A phenomenal multiplayer shooter with a middle of the road-to-good campaign and snazzy graphics
I’ve always considered Killzone as an excellent fps series that sometimes doesn’t get the praise it deserves because of its often unrealistic expectations. 2004’s maiden entry in the series was a good PS2 game that many overlooked because of its myriad of technical issues and because of its pre-release billing by some as a “Halo-killer”. In 2009, Killzone 2 released to much scrutiny as its visuals didn’t match up to its now infamous E3 2006 trailer. Anybody who overlooked that PS3 game missed out on one of the finest, most visceral video games of the past generation, something that the adequate yet underwhelming Killzone 3 would continue. With Sony’s brand new PlayStation 4, Guerrilla Games has once again been tasked with developing a title with scary expectations. In the end, what we’re left with is a game that isn’t a reason to go through the trouble of finding a new console. That being said, Killzone: Shadow Fall is an exciting step forward for the series, as it’s one that greatly expands the series canon and looks absolutely incredible. Despite its generally lacklustre single player campaign, Shadow Fall is a multiplayer marvel on PlayStation 4 and it’s certainly one of the games that early adopters may want to take a look at.
Early in a console’s life cycle, the gaming world likes to search for games that contain that certain “next-gen-ness”. It always makes somebody feel good after spending upwards of seven hundred dollars on a new console and games, when their dad walks past their screen and says something along the lines of, “Holy shit”. I don’t think I’m any different, and it’s why I’m glad to report that no matter how much fun Killzone: Shadow Fall may or may not be, it’s absolutely one of the prettiest games on PlayStation 4. It runs at an astonishingly smooth frame rate for the most part, there are incredible details strewn throughout nearly all aspects of the beautiful and varied environments Guerrilla has crafted, and there are plenty of “next-gen” effects of the smoke and particle nature. It’s a very pretty game, and it’s a noticeable step above what we’ve previously seen on PlayStation 3. While it isn’t miles ahead of some of the late-cycle PS3 games that we’ve seen such as The Last of Us or Grand Theft Auto V, its general sharpness really helps it stand out. If you’re looking for a title to help you show off your new toy to your grandparents and peers, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better looking game to do so. It’s exciting when you consider that Shadow Fall is a launch title. It makes one wonder just what games on PS4, as well as Xbox One, may look like in as little as a year’s time. I typically don’t like approaching graphics first when talking about a game, but I think it’s much more important with launch titles.
Killzone: Shadow Fall picks up the Killzone story roughly three decades after the ending of Killzone 3, and it’s immediately a different beast in regards to storytelling. Guerrilla has decided to take the fantastic and somewhat original setting of their series and finally attempt to take advantage of its potential. Shadow Fall features some moderately successful performances from its voice actors, and the game’s writing and direction is generally quite nice. It’s a nice breath of fresh air for a first person shooter.
Rather than focusing on an all-out war, Shadow Fall takes a subtler approach to the conflict between Vekta and Helghan, as both races now live on the same planet, separated by a large wall that clearly evokes imagery of the Berlin Wall. The idea is that the two are now involved in a bit of a cold-war, and the game focuses on themes such as poverty, oppression, fear, terrorism, nationalism, culture, and violence, and at times it can be surprisingly heavy handed. I think that credit is certainly due to Guerrilla’s writers, because they’ve delivered a story that takes the franchise in exciting new directions and really opens up the potential of the setting that I’ve generally considered to be dark and creative. I think that the story is good enough to keep you interested throughout the game’s roughly ten hour campaign, and that’s a feat that has never been accomplished before within the series. It’s not only a tale that beats the stories of many other games of the same genre, but I believe that it is up to the general standards of the medium itself. That’s a compliment when you consider the developmental nature of videogames as a form of narrative entertainment.
While the game’s story is quite excellent and is reason to play through the campaign, the actual gameplay of the campaign itself can be relatively hit or miss. There are definitely elements that improve the series’ gameplay, and I suppose I should focus on those first. Since the two factions are not in an all-out war as they were in previous games, there is a bit more variety in regards to gameplay. It’s not always about being thrown into a battlefield and using all your ammo. Because you’re working more behind the scenes than in previous games, there is a bit larger of a focus on stealth, and for the most part, this works out. Using the PS4’s touch pad, players have access to an attack drone called the OWL, and it can be used for attacking enemies, but it can also be used for setting up shields for defensive strategies, or even creating a zipline to take advantage of some of the more vertical levels. There are more options in regards to defeating your enemies, and it’s definitely a welcome change of pace for the series.
However, these elements are sometimes underutilised and there are levels that feel like they devolve into simple corridor shooting. This is likely attributed to Guerrilla and Sony’s desire to meet the launch window with the delay of Driveclub, but it’s certainly disappointing that some of the levels of the game are decidedly underwhelming. That being said, the general gameplay is adequate. The controls on the new Dualshock 4 are quite responsive, and I found that the AI of enemies is typically pretty good. There are some parts where you’ll notice some inconsistencies in this regard, but for the most part they put up a good fight. It’s still Killzone, so it does little to set itself apart from other first person shooters, but I’ve always found it rare for any first person shooter to do so. Shadow Fall does what it does, and it tries to stand out while doing so.
Because of Guerrilla’s attempts to spice things up, there are some prolonged stretches of head-scratching gameplay involving… er, platforming. There are definitely prolonged sequences of platforming in Killzone: Shadow Fall and these sequences are absolutely infuriating. It doesn’t make any sense for a first person shooter that does its thing so well to try to mix things up by taking a gun out of your hands for such long periods of time. Similarly, and perhaps even more upsetting, are the parts of the campaign that have players doing menial puzzle solving. Ugh. And, the most confusing and lacklustre periods of the campaign come in the form of lengthy segments of free-falling and anti-gravity gameplay. The shorter parts that simply have you floating about aren’t too bad because they’re over in a flash, but there are some parts of the game that ask you to avoid falling buildings (confusingly as you fall sideways for about 6 minutes), or to shoot a variety of enemies in outer space. How are you breathing? Where are your rockets coming from? Where are these drones coming from? These are questions that are never answered. By the end of the longest of these segments, I actually said out loud, “Well, this is the worst game I’ve ever played. Thank fuck that’s over”. Of course, Shadow Fall is far from a bad game, but my new biggest fear is having to play Shadow Fall’s anti-gravity portions over and over for the rest of eternity.
By the end of the campaign, I had mixed feelings. I truly think that the excellent Killzone gameplay is still intact with some exciting new elements, and I think that the game’s story is equally as well-done. But there are so many inconsistencies regarding some of the game’s lulls that it makes it difficult for me to outright recommend that somebody spend hundreds of dollars on a new console to play through it. It’s ultimately one of the weaker campaigns in the series. It’s one that lacks exciting set pieces and contains far too many farfetched gameplay sequences that simply aren’t fun. That’s not good.
Thankfully, I also get to report on the game’s multiplayer, which I previously referred to as a marvel. This is no lie, and I think that the majority of time spent with Shadow Fall will be in the game’s excellent multiplayer modes. Very little has changed with the series formula. The main draw is still the Warzone mode, which strings together various game modes across one single match. It’s always felt like an exciting game of shooter tug of war, and Guerrilla has always been an excellent designer. Games typically feel balanced, and each of the game’s ten maps allow for a great mix of wide-open battles as well as claustrophobic one-on-one corridor shootouts.
One of the bravest changes made to the formula actually works out in the game’s favour. The entire experience has been cut down and streamlined. There are only three classes now, all of which complement each other greatly. The ever-changing nature of Warzone mode demands that players switch between classes regularly in order to ensure that they’re well-prepared for what each game mode calls for. Killzone Shadow Fall feels like a team effort online, which is something that few multiplayer shooters are able to accomplish. With that being said, the game also rewards personal greed/bravery, as going off on your own can often result in a couple of kills or captures in order to help secure a win for your team.
Another thing that sets this game apart online is the ability to create game modes and share them for others to play. I played in one match that gave players the ability to cloak themselves (almost full invisibility), and nothing but knives. It was an intense game of hide-and-seek and I think that it serves as a good showcase for what creativity can do for the online world of the game. Although I do wish that there were more variables, the options that are there are impressive. Because the game lacks a ranking system, it gets rid of a lot of the tension and fear regarding trying something experimental.
Most of the guns themselves are already unlocked from the start, and the game lacks a ranking system, which is a bold move by the developer. In its place is a challenge system that rewards players for completing certain tasks within multiplayer such as obtaining a number of headshots with a gun or winning a number of matches. In lieu of a rank, the number of challenges completed are shown alongside gamers’ PSN names. It’s a system that rewards skill rather than amount of time played, and while it can be discouraging at times, especially if you’re not particularly good at the game, in due time it’s a very good feeling to complete five or six challenges within one match. While the game might not have the legs of other multiplayer shooters, it’s a peculiar system, and it’s one that ensures that the game’s main draw isn’t to level up or unlock something new. The main draw for Killzone: Shadow Fall is that it’s fun to play, and that’s certainly a refreshing take.
While Killzone: Shadow Fall is not a reason to buy a PlayStation 4, as I believe its campaign doesn’t do enough to set it apart from other games of the same genre, its multiplayer is certainly top notch. If you do decide to buy Sony’s new console, and you’re into online shooters, Killzone: Shadow Fall is a great choice.