If you want to make sure an audience doesn't feel too badly about witnessing the deaths of enemy soldiers, the easiest thing to do is make those soldiers Nazis. Of course, casting historical villains in the far-future fragfests that are the Killzone (Sony Computer Entertainment; Classification: M) games wasn't really an option for Netherlands-based developer Guerrilla Games. Instead, they created a compelling Nazi analogue in the form of the fearsomely named Helghast, a society of racist, masked, war-mongering planetary colonists who rally under a vaguely swastika-like banner and are out to annihilate humanity.
I found these unsympathetic adversaries easy to loathe through the better part of two adventures. But I eventually got to thinking that an entire planet couldn't possibly be so evil and one-dimensional. There must be a few moral dissenters at least worthy of mercy, if not pity.
And at the outset of Killzone 3, which cleverly begins with players inhabiting the boots of an enemy soldier, I thought we might actually get to know a humane Helghast. Sadly, this grunt turns out to be a good guy in disguise. What's more, we aren't presented a single sympathetic Helghast throughout the game. In the end, the third and perhaps final entry in this visceral first-person shooter franchise is simply a standard behind-enemy-lines escapade about a group of battered and beleaguered heroes trying to survive.
That survival is far from guaranteed.
Like its predecessors, Killzone 3 is a gritty, bloody assault on the senses. Missions tend toward tense, cacophonous, head-on attacks. One operation late in the game has players fighting multiple cadres of elite enemy troops under the moving carapace of a stadium-sized walking tank with a massive gun that sounds like 100 blaring tubas during discharge. It's quite something.
But it also feels like more of the same.
We've been provided new toys - like a mini-gun-equipped jet pack and a frightfully powerful energy weapon that turns targets into gory mists of green and red - and online multiplayer now offers a much more rewarding experience thanks to a progressive career and earned weapons and gear, but these upgrades aren't enough to dispel the notion that we're in very familiar territory.
Things may feel fresher if you happen to own a 3-D television and can take advantage of the game's support for stereoscopic play, which adds a novel sense of depth. Player immersion can be ramped up even further if you use Sony's new Sharp Shooter, a large machine-gun-shaped peripheral manufactured to resemble one of the game's rifles and designed to work in conjunction with the motion-sensing PlayStation Move controller. Adapting to this weapon, which I found handicapped my speed and accuracy, takes a while, but it's an undeniable blast to wield.
Clearly, there's some mature fun to be had in Killzone 3. It's just a little too mindless to be completely satisfying. It's not until the game's final, devastating scene - which I won't ruin except to say it reminds us that space Nazis have families, too - that the consequences of war are truly realized and we can consider feeling compassion for our enemy. Alas, the power of this moment simply highlights that the rest of the game lacks any real emotion.
Special to The Globe and Mail