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Guerrilla Games unfurls its PlayStation Move and split-screen co-op support for Killzone 3 amid a 280-metre high 'MAWLR'...
A 280-metre high mobile artillery unit that's shaped like a flea... this is what faced us in the latest preview build of Killzone 3. And it's not just us who think that the 'MAWLR' looks like a flea - Guerrilla Games' Managing Director, Herman Hulst has already gone on record to say that the MAWLR's design was influenced by this bubonic plague spreading insect. As mortar spewing, gun turret laden behemoths go, then, it's a pretty daunting one. During our play through of the build, this towering walker took centre-stage as one of the most visually impressive bosses we've seen in a videogame for quite some time. Regardless of how much it strained the Cell processor's many cores, smashing Killzone 3's dynamically destructible environments (significantly improved from KZ2, we might add) to smithereens with wave after wave of artillery strikes, the game's frame rate stayed silky smooth and refused to waiver.
It's yet another showcase for the power of the PS3's impressive architecture; something that Killzone 2 already proved in abundance back in 2009. This was never a query for us with Guerrilla Games' last attempt - our main concern was always the design, which lacked novelty at times and seemed to be happier ticking the boxes of a generic FPS rather than constructing ingenious moments that stayed with you after the campaign was finished. It's too early to tell whether this remains the case with Killzone 3. The MAWLR battle in Sony's latest code lasted no longer than 45 minutes (the preview build then promptly ended), so we're reluctant to draw any conclusions on overall gameplay design at this stage. What we can say, though, is that KZ3's visual splendour does bleed into the overall gameplay satisfyingly well - it's a visual spectacle that's quite something to behold and this isn't lost through any grating gameplay dynamics as far as we've seen.
At least, that was the case until we fired up our PlayStation Move controllers. This is the first time we've gone hands on with a Move-enabled build of KZ3 and we've got to say that there's a lot of scope for improvement between now and the end of February. Too often it played like the graveyard of FPS titles on Nintendo's Wii platform, with all 'look' movement grafted to the aiming reticule so that the only way of moving your perspective about is by pointing to the edge of the screen. While the sub-controller handled forward, backward, and strafing well enough, it's the critical panning movements determined by the 'wand' that really suffer here. Spending crucial moments aligning your view so that you can get a good shot on an enemy is the last thing you want to be worrying about in an FPS - the quick-fire gameplay dynamic of move-and-shoot is not one to be interrupted lightly and this is precisely what Move appears to do with Killzone 3.
To put it simply, Move seems to hamper movement in KZ3 (ironically enough) more than it enhances aiming, leaving the whole process fairly redundant from the outset. In fairness, this is not a problem that's exclusive to Guerrilla and Killzone - on the contrary in fact, it's a problem that affects pretty much all FPS titles that take on a motion controller (excepting on-rails shooters). On the positive side of things, Guerrilla has grafted gestural commands to actions like reloading and melee attacks pretty well. A swift twist of the controller inserts a new mag, while swipes instigate Killzone 3's redesigned melee attacks - close range melee hits result in a gory, close-quarters kill animation, while jabs from slightly further away will disorient the Helghast, leaving them defenceless to point-blank gunfire. Beyond this though, there doesn't seem to be much appeal for Killzone 3's hardcore contingent to pick up a Move controller and we're going to make a prediction that the vast majority of players will stick to traditional gamepad controls when the KZ3 launches in February.
A brief glimpse of the jet-pack gameplay that will be premiering in this third Killzone instalment was encouraging though. Having downed the MAWLR (which took quite a few attempts as the beast of a machine simply would not go down lightly), Guerrilla treated us to a gun-fight featuring a couple of jet-pack wearing Helghast that had a testing tendency to fly about like wasps, always just in the periphery of your vision but never still for long enough that you can swat them down (and yes, they do pack a mighty sting). When the full game rolls around, players will be able to don a jet-pack as Sergeant Sevchenko and take the Helghast on at their own game. It's certainly a tantalising prospect that promises to add something fresh to the overall gameplay, so hopefully Guerrilla will use this opportunity to craft some memorable set-pieces.
Also playable in the build was KZ3's recently revealed split-screen option and, from a limited play-test, the feature seems to be well integrated. As we've come to expect of the studio, Guerrilla appears to have mastered the technical side of things by utilising split-screen without sacrificing too much graphical detail for each player. Basic co-op features, such as reviving a downed partner, also play-out through the mode but, as you might expect, Move compatibility isn't supported in the split-screen and that's probably for the best really - if the game plays awkwardly with Move in single-player, then split-screen would effectively double that level of awkwardness.
Killzone 3 is shaping up to be a tidy prospect for February 2011. The game's Move integration may well be a major question mark over this latest build, but then the game is a hardcore shooter and we hadn't envisaged FPS fans ditching their control pads any time soon anyway. What'll no doubt interest KZ3 nuts more is that this latest instalment appears to be pushing the PS3 hardware in new directions this time around - any game that can leverage something as impressive as the MAWLR is due some credit.