This week, Zero Punctuation reviews British space Nazis and Killzone 3.
Pardon me for being detestably predictable, but I am now going to complain about how all the bad guys in Killzone are British, because someone should get pissed off about this and it might as well be me. I stood up for the Russians when I reviewed all those Cold War fantasist wank games, and I don't even know any Russians. I'm fine with that thing where the big villain is a posh British guy because let's face it, cooing at rainbows sounds evil when you do it in a posh British accent. It's only when you make all the evil soldiers Cockneys that you enter the prejudiced parade. Cockney doesn't sound evil, it sounds honest and cheeky chips lovable. You couldn't picture Dick van Dyke hiding in the bushes in a park popping children's balloons with a blowpipe.
You might say I'm making too much of a fuss, but someone on the dev team at some point said to themselves: "We have a race whose every individual member is so morally bankrupt that players will feel perfectly justified in splattering them painfully against the scenery. Now, how do we bring that across as a sort of vocal shorthand?" And the most bitter pill to swallow is that they look like Nazis. We helped defeat the Nazis! Maybe we won't next time, America. Maybe after China buys you and puts you all to work in the sweatshops and you crawl to Europe for help, we'll go: "Hmm, well, we would, but apparently we're evil, so hands tied."
All right, I think I'm okay now.
Killzone 3 is, stupidly, the fourth installment of the Killzone series, which documents the future space war between the heroic ISA - ooh, nice, changed one letter. Good to see you're learning subtlety at last - and the evil Helghast, a former colony who imperialistically invade planets, mistreat prisoners, and constantly make themselves out as the injured party. Project much?
You know, it's pretty clear to me why the Helghast have the edge in this war; it's because the ISA is the most badly run military organization since the 47th Light-Armoured Cat-Herding Brigade. Their attitude seems to be "do whatever the fuck you want and it'd peachy if that happened to roughly coincide with your orders but don't sweat it." I lost count of how many times characters blatantly defied orders and earned nothing worse than a stern look. That's how the entire plot kicks off, and no one seems to care. Towards the end, the impression I get is the main characters finally start following their immediate superior's orders not out of fear of court-martial but because they suspect they might be hurting the guy's feelings.
Anyway, let it never be said that I'm some ignorant loom-smashing Luddite, because I started playing Killzone 3 not only with the Playstation Move controls but also with the 3D option on my new massive 3D TV that I bought with all my ad-revenue money - much obliged, Internet.
The motion controls didn't last ten minutes. After calibrating - calibrating? Fuck, starting a game these days is like starting up a fucking cruise liner - the aim was wavery and difficult, I didn't know where they'd moved all the buttons to, and my big red glowing controller was reflecting in the screen and giving people hilarious clown noses. So after getting sniped silly for a while that went out the window, and I took up a nice, sensible SIXAXIS, which didn't stop the game throwing in motion-control turny switches whenever it could get away with it.
The 3D held out a bit longer. Yeah, things in the foreground were getting all prominent and shit, but everything from the middle distance on looked like a big, flat matte backdrop, like the game was taking place in a puppet theatre. After a while I turned it off, and suddenly I was astounded by the detail in a nearby wood texture now that I wasn't wearing those stupid glasses. Things ten feet away stopped popping in all the time and my dog came back to life, so fuck modern technology right in its cutting edge. Ow.
But even after switching to a proper heterosexual controller, my problems didn't end there. You know how most games assign the action of pulling the trigger on your gun to those big flappy trigger-like buttons down the front, for rather self-evident reasons? Killzone 3 wanted to be bolder than that and assigned it to R1, the shoulder button that I always think would be better suited to a game where you stand behind someone and tweak their nipples. Fortunately, this can be changed in the options, but what can't be changed is that the left trigger is for crouching and R3 is for aiming when usually it's the other way around, because R3 is kind of a temperamental bitch and you're gonna need to aim a hell of lot more than you need to crouch.
And on the subject of controls, there's a very strange issue with the melee attack in that it seems to have a delay. I swing my rifle butt at a wooden door and it doesn't actually break until half a second later. Either the physics programmer needed a few more slaps or my character's ineffectual flail with his rifle butt was so pathetic that the door felt kind of bad for him.
Getting back to crouching, perhaps the reason why it's been promoted to a shoulder button is because it pulls double-duty as the cover system. If you crouch by cover and the stars are aligned properly then your manly pecs will attach you to the cover like a pair of sink plungers, and you can start doing the "peek out and shoot" thing. Now, I appreciate that it's hard to be flexible when you're wearing more pouches than a kangaroo in cargo shorts, but maybe you wouldn't have so many bullet facial piercings if you did more than just bend your knees slightly when I ask you to crouch.
You see, if it's absolutely necessary that you be in first-person, and if it would also completely break your little heart to have to cut out the cover system as well, then you are going to run into the problem that a large percentage of the game will be spent with the screen filled by a close-up of the texture of the nearest chest-high wall. Killzone 3 attempts to get around this by having your character rest his chin on top of the cover like the juiciest coconut in the shy. I know that the interminable prevalence of cover-based shooting is a bugbear of mine, but it remains tolerable as long as it actually works. Relying on cover in this game is about as risk-free as working a sausage-slicing machine with your flies unzipped.
If you're so determined to enjoy yourself that you can get past all the above issues, it's a nondescript shooter broken up by the odd cocktease. They give you a jetpack at one point, which for me is like letting your dog guard the sausage-slicing machine while you're in hospital, but all it really does is make you jump twice as high and make you a slightly easier target. And then there's the bit where everyone jumps into a fighter ship for a bit of space combat, but it just turns out to be a rail-shooter section, and if you don't shoot down every target without fault while the driver practices his handbrake turns then you'll be doing these sections quite a few times, matey.
What strikes me as oddest about Killzone 3 is that a game with such embarrasing amounts of Sony cash behind it - designed to showcase all the fancy new technology that would bewitch the wallets of those overburdened with disposable income - should make so many rookie mistakes in the core gameplay. But then again, maybe that's exactly why. Maybe they couldn't see the crater where the woods used to be for the smoldering remains of the trees.
Entire fish supper on his shoulder: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
I guess the ISA works under the old Starfleet rule that if you disobey orders everyone's just kind of OK with it if things turn out alright
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