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Killzone: Shadow Fall Review

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  • PS4

The campaign is a real drag, but Shadow Fall's multiplayer props up the package with its fun, configurable action.

It's a cold war turning hot, meaning stealthy hoods instead of jackboots and helmets.

If you're specifically looking for Killzone's unique brand of mixed-mode multiplayer, where the shooting seamlessly migrates from deathmatch to capture & hold to a series of other objectives without pausing or reloading the map, Killzone: Shadow Fall offers that with some interesting ideas that make it slightly more accessible and give it more options than its predecessor. It's a quality multiplayer shooter paired with a lackluster campaign that starts out with promise that it completely squanders by the time the credits roll.

Killzone 3 ended poorly, with a devastating blast that rocks the enemy planet of Helghan and elicited nothing but shrugs and a chuckle from this reviewer. Killzone: Shadow Fall on the PlayStation 4 flashes forward from that moment and attempts to make good on it with a premise that attempts to reframe the conflict between the fearsome Helghast and the people of planet Vekta. The campaign has some exciting early moments, but the middle starts to sag and the final chapters are straight-up bad. Along the way the game really tries to hammer home that old "war is hell" motif by showing you more of both sides than you've seen in previous games, hoping that you'll start to wonder who the bad guys really are in this ongoing conflict. It's more than a little ham-fisted in its delivery, though, with stock characterizations and a lot of corny dialogue. It has all the subtlety of flashing a title card that reads "WHO IS THE REAL MONSTER??????" every 30 minutes. On top of all that, the ending actually manages to be worse than Killzone 3's final moments.

The campaign starts strong, with a solid setup and an early mission or two that gives you the feeling that Shadow Fall is going to be more open than its predecessors, with more opportunities to use tactics and take alternate routes to reach your goals. But after that first mission or two, the mid-game is an empty husk, like the developers spent a ton of time making large, intricate areas for you to navigate, and then forgot to put anything interesting to shoot at in most of the levels. One mission largely consists of you running around a seemingly dormant research ship and moving large batteries around to power different doors, like you're some kind of intergalactic electrician. It's a dark ship full of boring busywork, the kind that people tend to play video games to get away from. It isn't even presented as a puzzle, because the items you need to open the doors are usually sitting right next to the empty sockets you need to fill up. It's all downhill from here, culminating in a set of final moments that are just straight-up bad, including one area where you're gliding, Pilotwings-style, through a collapsing city. It looks impressive, but the controls are rotten, resulting in many, many restarts. Once you safely memorize the level and land, you're allowed to play through the final areas, which pit you against large enemy robots that require more fussing around with power cells. Then there's the final slog, which does that thing where you're sent into large, arena-like rooms that fill with soldiers and don't offer enough checkpoints. These final bits are also good at showing off the game's questionable AI. I witnessed enemies that ran right past me to take cover against an item that wasn't blocking my line of fire at all, making dispatching them quite easy. Other enemies ran into low walls and kept running, unable to figure out how to mantle over and continue moving. Still others were just running back and forth across a hallway, as if they couldn't decide which way would be best.

Are the Helghast terrorists? Or freedom fighters? Does it matter?

It's all so frustrating to see because the campaign starts out with such promise. At the beginning of the game you're given a robot buddy called an OWL, and it gives you four secondary abilities that you can call upon over and over again. One sends the OWL out in drone form, where it hovers just overhead and shoots at enemy targets. That's probably the most useful. Another shocks and stuns enemies, but it's really only necessary when you're dealing with shielded enemies that only show up near the end of the game. One ability pops a translucent shield that you can fire through, and the last is a zipline that lets you traverse large areas--but most of these large areas are frontloaded, so as you continue, you have less reason to zip around from one place to the next. In a better game, these abilities would feel refreshing and mix things up nicely. Instead they just feel like another missed opportunity.

The multiplayer follows a lot of the popular concepts in persistent multiplayer shooter design, with loadouts that you can customize with different primary weapons, pistols, and abilities. Furthermore, all these items are broken out across three classes, so scouts get the sniper rifles and cloaking device, support guys lay down LMG fire and revive downed teammates, and assault takes standard rifles, speed boosts, and other middle-of-the-road abilities. Unlike most of those other multiplayer shooters, most of the options in Shadow Fall's class system are available right off the bat, with no unlocking required. The abilities will level up and become more effective as you use them, and weapon attachments like flashlights, laser sights, under-barrel shotguns, and scopes unlock as you use each of the weapons. But there aren't any experience points to earn and no levels to gain. Instead the game ranks you by the number of challenges you've completed, and there are well over a thousand, ranging from weapon- or ability-specific sets of tasks to things like being the MVP once on each of the game's maps. It's an interesting approach, but since there are still things to unlock, you'll still be working to fine-tune your loadouts to your liking as you play.

The competitive end of Killzone: Shadow Fall looks sharp and runs at a faster frame rate than the single-player, and it has that signature Killzone pacing to it that makes it feel different and more deliberate than the modern-military shooters that dominate the genre these days. The weapons are loud and satisfying to fire. The kills take just enough ammo to feel like you earned them. And you'll be able to focus on a lot more than just shooting people in the face. The way the warzones can be configured means you'll always have something slightly different to try. You can built your own server configuration by setting a map rotation, allowing or disallowing any of the specific weapons and abilities, forcing factions to play as specific classes, setting a number of respawns, allowing or disallowing bots, and so on. This means that if you want to limit the action to just beacon retrieval missions and search & destroy sections while ensuring that every player is using a pistol, you can. In fact, as of this writing, that mode is up and already available. The level of match customization helps keep things fresh since you can get out and find players playing in a variety of different ways.

Wait, did someone turn on friendly fire?

That level of customization can clash with the way player loadouts are built and saved, though. If you go into a warzone with restrictions on which equipment you can use, the game doesn't give you a separate set of appropriate loadouts or build new defaults that are tailored for the current ruleset, so the first time you join up you have to frantically create new combinations of items and save them to one of the four slots you get for each class. If you're only flipping between standard rules and a pistols-only warzone, this isn't a big deal. But if you start to jump around from one set of rules to another and create your own along the way, you'll find yourself constantly overwriting your slots. The game could be better about handling part of this process for you, but the level of choice you're given over creating a server and tweaking the rules is worth the bit of discomfort up-front.

Still images of Shadow Fall look outstanding, and it often looks great in motion, too. The environments are large and the lighting is technically proficient, if a little overused. The opening mission gives you a lot of volumetric lighting through the trees and a lot of the enemies have blinding flashlights mounted on their guns, giving the game plenty of opportunities to scream "hey, this hardware is powerful to handle all this now!" The light show settles down after a mission or two and gives you some good-looking dark areas, too. The environments are usually large, though the game doesn't give you a ton of reasons to explore unless you're into collecting audio logs and comic book pages. The multiplayer runs at a higher frame rate than the campaign, but the multiplayer also has an odd motion blur effect that makes the game look overly blurry. Also, on some maps the blur effect that kicks on when you start running takes a little too long to clear up when you stop moving, which is distracting and a little ugly.

There are plenty of robots and drones to deal with in both single- and multiplayer.

For me, Killzone's visuals have always lived and died by its design and animation. Even if that first game was pretty bad, the Helghast looked awesome, like fearsome future Nazis that you couldn't wait to gun down. At this point in the story, the need for thick, baseline troopers is a bit diminished, so you'll face more nimble-looking, cloaked Helghast. The game attempts to retain some of the signature looks of the enemy, with glowing eyes and black garb, with varying degrees of success on the different types of foes. The animation feels canned now that the rest of the visuals around them look so great, and there are plenty of moments in the campaign where you see an AI ally snap into a locked standing position to deliver a line of dialogue, then jerk out of that pose into a scripted walk over to a door, where they turn turn and snap back into a talking position to say something, and so on. Things like climbing ladders feels extra robotic, too. Plenty of other games have these sorts of issues, but it would have been nice to see some of those rough edges smoothed out on new hardware.

Killzone: Shadow Fall is a real mix of highs and lows, so where you come out on it will depend on your interests. If you don't care about campaigns in your first-person shooters, Killzone provides a solid alternative to the modern-military games that are all the rage these days. It's highly configurable and the developers claim to have multiple free updates in mind for future expansion. But if you want a story and like to shoot your way through a great campaign, Shadow Fall has too much downtime and too many frustrating moments to recommend.

At least Rico isn't in it.

Jeff Gerstmann on Google+
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Edited by Video_Game_King

@fobwashed:

Why are you expecting me to do it? I took that scan from somewhere else, as I'm sure the Chinese characters in the bottom right should indicate.

Posted by Fobwashed

@video_game_king: Just assuming with the sheer volume of pictures you upload, at some point there will be manuals in there somewhere

Posted by Hailinel

@dicksocrates said:

Erm... I hate to say it, but the PS4 is looking a little bereft right now. And the alternative is the Xbone which is made by Satan. If you're going to buy a console, the Wii U is looking surprisingly attractive all of a sudden and you'll have some money left to buy some games too.

I really don't know if I'd go that far. The only notable WiiU exclusive released in the YEAR since the console launched is a 10-15 hour Platinum game.

I'm sure this upcoming Mario game will add a second title to that 'list,' but calling that console an attractive purchase is pushing it.

I take it you're not a fan of Pikmin or Zelda? Don't like Monster Hunter at all? There's plenty of good exclusives for the console. The fact that you don't care for them personally does not negate that.

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Posted by MooseyMcMan

Well, given that I've already bought the game, and it's in the mail and on its way, I'm going to do the best to repress any similar thoughts I may have about the campaign and trick myself into really liking it.

Eh, whatever. At least the multi-player sounds good.

Moderator
Posted by Bill_Rizer

What console Halo game will Killzone: Shadowfall outsell?*

*This is an intelligence test.

Edited by ICantBeStopped

Well, given that I've already bought the game, and it's in the mail and on its way, I'm going to do the best to repress any similar thoughts I may have about the campaign and trick myself into really liking it.

Eh, whatever. At least the multi-player sounds good.

The campaign is pretty good.

Posted by reelife

@shaunage said:

Good thing there aren't any better multiplayer shooters on the PS4 at launch. Oh, wait.

Well, BF4 is like, broken and COD is still COD. So I will probably go with Killzone Shadowfall :3 Also because I can get 2 of those games on my PC but not the third.

Posted by Dallas_Raines
Posted by BawlZINmotion

It sounds like they spent too much time being technical with new hardware, while running out of resources to populate the game with new or meaningful content.I hope that ain't a sign of things to come.

Edited by PimblyCharles

Wow, I thought Jeff would give it a 2/5 with the way he talked about it the last few days. Personally, I have no interest in another bland shoot dudes and get lost game.

Posted by dezvous

The funny thing is I actually found that third level, the one in the ship where you're moving around the power cores, to be one of the most entertaining levels I've ever played. They developed a great sense of atmosphere, it was very Dead Space 2, and the combat was broken up with small bits of exploration in this desolate ISA Cruiser drifting near a star. I even enjoyed the little reactor puzzle. I loved sending my OWL ahead of me with his awesome dynamic lighting, he would drift through the empty halls of the ship casting shadows across every object, scouting what's up ahead.

Different strokes I guess haha. Haven't beaten the game yet though, so I'm curious to see if it all breaks down for me as well.

Posted by ICantBeStopped

@dezvous said:

The funny thing is I actually found that third level, the one in the ship where you're moving around the power cores, to be one of the most entertaining levels I've ever played. They developed a great sense of atmosphere, it was very Dead Space 2, and the combat was broken up with small bits of exploration in this desolate ISA Cruiser drifting near a star. I even enjoyed the little reactor puzzle. I loved sending my OWL ahead of me with his awesome dynamic lighting, he would drift through the empty halls of the ship casting shadows across every object, scouting what's up ahead.

Different strokes I guess haha. Haven't beaten the game yet though, so I'm curious to see if it all breaks down for me as well.

Same. I liked the campaign in general. Kind of hoped the game would get a four.

Posted by Spoonman671

@dezvous said:

The funny thing is I actually found that third level, the one in the ship where you're moving around the power cores, to be one of the most entertaining levels I've ever played. They developed a great sense of atmosphere, it was very Dead Space 2, and the combat was broken up with small bits of exploration in this desolate ISA Cruiser drifting near a star. I even enjoyed the little reactor puzzle. I loved sending my OWL ahead of me with his awesome dynamic lighting, he would drift through the empty halls of the ship casting shadows across every object, scouting what's up ahead.

Different strokes I guess haha. Haven't beaten the game yet though, so I'm curious to see if it all breaks down for me as well.

Same. I liked the campaign in general. Kind of hoped the game would get a four.

I liked that level, too. Still, I have to agree with the bulk of Jeff's review.

Edited by djou

@video_game_king: HA! LOL! "Timesplitters it ain't" --Jeff Gerstman, Giantbomb.com

Posted by zombie2011

I really can't think of a worse launch line up then the PS4, it had 2 exclusives that were both bad one was terrible. Before anyone mentions Resogun, people are not buying a next gen console for small downloadable games. The livestream that the guys did on Friday was a huge bummer, the interface looked bland and boring, nothing really special about it, then all the games were games I could get on my PS3 already.

Posted by mrcraggle

@mrcraggle said:

So KZ continues the trend of 2013 fps's by having a terrible campaign. Go figure.

Call of Juarez: Gunslinger came out in 2013 and it has one of the best shooter campaigns I've ever played. I really can't recommend this game highly enough, unfortunately it was a little overlooked because the previous CoJ game was so shitty.

Fuck, you're right. That game was great. Ok then, what I mean is shooters for October/November 2013 :P

Posted by Undeadpool

I'm sorry, are they SERIOUSLY trying to pull the whole "who's the REAL monster" trope when last game had a tutorial mission where you went through a Helghast shooting range where unarmed civilians were the targets???

Cause I got news for you: it's them. The guys training the soldiers to shoot surrendering enemies and unarmed civilians are the REAL monsters.

Edited by bybeach

I was looking forward to this, almost bought that launch system Amazon had up for a few hours. But nope, and as I suspected launch games hold true to form. I am going to have to wait for Ground Zeroes (odd title) for my quasi military experience.

At least the Shadow Fall MP sounds like fun for somebody.

Posted by stanleynipple

I think the biggest disappointment of the new generation for long-time gamers will be the utter lack of advancement in producing a challenging AI. I have always been drawn to an increasingly difficult enemy AI since the days of the original Quake mods which added "intelligent" bots and to see that the same level of enemy difficulty or cunning is basically unchanged in 15 years is pretty sad. Games will always get prettier but taking on a difficult enemy and winning is so much more rewarding; just look at the Dark Souls revival going on to see the evidence of that. Given the likelihood that this new generation of games will represent only a modest beautification without advancement in AI this new generation looks even less impressive than the last.

Edited by Draxyle

It kind of seems crazy to not just send a bunch of money around to smaller studios to make a bunch of Resogun-tier projects rather than waste massive budgets on single games that most certainly won't be ready for launches in this era (and will be promptly forgotten soon after release).

Posted by JJWeatherman

@dan_citi said:

... and for one of the controllers to work seamlessly on PC.

This is secretly the most exciting thing about this console launch.

Edited by tourgen

Well, it does look very pretty. Especially the city areas. I can't help but wish it was a Mass Effect style game in the Killzone setting.

The multiplayer is better than average too. I actually kind of like it and I generally dislike all online shooters (except Battlefield 1943 - get all dem stamps!)

Seems like a fair review though. Guess I'm not looking forward to the end of the campaign ... ah well.

Posted by ReTarDedFisHy

So glad this game has configurabilityness!

Edited by SSully

Hearing about the higher framerate makes me want to play the multiplayer but by the time a PS4 becomes something that has value to me, there will probably be something better to play anyways.

Even then I feel Battlefield 4 is better at multiplayer. I have had fun with Killzone so far. The single player has been good. The combat is fun, but the story bits are usually pretty laughable. I think I might be 2/3 though now and haven't seen the bad bits Jeff has talked about yet.

The multiplayer is fun, but I constantly have a nagging feeling that it was an after thought in the development process. Like the single player, the combat is fantastic. All the guns shoot great, and visually it is stunning but there is something about it that just doesn't click.

Battlefield 4 is a different story. I haven't be able to get into a 64 player conquest match yet and have had numerous disconnections, but when I get in a game it's always a blast.

Killzone seems like a visual show case that I will mess around with for a little longer. Battlefield on the other hand feels like a game that I can actually see myself playing for months to come.

Posted by Colourful_Hippie

@ssully: I didn't mention Battlefield 4 because I was talking from my point of view. I already have BF 4 on my PC which is pretty stunning to look at and and fantastic to sink time into.

@dan_citi said:

... and for one of the controllers to work seamlessly on PC.

This is secretly the most exciting thing about this console launch.

I hope the PS4 controller gets a good driver because I wouldn't mind having the option to use one or the other on PC

Posted by Mycroft_Ampersand

@tourgen said:

Well, it does look very pretty. Especially the city areas. I can't help but wish it was a Mass Effect style game in the Killzone setting.

The multiplayer is better than average too. I actually kind of like it and I generally dislike all online shooters (except Battlefield 1943 - get all dem stamps!)

Seems like a fair review though. Guess I'm not looking forward to the end of the campaign ... ah well.

A Mass Effect style game in the Killzone setting would be really interesting. Or if not that, then maybe a Metal Gear style game where you are sent in alone to Helghast territory on a spying/rescue mission.

Edited by RobertOrri

No chance to kill Rico? No sale, no sir.

Posted by devoidcheeks

I have enjoyed Killzone and the ps4, in general, from what I've played of both...I also have a pc that easily outperforms the "next-gen" consoles...but i wonder if it's harder to review a launch title b/c you are also reviewing a system at the same time. (Maybe i just love gadgets, either way it's quite interesting). I would recommend both the console and Killzone to those who have the hobby of gaming. Then again I am pushing 40 and this is the first time I've had a console on launch day, so maybe I'm just caught up in the hype.

Posted by Ministry4390

Best campaign of any Killzone still isn't saying much.

@sooty said:

Others saying it's the best campaign of the bunch. Crazy divide on this game.

Glad to hear MP is good though.

Posted by JJWeatherman

@jjweatherman said:

@dan_citi said:

... and for one of the controllers to work seamlessly on PC.

This is secretly the most exciting thing about this console launch.

I hope the PS4 controller gets a good driver because I wouldn't mind having the option to use one or the other on PC.

Yeah, totally. I'm more looking forward to buying an Xbox One controller since, for a variety of reasons, it seems most likely to become the next default PC controller. But if Sony can develop a good driver and perhaps even if developers start incorporating proper PlayStation button prompts into games when the DS4 is detected, then I'd definitely buy both just so I could change it up every now and again.

I just hope they'll both be capable of connecting wirelessly to PCs.

Edited by DonPixel

Nice review! good to hear the multi player is worth it

Edited by djhicks1

Pretty much, yeah.

Edited by randomfella21

Good review. Haven't been very much into multiplayer shooters for a minute but Killzone MP is getting me back into it. Super fun.

Posted by Sackmanjones

I actually really liked the derelict ship mission that Jeff mentioned. It was a really cool, spooky setting and some of the audio logs are actually really good and terrifying. Which by the way, sounded really good on the controller speaker

Posted by FesteringNeon

That's it. Cancel the world. Launch Gamez need to be 5 stars or we are doomed. The world is over... I give up forever.

Posted by abrasion

3/5 - Damn.. I spose that's not the end of the world, GB use the full spectrum of 1/5 thank god. (Do they ever give 0? I spose that would make 6 wouldn't it?)

I'll still play it, because I enjoyed 2 and dare I say, I even enjoyed 3. KZ is about a solid FPS gunplay experience with pretty graphics, story is generally weak regardless.

Edited by SuperSambo

I am willing to forgive average launch games, as I have no expectations. I mainly want to play Battlefield and Fifa with friends, Killzone will just be an added cherry. I may not want to eat it all, but ill be damned if it doesn't look pretty.

Edited by Starkeh

At least Rico isn't in it.

No better way to end a Killzone review. While the campaign sounds like a piece of typical crap, the MP sounds really fun. I'll definitely buy it for that. I just hope it drops price by March.

Posted by Andy_117
Posted by StingingVelvet

I've played far enough to do that ship mission with the energy cells and it didn't bother me anywhere near as much as Jeff, so hopefully I keep liking the game. It's not the best campaign ever by any means but it's pretty fun, and looks amazing, so... yeah I dunno.

Posted by Godlyawesomeguy

@mrcraggle said:

So KZ continues the trend of 2013 fps's by having a terrible campaign. Go figure.

Call of Juarez: Gunslinger came out in 2013 and it has one of the best shooter campaigns I've ever played. I really can't recommend this game highly enough, unfortunately it was a little overlooked because the previous CoJ game was so shitty.

Dude, Bound In Blood was loads of fun.

Posted by mrcraggle

@cptbedlam said:

@mrcraggle said:

So KZ continues the trend of 2013 fps's by having a terrible campaign. Go figure.

Call of Juarez: Gunslinger came out in 2013 and it has one of the best shooter campaigns I've ever played. I really can't recommend this game highly enough, unfortunately it was a little overlooked because the previous CoJ game was so shitty.

Dude, Bound In Blood was loads of fun.

He's talking about The Cartel.

Posted by devilgunman

I just finished KZ3 to be ready for SF and this game has worse ending than KZ3?? Oh, man I can't imagine how pissed off I will be when I finish the game.

Posted by debrislide

Jeff is such a buzzkill for games. Most of the time it seems like he does not like gaming at all. What the hell do you want from a game. I personally love killzone 2 and 3. They... are entertainment. I love the world. I appreciate reviewers wanting devs to up the bar. But Jeff you're such a downer. Brad should have reviewed this. I have yet to play it. I have to wait until I get home from a job out of town. But I'm certain It'll be better than the review.

Posted by ThankYouGiantBomb

@jeff Should "where they turn turn" be "where they turn"?

Posted by Floppypants

I finished it last night. Jeff's right, the campaign is awful. The Pilotwings-style gliding section that Jeff mentions is extremely bizarre. It feels completely out of place and takes dozens of attempts to finally brute force through. The game is full of moments like this where the developer must have thought it would be nice for a change of pace, but its execution is terrible.

Jeff didn't even mention the game's boss fight. Maybe he didn't have trouble with it, but I don't know if I could have beaten it without backtracking and finding a rocket launcher. It felt cheesy and unsatisfying to beat it that way, but I was so fed up with the game that I stopped caring.

and that ending. If you care enough to play the single player campaign through, be prepared for something shockingly bad. It's impressively terrible. I can't believe someone was paid to write the story for this game.

Edited by Sooty

@ministry4390 said:

Best campaign of any Killzone still isn't saying much.

@sooty said:

Others saying it's the best campaign of the bunch. Crazy divide on this game.

Glad to hear MP is good though.

Killzone is more enjoyable to play than most shooters, so there's that. Tighter gameplay than Halo and Call of Duty, but it's still just an FPS and none of them do anything special these days. Even BioShock was largely turned into a corridor shooter.

Posted by NPfeifer

@sooty said:

Others saying it's the best campaign of the bunch. Crazy divide on this game.

Glad to hear MP is good though.

Killzone campaigns are all terrible. Bar is super low for "greatness" here.

Edited by hollitz

Good to hear the multiplayer is still fun at least.

Killzone 2 is one of the two competitive online shooters that I've ever had any fun with.

Posted by mpgeist

I didn't have any trouble with the gliding part, I only died 2 or 3 times. If you use the pitch controls it makes it a lot easier. I just stayed at the the top of the screen and it was a lot easier.

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