The MAWLR is a five hundred feet high cluster of heaving pistons, roaring engine belts, Tesla coils and antennae, looming over the battlefield on four reverse-jointed legs, each as thick as a bridge support. Like most mechanisms of Helghan origin, it’s a technological feat of quite ostentatious crudeness – potent, but clumsy as hell.
Staring up at the wedge-shaped “head”, collared by smoke and lightning, we’re put bizarrely in mind of Disney’s The Lion King. Remember the bit when Simba has a vision of his dear old dad, Mufasa, glaring down at him from the stars? This is kind of like that, except rather than paternal advice and sonorous little homilies on the nature of Being, the MAWLR is dispensing mortar rounds, tangerine gouts of cannonfire, and searing purple blasts from its main gun.
The bunker we’re crouching in shudders and crumples under another bombardment, rockets perforating the roof. Our surroundings begin to bleach, red damage spatter creeping in at the corners. “Hakuna Matata” be damned. A change of scene is called for.
Clicking left stick, we sprint across to the next building in the row, relishing the newfound responsiveness of Killzone 3′s controls. Locked into a firing pattern, the MAWLR is unable to track its target. We rearm at a handy (and handily indestructible) ammo cache and cling to cover by the door frame, peeping round it at the beast as it vomits raw energy onto our erstwhile hideaway, reduced to load-bearing walls but still upright in the face of the odds.
As you may have deduced, life in the Interplanetary Strategic Alliance is no easier than it was at the beginning of last year, when jowly leading man Tomas “Sev” Sevchenko and his fellow bastions of humanity first plunged through the stratosphere of planet Helghan. Killzone 2 ended on a quietly hopeless note, with a dictator lying dead in his own throne room, his followers massing in the middle distance, and the ISA at large a fair few starships short of an exit strategy.
Now, the bloodshed has recommenced in earnest. Red-eyes seethe in their millions around the exhausted invaders, a resurgent imperial fleet patrols the airways. Cut off from their commanders, obliged to scavenge for ammo and equipment, the taskforce is fighting what increasingly resembles a doomed rearguard action, trying to thwart or, at the very least, stall a revenge attack on Mother Earth. The stakes have never been higher.
The same can’t be said of Killzone 3 as a product. 2009′s instalment had everything to prove: it was the sequel to one of history’s most infamous exercises in over-hype, hobbled by tactical marketing errors right out the gate. The game we’re playing now has no such legacy of bad blood to worry about: those heavy-handed pop-and-drop mechanics, raucous macho characterisations and chiselled, layered aesthetics have been proven under fire.
It may not outsell the likes of Black Ops on release – hard-boiled sci-fi lacks the commercial punch of contemporary war heroics – but it will doubtless sell enough to earn its keep, and shift another few million 3D TVs and Move controllers in the bargain. A dream scenario for many developers, this. Except…
Except when the tide turns in your favour it’s far too easy to lie back, creatively speaking, and let yourself be swept along. Killzone 3 is a technological terror indeed, a riotous, bubbling pool of unpronounceable coding techniques. What it isn’t, right now, is terribly involving or surprising.
There are too many old devices, too many returning conceits. Take that MAWLR, for instance. It may be big, it may be noisy, it may alter the very climate whenever it opens fire, but at the end of the day, it’s just another boss mech – and we all know what to do with boss mechs.
Sure enough, there are heat vents tucked away in the thicket of autogun emplacements, baleful white through the scope of a WASP cluster-missile launcher. We lock and unload with a tap of X, the homer leaving the barrel with a faint bump.
A blast cloud rips across the MAWLR’s temple, and its nose swings round irritably to disgorge a return salvo. We let it zero in, then scurry up some stairs to the third of the area’s bunkers and squat by the window, waiting for another vent to blossom on the machine’s side. We’ve got its number now. We’ve got it sussed.