Killzone 3

Killzone 3 is the first chapter in Sony’s shooter series to arrive without the weight of outrageous expectations. Cast as neither a Halo-killer nor the PS3’s killer app, this sequel must only capture the hearts and minds of audiences well-attuned to the rhythms of Call Of Duty. Turns out, its best tactic is “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”

Killzone 2 could be punishing. It had weight, grit, and desperation. Now, under the COD template, narrative uncertainty has been replaced with relentless forward momentum and a sense of foregone conclusions. The story is a mess of stock characters and haphazard scene-jumping that begins with a fakeout, then skips back six months to directly link to Killzone 2. After an initial hour trapped in the devastated enemy capital, Killzone 3 throws out colorful locations (jungle, space ships, ice floes) and gameplay tricks (stealth, jetpacks, bizarre ninja enemies) with abandon.

Railed segments are more plentiful and allow indiscriminate shooting with little personal danger. They seem designed only as graphics showcases. When a game looks this good, it should show off once in a while. But looks only go so far, especially when a game is only inching forward from the standard of “really bloody gorgeous” to “really really bloody gorgeous.”

Here, Killzone’s game pace has quickened, and the controls are less restrictive. (Use your PlayStation Move wand if you like, but a traditional controller still works best.) Survival is easier, as heavy weapons can be constantly carried, and you’ll run even while lugging massive machine guns. Message received: Guerrilla Games heard complaints about Killzone 2’s drab brown palette and relentless campaign slog, and designed an ADD about-face. (It also added half-assed offline-only co-op and fad-chasing 3D presentation.) The sheer amount of stuff is impressive, but the fast pace doesn’t offer time to really explore the world and master the new tech.

On the upside, Operations mode ports a few of the campaign’s big moments into excellent multiplayer, while the new guerilla-warfare mode offers frantic objective-based team deathmatch. The visuals shine in massive maps, and the character-class progression is more layered, offering new abilities for dedicated players. In multiplayer, the lighter controls seem more appropriate. There, the only disappointment is that Guerrilla didn’t shave off the offline co-op in favor of offering many more maps to let the new toys and graphics tricks shine.