I'm not a massive fan of JLS, but I can appreciate why people might like them. All the melodies are in the right place. A lot of money has clearly been spent rounding up the most successful songwriters and video directors. They do a lovely harmony. Hell, one of them can even do backflips. But they don't really speak to me in any meaningful way. They're just another shiny boy band churned out by the X Factor / Simon Cowell production machine. There'll be another one along soon.
Why this fascinating insight into music I don't like? I'll tell you. It's because Killzone 3 is the JLS of videogames. It's got possibly the best graphics I've ever seen. There's a weight and heft to the shooting that's incredibly satisfying. It's got enough presentational sheen to drown an army of Helghast. Yet, just like JLS, it leaves me a little cold.
Perhaps it's because it doesn't bring anything new to an overcrowded genre. Perhaps it's because despite having squillions of dollars chucked at it the story is utter gubbins. Or perhaps it's because the FPS genre has reached terminal mass. Killzone 3 is a game that makes me suspect it might be time to leave straight-up shooters alone for a while.
I'll do my best to cover the story for you. Killzone 3 kicks off pretty much straight after the conclusion of its predecessor. Except it doesn't. There's some pointless narrative to-ing and fro-ing to negotiate first, an attempt to shoehorn in the requisite training level where you're taught how to point a reticule at a target and pull a trigger. 'Cos you need reminding, obviously.
But pretty quickly you're back in charge of Tomas Sevchenko and, after a quick reconciliation with that giant idiot Rico Velasquez you're off on the tail of the nasty Combine-esque chaps again, as some silly political machinations go on at Helghast HQ between principle bad guy Jorhan Stahl (Malcom McDowell) and Admiral Orlock (Ray Winstone).
It's bonkers, the story. Just utter pap. Despite a seemingly endless flow of development resources, the story can't have been much more than an afterthought. Rather than keeping things simple and focused, it's all over the shop, a mere conduit to push you from shooty bit to shooty bit. Of course, most FPS storylines are similarly weak. If we're honest, most videogame storylines are awful full stop. But should we just accept it and move on? I don't think so. We should expect more, especially from flag bearers like this.
Yet it would be completely ridiculous to claim the game is all bad. It's not. Indeed in many ways it's remarkable. The nuts and bolts of the experience are nigh on perfect.
Take the combat. Everything feels and sounds incredibly weighty. An act as simple as pulling the trigger on an assault rifle is a chunky, tactile experience. It's been perfected to such a degree that you'll be driven to pop round after round in Helghast heads just because it feels nice.
This is accentuated by some great weaponry. Your side-piece, the pistol-shotgun, remains a wonderfully nasty little brute. There's a missile launcher later on that unleashes a twirly volley of fire that reigns down wherever you command. There's a Half-Life 2-ish nail gun too, except this one explodes after you fire it. The list goes on. Each weapon is more satisfying than the last.
Getting up close and personal for melee attacks offers an impressive range of results too, with animations switching up between straight up stabbing, neck slicing and full-on thumbs in the sockets eye-gauging.
So yeah, all that stuff is good, playing out within levels designed to gently shove you along a disguised corridor before opening out into a wider battlefield for the more spectacular bits.
But somehow it fails to connect. The pacing doesn't help. Despite the game jumping from all-out shooty bits, to sniper sections, vehicle sections and stealth sections, it feels a little one note. There is a relentless, desensitizing bombast to the whole affair that actually undoes most of the drama of the action. Shouty men shout, noisy guns crack and explodey things explode in a constant cacophony of noise. It never stops.
There's also a by the numbers feel to the sections I mentioned. It's as if the FPS genre has been scientifically broken down into its constituent parts and rebuilt in what the developers feel is the ultimate configuration. It just forgets to bring any new ideas of its own.
The result is over-familiarity. Olympic trained grenade throwers that can flush you out of cover regardless of your location? Check. On rails vehicle section where you blast swirling transporters full of baddies? Check. Stealth section with your partner constantly whispering in your ear, telling you what to do? Check. Defend your location from waves of aggressors? Check. It has all been done before.
Such is the soulless shine of Killzone 3 that it actually highlights an old problem with videogame reviews. The history of game reviews encourages you to look at a title like a laptop. You break it down to its constituent parts (in this case graphics, sound, presentation etc) assess it and offer up a total. But that doesn't work here (it arguably doesn't work on any game, but let's move on).
Approached from that perspective Killzone 3 is at least a 90%. In the area of visuals alone you'd be hard pressed not to award it top marks, for graphical grunt if not artistic design. But games aren't laptops, or cameras, or toasters. They're a cultural product and cultural products should be judged on how much they move you. And this is where Killzone 3 falls flat. It's a great example of an experience we've all had, many, many times. It's JLS, basically. And as much as I enjoy those nicely choreographed dance routines, they're not really for me. Unfortunately, neither is Killzone 3.
(Please note: The multiplayer servers went up the day that this review was completed. As such, we are unable to provide a review of the multiplayer aspect of Killzone 3 at this time.)