When it comes to enemies in shooter sequels bigger isn't always better, but it's usually the answer everyone offers. Halo went for the Scarab, Gears gave us a giant worm even Call of Duty had a Soviet rocket. So to discover Killzone 3 has a massive four-legged robot pocked with artillery and shouldering a huge laser cannon is no surprise and you'll be amazed to learn it's up to you to step into the Hoxton fin of Sgt. Tomas Sevchenko, and sort it out before it destroys what remains of your ISA invasion force.
After the ice-locked ships and glacier environments shown earlier this year, the latest campaign level we get to play in single-player and surprisingly sturdy split-screen offers a more familiar backdrop. Sev, Rico and company are still on Helghan and we pick them up trying to access a space elevator before remaining Helghast forces can use it to launch a surprise counterattack on the ISA homeworld. It's all brown trenches, rubble and metal walkways, and the overhanging skybox is a fetching shade of nuclear beige.
Said stompy robot stands in our way, but there is some debate about how to deal with it. Rico is very keen on riding up to it on Intruders Killzone's memorable aerial transport ships and smashing its face in, but boring old Captain Narville is anxious to preserve the body of the small ISA force by pulling back and coming up with a better plan. While you run around trenches shooting snorkel-wearing red-eyed assault troopers and flamethrower enemies in the face, Rico and Narville bicker with one another using highly charged clichιs like, "Don't you ever questions my orders on an open channel."
This gives us a chance to pay attention to the moment to moment gunplay. Killzone 2 had a certain heft to it partly because of its deliberately cumbersome cover system and partly because of the famously awful controller lag but Killzone 3 is a considerable improvement without losing any of that distinctiveness. You still grip the left trigger to crouch or seclude yourself in cover, then pop out with the left stick and fire (using iron sights as well if you like) but control is more immediate and precise. If you found the last game a slog, you may want to take another look now your gun actually fires bullets out of it on the same day you press the button.
There's no more deviation from the path than there was last time out, but this is no bad thing like Call of Duty, Killzone was always good at organising spectacle around you while you trundled up a camouflaged valley of angry men and carnage. Helghast with flamethrowers toast your squad mates, dropships zoom around overhead, and all the while the giant robot a MAWLR, apparently is flapping around audibly charging up its main cannon and using it to scorch the scenery around you and your friends.
There's lots of movement from the enemy and as you down Helghast and your tanks push up a hill or ISA troops swarm past you to take up advanced positions, there's a convincing sense that you're pushing the opposing force back rather than simply scrambling between trigger points, as was sometimes the case with the last game. (Narville and Rico are still arguing, by the way Rico is so cross he's asked fur-coat-wearing token sexpot Jammer to stay on the second Intruder just in case.)
New features like the melee kills fit in very snugly. Should you find yourself face to face with one of the Helghast you're simply prompted to hit L1 or clutch madly for it, depending on your level of panic and in response Sev will coolly grab the other guy's head and loudly break his neck, or similar.
Whether close up or off in the distance, Killzone 3 is also an even better-looking game than its celebrated predecessor. There is a cartoonier edge to the visuals, especially character models, and the almost kaleidoscopic impact of Guerrilla Games' various visual filters continues to saturate even the greyest gun metal with flashes of unexpected colour. Facial animation is a bit dodgy in places, but animation overall is excellent and nobody else does smoke and explosions quite like this either.
It's still a very silly game, of course, which is why, as Narville and Rico come to blows over this debate about how to handle the stompy robot, Sev gets fed up with both of them and hatches a brilliant videogame plan: flank it! "That's even worse than his idea," says Rico, before the game sends you off to do it with no apparent sense of self-awareness.
Fortunately, the MAWLR exposes its delicate cooling vents after firing its main cannon, and they happen to glow red, so while Rico and Jammer doss about off-screen baiting it into firing, you run around a trio of bunkers with a WASP rocket launcher which fires multiple rockets that swarm the target waiting for it to expose is vulnerable bits. "It's working! Whatever you did, do it again!" someone shouts as your locked-on rockets advance the scenario.
The MAWLR's a stubborn old goat too, refusing to lie down once its cooling apparatus is destroyed, provoking you to mount an Intruder and zoom around in an on-rails minigun sequence, taking out dozens of small cannons that pop up on cue as you circle dramatically. Eventually it stops coming back for more and crashes to the ground, but not before its death throes manage to leave the fates of a few of the game's principal characters in doubt. Will they all live to argue about military protocol another day?
You'll have to wait until February to find out. Another hour of gameplay still leaves us with lots of questions to answer (like where is Sev getting all this hair gel?) but while the campaign appears to be offering few real surprises at this stage, it's doing so in spectacular fashion. Thanks to a few nips and tucks this is now a very playable blockbuster first-person shooter as well as a rather dashing one.