The next-generation of gaming has commenced with the release of the PS4. Probably the most hyped and touted game from Sony is Killzone: Shadow Fall. Sony has attempted multiple times to make the Killzone franchise its hit shooter franchise, but it has failed to stick. With the dawn of a new era for PlayStation, is Killzone: Shadow Fall the perfect launch title to suck gamers in, or should shooter fans flock to Call of Duty or Battlefield?
Killzone: Shadow Fall feels like a reboot. The game takes place 30 years after the events of Killzone 3 and follows a cast of brand new characters with only one character from the original trilogy returning. Similarities to World War II have been shed for more of a Cold War feeling and all-out war is replaced with espionage.
The world of Killzone: Shadow Fall is very different from previous titles. Feeling guilty for the annihilation of Helghan, the Vektan military negotiates a truce with their surviving military. They agree to split the planet in half and separate it by a huge wall. On one side live the Vektans with their shiny skyscrapers and on the other side are the Helghast with their dirty sewers. Here you play as Lucas Kellan who, after witnessing a traumatic event in his youth, is drafted into the elite Shadow Marshal program by his mentor Sinclair. His primary objective is to ensure Vektan safety by leading covert missions into Helghast territory and collecting intel. Along the way he discovers a terrible truth that could destroy either the Vektans or Helghast.
It’s quite a compelling set-up that never truly realizes its true potential. As you play through the campaign it becomes quite clear that Guerrilla wants you to feel for the Helghast, but then the Helghast do something completely terrible to make you hate them. In the end you can’t really feel for either of the sides because they’re both absolutely terrible.
The new cast of characters are a welcome change. While it is disappointing we never find out what happened to Sev, Rico or Captain Narville, the change in cast was the right decision. Guerrilla Games has done a fine job with its characters with only one or two being complete stereotypes. Special praise has to be heaped on Lucas Kellan who is not a silent protagonist and whose lines are just stereotypical soldier mumbo jumbo. Treyarch is the only other studio you see try and create first-person protagonists with personalities, but theirs never feel quite like real people.
Guerrilla Games took this idea of a reboot farther with their game design. Killzone: Shadow Fall is comprised of ten single player missions of varying length. Some are pretty short and others are quite long. You’ll be spending 6-8 hours in the campaign on the default difficulty, but there’s plenty more to do. Previous titles embraced World War II-Era fighting with lots of trenches and digging-in and ended up being very linear. Shadow Fall goes in the complete opposite direction. Most environments throughout the game are very open to accommodate whatever play style you prefer. For example, one level puts you in this huge forest and gives you some objective markers. You can be stealthy and pick enemies off one-by-one, or you can go in guns-blazing and kill them all off before they hit the alarm.
This kind of freedom is very enticing to try and play the game again as there are special trophies given for completing each mission a certain way. There are also audio logs, dossiers, newspapers and other collectible goodies to find. Basically, if you really like the campaign, there are plenty of reasons to return to it.
Not everything is perfect with the game’s design. The first few missions are extremely boring and will test your patience. Shadow Fall takes too long setting things up and it’ll be a good 15-30 minutes before you truly actually get to play the game. This would be fine if it was building some emotional connection, which it does try, but that connection is broken once it zooms through time.
It can also be quite hard figuring out where to go. Typically it is very easy figuring out a way to navigate through the level, but the problem occurs when you have a certain objective and aren’t quite sure where it is. Tapping up on the D-Pad brings up the objective marker as a small orange circle, but lot of the lighting is yellow, orange or red, making it difficult to see the objective marker. Past games used a bright blue arrow for objectives and that worked fine. I’m not sure why that didn’t carry over.
There’s also a strong sense of trial-and-error when it comes to certain missions. You’ll be asked to defend certain areas multiple times throughout the game and if you don’t have the right weapons or place the right traps down, then you’re going to die — a lot. This also bodes true for some of the free-falling sections. They’re terrible at telling you exactly where you need to go thus causing plenty of deaths. I love a good challenge, but sometimes this can be downright punishing.
What Guerrilla Games did nail is the gameplay. Killzone: Shadow Fall makes full use of the DualShock 4 and it feels great. Controls are similar to all first-person shooter games, except for the new triggers. Aiming and Shooting have been moved from L1/R1 to L2/R2 as the Dualshock 4 has some awesome triggers. Those improved analog sticks also feel good and offer great precision. In fact, Guerrilla Games was so confident in their precision that they did not include auto-aim in the game. It turns out they were right as I was easily pulling off headshots.
The new features of the gamepad are also utilized. You’re given a robotic partner named OWL, who has four different modes – Gunner, Stun, Rappel or Shield – with switching between the modes assigned to the Trackpad. Swipe up for gunner, right to Rappel, left for Stun and down for Shield. It’s a great way to use the new hardware and is super responsive. Also new to the Dualshock 4 is the Light Bar, which displays how much health you have left in single player. Bright green means you are at full health with slowly fading to red as you take damage. Bright red means that you are dead. It’s a neat little idea that doesn’t really change gameplay, but is still cool to have. A pity that this isn’t included in multiplayer.
Speaking of multiplayer, Call of Duty and Battlefield better watch out as they have some serious competition here. Killzone: Shadow Fall features intensely satisfying multiplayer that has the ability to hook you in and never let go. Here you’re not just a camera that can zip around the battlefield and fire a gun, but instead a living person who moves around heavily and must make every move tactically. Running-and-gunning won’t get you anywhere here. Obviously, this isn’t for everyone, but you’ll learn to love it if you stick with it.
Killzone: Shadow Fall’s multiplayer sheds the likes of experience in favor of letting players build the class they want. All twenty-four weapons are unlocked right out of the gate. Using a gun and completing challenges with it unlocks brand new attachments and abilities.
There are three core classes to play with: Assault, Support and Recon. They function as you would expect. The Assault Class focuses on killing enemies and has abilities like a speed boost, Support is all about helping the team and can revive allies and put down spawn points and the Recon class is all about getting the lay of the land and figuring where enemies are on the map. Each class has between four to five different primary weapons to choose from and three sidearms. Every team will need to find a good balance of all three in order to succeed. Having everyone choose the same class is a good way to lose a match.
This is all wrapped up in Warzones, which make their glorious return after being downplayed in Killzone 3. Typical Warzone cycles through five different game modes with various objectives. You have to work as a team in order to win and it can be downright frustrating if your team is doing terrible or if your team is doing too well. Finding two well-balanced teams that are constantly in a stage of tug-of-war makes this multiplayer extremely satisfying. The idea of freedom of choice is represented well here. While you have the standard Warzones set up by Guerrilla, you also have the ability to create your own. Want to play pure Team Deathmatch? No problem. Want to set it up to where one team can only use mini-guns and the other team just knives? You can do that. There are so many different options to tweak that you can create the perfect Warzone for you. Plus, if it gets popular, Guerrilla will feature it alongside their pre-made Warzones.
Killzone: Shadow Fall is an absolutely gorgeous game. Guerrilla Games knows how good their game looks and consistently show you, packing every scene to the brim with all sorts of detail not possible in the previous generation. Close-up shots on faces are extremely detailed showcasing all wrinkles and emotional details. Everything runs smooth at a solid framerate and no technical hiccups when in-play. Seeing sun rays stream from the trees and cast realistic shadows is simply breathtaking. Even the dirty sewers of new Helghan have a certain beauty to them.Suffice it to say, if you want a game to showcase how powerful the PS4 is, then look no further than Shadow Fall.
Killzone: Shadow Fall is not a perfect game. It has design flaws and the story is lacking, but it’s a whole lot of fun and a great showcase for what the PS4 can do. Guerrilla Games has improved their craft with rewarding gameplay and freedom that was lacking from previous games. Add to that deep and addicting multiplayer and you have one of the best launch titles on the platform.
Platform: PlayStation 4