There's a boss fight in Killzone 3 where you go up against something called the MAWLR. To be honest, we're not entirely sure what that acronym stands for--trying to decipher its name wasn't exactly our biggest priority while we were fighting the thing. We suppose that's just how the human brain functions when you're battling a giant robot-crab monster the size of a skyscraper.
You'll forgive us if we're a little fixated on this boss fight. The MAWLR battle was easily the highlight of a new demo Sony recently sent our way, a jaunt through the Helghast homeworld that takes place far away from the snowy Frozen Shores level that was demoed back at the Electronic Entertainment Expo. Instead, you're dropped into a dingy brown industrial wasteland where the sweeping winds and chaotic sounds of warfare create a thoroughly ominous atmosphere. It's very much a setting that is in keeping with Guerrilla Games' penchant for haggard beauty; it's not the sort of level you'd want to visit in a million years, but it still kind of makes you stare at it mouth agape.
The demo itself was a brief taste of on-foot and airborne combat. You start in a big shoot-out trying to push your way uphill against a cavalcade of Helghast, those signature enemies with the glowing red eyes and easily exploited weakness for getting stabbed in the eye (something you can take advantage of with the new "brutal melee system"). A little while later, you wind up in the trenches going up against Helghast soldiers outfitted with flamethrowers. The common theme in all of these areas is this: Take it slow, don't be a hero. Killzone 3 is not Call of Duty. You need to hide behind cover, pick off enemies from far away, and make sure you don't go charging headfirst into a cluster of enemies. Otherwise, you're toast.
Your arsenal along the way helps you adapt to a variety of situations. There's the standard-issue ISA assault rifle with the familiar green dot sight, which is an all-purpose gun that proves useful more often than not. For close-range warfare, there's also a three-barreled handgun that fires a trio of shells at once--a gun that packs a nasty punch. This one comes in handy in the trench areas, as does the shotgun with surprising effectiveness at range.
But then, all of that slow, measured pacing gets thrown out the window when you eventually come face-to-face with the MAWLR. You don't really know what to think at first--it's just sort of this towering thing that dominates the sky, which you could easily mistake for a building. Then, of course, it starts moving, billowing out smoke, and shooting rockets at you. And that's when you think to yourself, "Oh. So…I have to kill this thing?"
We won't spoil how to defeat the MAWLR, other than say that it's got the usual glowing orange weak spots you'd expect and that you'll need to take care of a few annoying Helghast who show up halfway through your encounter with it. But the scale of this thing is something else. It's a behemoth blocking out the sun, moving around with an ominous groaning and filling the sky with smoke as you wear it down.
Once you're done, you're whisked up into the sky on an ISA airship to man the turret gun. To describe this sequence in detail would spoil what happens after the boss battle, so we'll just say that it's a nice change of pace from all the on-foot combat that leads up to it. Guerrilla has said that it's trying hard to include more set piece battles in Killzone 3 to provide more variety and cinematic mayhem than its predecessor offered, and this seems to be one such good example. Plus, the turret never overheats, and that's just awesome.
Circling back to the start of the demo, you're given the option to play either solo or via split-screen co-op. This is, of course, a brand-new feature for Killzone 3. There weren't a whole lot of criticisms you could lob at its critically acclaimed predecessor, but one valid critique about Killzone 2 was that it seemed like a game perfectly suited for co-op play--what with the nearly constant presence of a squadmate or two throughout the campaign. Now, the sequel is taking advantage of that group mentality by letting you and a friend share the screen (you're each given a vertical slice of the screen on either side) and go through the entire story campaign as a pair. The game doesn't change much with co-op. There was a noticeable frame rate drop during the action-heavy scenes, but it was still very playable--and being able to share in the experience of taking down that MAWLR with a friend is an undeniably added bonus. So, in short, co-op is now an added option, but the entire feel of the campaign and structure of the game hasn't been overhauled or re-tooled for co-op. This isn't suddenly Army of Two--it's Killzone with the optional bonus of killing Helghast with a friend.
After this latest run-through of the Helghast homeworld, Killzone 3 still looks every bit the highly anticipated shooter we had it pegged as after E3. Now, we've just got a better picture of how some of the non-arctic environments will look, as well as how some of the bigger boss fights are going to shake out. Look for the final version to arrive in stores on February 22.