It's come to this. As if mandatory system updates and routine software patches weren't enough, console games now support so much peripheral hardware that folks with different set-ups might as well not be playing the same game. Killzone 3 is the flagship of Sony's efforts to push 3D TVs (preferably a Sony!). It also urges players to pick up the PlayStation Move, the PS3's answer to the Wii remote. This is the future, folks — the very expensive future.
So, full disclosure: I played Killzone 3 in the pauper's way, without a three-dimensional display or Move support. If you play it while wearing cataract sunglasses and holding a light-up ice-cream cone, Killzone 3 may well be a revolution. But with a gamepad and a 2D display (in high definition for me, at least — pity the standard-def owner), it is much, much more of the same. In Killzone's case, that's bad and good.
Bad, because it's hard to imagine a more joyless, self-serious shooter. In cutscenes, a council of warlords based on real-life tyrants like Hitler and Stalin scheme to destroy humanity while we're treated to detailed close-ups of their craggy faces, bristly moustaches, and gaping nostrils. Even more unpleasant: a new melee system ensures brutal up-close kills in which your character slits throats, breaks necks, and gouges eyeballs. (Wonder what that looks like in 3D!) The campaign is a slog through waves of opponents whose body armor can absorb dozens of bullets while still allowing them to move swiftly enough that targeting with your analog stick feels like a cruel joke.
The game's default control set-up is baffling on its own — it's as if the designers had consulted standard schemes for first-person shooters as a guide for what not to do. Aiming down your sights is performed with the right stick, not the left trigger, and it's on a toggle, which means that you don't return to your default field of vision after firing. Then there are the legendary sniper-rifle controls, which require three hands to master. Maybe playing with the Move would help.
Still, Killzone games boast a heft that other shooters lack — a deliberately slow pace and a powerful weapon feedback make you feel as though you were controlling a Mack truck, not a human being. When you defeat an enemy, even a basic one, you feel you've earned it. The campaign is a little more varied this time around, with more vehicle sequences and stealth missions that aren't totally incompetent. And, in a stunning reversal for the series, some of the levels even include pops of color. I thought I must be hallucinating the first time I saw that.
Multi-player modes continue the tradition established in the previous entry of switching game types on the fly without dropping players back into a lobby. This is such an efficient way to handle public games, it's a wonder more developers aren't following Killzone's lead. Glacially slow player progression also remains, and though I admire the game's insistence that players earn their perks in multi-player mode, it's also a little frustrating to feel that so much is walled off. But I suppose if you're willing to drop three grand on a 3D display, you'd be wasting your money if you didn't spend the next three months of your life trying to get a sniper rifle.