiple enemies.

I even enjoyed the on-rails vehicular sequences that Killzone 3 sprinkles in here and there, breaking up the near-constant on-foot gunplay with, well, much-needed off-foot gunplay. The big stars are the new jetpacks, which turned out to be a lot more fun than I initially expected. Our hero Sev isn’t strong enough to fully harness the powerful Helghan jetpacks, adding a sense of out-of-control danger every time he takes to the skies. I only encountered one wonky vehicle sequence, and it falls flat because steering and shooting at the same time simply doesn’t work that well. That might have been because I was on ice, but I doubt it.

Speaking of ice, be prepared to see lots of it. Killzone 3 has a few levels that take place in the swirling snows and above the frigid waters of Helghan, and each of them look terrific. I try not to be a slave to pretty graphics, but this is one game that really impressed me on more than one occasion. Lots of little details make the experience more immersive, and it sports some of the most realistic animations I’ve ever seen in a game, which adds quite the layer of intensity during combat. At one point, I actually felt sorry for an A.I. squadmate who screamed and writhed in pain after being torched by a flamethrower-wielding Helghast soldier.

Oh, and it’s taken three games, but the team at developer Guerrilla Games has finally provided players with the definitive Killzone multiplayer experience. While the action is largely the same as in Killzone 2, some notable additions improve upon the non-combat elements. Being able to just spend your earned points on gear is a big plus, as is the dialed-back class selection (Killzone 2’s spread felt a bit bloated). I’m also a big fan of the new Operations mode, which plays out almost like a large-scale, head-to-head co-op match, complete with cut-scenes. Between that and the still-entertaining Warzone mode, PS3 fans will find enough to keep them happy until the inevitable Killzone 4. Maybe that will be the game to finally make me fall in love with the series.


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