For anyone who found the relentless march of Killzone 2 to be one-note drudgery, this sudden burst of attention-deficit gameplay ideas may well prove enticing. Certainly, there's not much to complain about where the mechanics are concerned. Guerilla is squeezing the PS3 for all its worth and, a couple of frame rate wobbles and NPC quirks aside, everything looks as gorgeous as a war-ravaged toxic planet can realistically be.
Control feels slightly lighter than in the previous game, but it still mercifully resists the lure of run-and-gun bombast. Each enemy encounter requires patience and tactics to get past. The duck-and-slide cover system remains in place, perhaps a little too sticky now for the faster-paced gameplay, but still handy.
More useful is an extra weapon slot, accessed on the d-pad, which now lets you carry a heavy weapon along with your rifle of choice and a pistol. This opens up room for chain guns, rocket launchers and the ever-popular exploding bolt gun to play a more active part.
Also added is the ability for your NPC partner to revive you. In Killzone 2, you could bring them back from a downed state, but they never returned the favour. Now they do. Well, sometimes as welcome as this is, it's implemented in a haphazard way. With some tough checkpoints and a level of ferocity that means you can easily be killed in less than a second, even on normal difficulty, the uncertainty over your chances of reincarnation leads to frustration in some of the later sections. There's nothing to compare to the headbanging futility of the final battle from Killzone 2, but certain sections may still leave furious teethmarks in your Dual Shock.
It's just a shame that the single-player story doesn't trust the intense mano-e-mano confrontations to carry the game. There's a sense of blockbuster creep, where simply having well-matched soldiers face off with each other in an engaging open environment is apparently insufficient to thrill jaded shooter fans. If Killzone 2 echoed the everyman grit of Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan, Killzone 3 frequently feels more like Michael Bay's Pearl Harbor.
The two-man hero team of Sevchenko and Rico help to hold the sprawling tale together, aided by some impressive mo-cap and better-than-average voice performances. However, they're rather overshadowed by the double whammy of theatrical ham supplied by Ray Winstone and Malcolm McDowell as power-hungry Helghan officers vying to take over from the deceased Visari.
Winstone's Stalin-esque Orlock, Admiral of the Helghan space fleet, barks, glowers and snarls like an East End cabbie with a wasp in his underpants. By contrast, McDowell channels Nazi plotters like Goering for his role as Stahl, the head of Helghan weapons development with a sideline in smug psychological wargames and oily betrayal. Both actors know precisely how far over the top they need to go, and the cut-scenes where they clash (most of them) are a real treat.
So it's a shame that, rather than following its own muse, it's now possible to spot where Killzone has drawn obvious inspiration from the likes of Call of Duty, Halo and Gears of War. By slurping up concepts from these rival shooter franchises, Killzone 3 easily ticks all the boxes that modern shooter fans expect without ever really putting its own stamp on the over-familiar elements.