Killzone 3

Ol' red-eyes is back.

"This is a story of David versus Goliath, but this time Goliath has brought thousands of troops and a thermo-nuclear arsenal."

They're not messing about at Guerrilla, and MD Herman Hulst's confidence is infectious. Perhaps mindful of the hiccups which accompanied the build-up to the release of Killzone 2, the announcement presentation for the third game proper in the series is all about accountability, transparency and big, meaty, soundbites like the one above.

It's a predictably slick affair for a Sony-owned studio, but the affable Dutch executives doing the glad-handing are wary of repeating any PR mistakes. There are no bullshots here, no empty teaser trailers. This is hands-on gameplay and almost full-disclosure - and there are certainly some interesting announcements.

However, for all of the talk of radical changes and big new features, the opening sequence from the level we're shown looks remarkably familiar. Sev and Rico, the odd-couple survivors from Killzone 2's Alpha Squad, buzz into view aboard one of the ISA's health and safety shunning Intruders, the flying platforms which serve as their dropship analogues.

A column of these craft wings its way through an icy tempest, a rag-tag force of leftovers from the final events of the last game. The surroundings are bleak, with the trademark Killzone greys punctuated with the odd dash of bright colour. Snow billows about as the two soldiers check their battle rifles and spin-up the Intruder's mounted mini-guns. There are particle effects and graphical nuances in effect everywhere, from the spume of the crashing waves to the countless empty shells pouring from the miniguns. This game is big on spectacle.

Chatter sparks up on the comms - up ahead is a series of abandoned Helghast drilling rigs, aboard one of which the effortlessly charming Captain Narville is being held hostage. Well defended by Higs and protected by anti-aircraft batteries, these rigs are veritable fortresses - meaning that the head-on assault which you're presumably about to attempt is less than likely to go smoothly.

The rigs come into view. They're huge, and the sense of epic scale is magnified further by the weaving flight of the intruder some hundred metres distant. The cut-scene segues into first-person. Sev is at the controls of the Intruder's gun, raining down fire onto the rig below. Helghan soldiers scatter and take desperate cover as the insane rate of fire from the miniguns turns the exposed surfaces of the rig into a maelstrom of hot lead and swirling snow.

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It's all furry collars and cosy gloves in the demo level, but presumably new environments will see departures from the trademark Helghan style catalogue.

Suspiciously bright blue sections of pipe become apparent at structurally important areas of the rig, perfectly showcasing Killzone's use of a minimal palette to focus attention. A few brief bursts of fire shatter these fragile supports and the rig begins to detonate and crumble, folding into the icy seas below. The Intruder sweeps away, rocking under enemy fire - a Helghan dropship swerves into its path, raking the convoy of Intruders before being nailed by Sev and Rico's swingeing firepower.

This is all gameplay, not cut-scene, although scripted sequences weave seamlessly in and out. It's empowering stuff, this death from above malarkey, and a tangible essence of vengeance permeates the scene.

But trouble is never too far round the corner on Helghan, and a cresting iceberg reveals a further line of fortified defences rooted in the wildly tossing polar seas. Sat pretty atop one of these is an all-business anti-aircraft platform, spewing fractious canisters of flak into the oncoming ISA.

Intruders pirouette gracelessly from the sky, Sev and Rico's vehicle following suit amidst the panic. The sky spins, Intruders tumble, and the screen fades to white.

It's a telling end to the brief period of empowerment, and one which is presumably intended to illustrate one of the keywords of today's presentation: variety.

As you'll see in the interview with Guerrilla's lead producer published tomorrow, feedback from the series' vocal community has been a very important part of the development of Killzone 3. Guerrilla has taken on board a lot of the difficult and sometimes cutting responses from its audience, and made sure that the same criticisms cannot be levelled again.

Variation in gameplay is key. For example, my fears about the uniformity of the environments are quickly allayed. We're told that this is a game where you'll be "exploring terrific, truly alien jungles", running the gamut of challenges which Helghan has to offer instead of just reliving the destroyed urban environments which we've seen so far. The finale, we're informed, will take place in orbit above Helghan - in zero-G space.

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