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Killzone: Shadow Fall Review

3
  • 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+
139 Comments
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Edited by l4wd0g

I feel like after reading the review(s), I feel like Sony selling that game early was really kind of scummy.

Posted by TPoppaPuff

Buyer beware! There are no southpaw controls at launch.

Posted by Tajasaurus

with a campaign like that they should have called it thrillzone am i right?

because of all of the thrills

Posted by Cold_Wolven

I really feel that Guerrilla Games should take their time in crafting a compelling campaign for the next Killzone game as this is a series I've enjoyed in the past.

Posted by Korwin

I get the sense that this game will see greater success once they split off the multi like KZ3 and put it up on PSN for cheap/free. KZ Multi was always very interesting to me but the less than ideal frame rate, sluggish controls and the DS3 kind of kept me away.

Edited by GS_Dan

That multiplayer sounds like just what I'm after, loved KZ2.

Thanks for the review Jeff.

Posted by Humanity

@sooty said:

@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.

I don't know if "tighter" is the right word I would use here. More "visceral" maybe, or "weighty" but tight it is not.

Posted by hughesie27

I swear this had 4 stars when I went to bed last night haha

Posted by Fistfulofmetal

Been playing this and man, yeah, the SP is pretty crumby.

Edited by TrashMustache

well if the game doesn't feature Rico, it has to be infinitely better than anything before it.

Posted by DoublePlusRad

I just finished the campaign yesterday, and while I don't disagree about the story, some of my favorite gameplay moments in the campaign were towards the end. The first mission with Echo (roughly 2/3rds of the way through) was probably my favorite in the game. I also really enjoyed the epilogue mission (although it is really short).

The level where you are gliding through the city as it collapses (with the terrible controls) was in my opinion the most graphically impressive thing in the game, and it's not a long sequence, so I didn't mind my 15 restarts all that much.

Overall though, the campaign is not the best thing I've ever played. I thought it was serviceable for a launch title, because it's not too bad and looks real pretty. It also does a good job of using the PS4 touchpad for drone commands in a way that seems reasonably natural. I wondered how games would actually use it.

Edited by Ghostiet

@hollitz said:

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.

Word. The Warzone model should be ripped off by more shooters. It's such a simple alteration, but it made every match an enjoyable tug of war.

Edited by Nasar7

That's too bad about the campaign but at least the multiplayer is still good; I just love the aesthetic, controls, and game modes.

Posted by Bholla71085

Great review Jeff.

I half expected this but it's still a little disappointing to read.

Posted by Yummylee
@ghostiet said:

@hollitz said:

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.

Word. The Warzone model should be ripped off by more shooters. It's such a simple alteration, but it made every match an enjoyable tug of war.

Its Uncharted 3 derivative, called 'Team Objective', was one of my favourite modes, too.

Posted by NeoUltima

I'm 3/4 through the campaign and I gotta agree it is pretty boring so far. And even when there is combat, the level design often gets in the way.

Edited by Luddite

Killzone has never been great it seems at telling a really strong story. It's a shame because technically the games are quite good, and there's a world with great potential there. But they've never had writing or plot strong enough to take advantage of the world. I'm surprised Sony hasn't stepped in at some point since Killzone is a first party franchise.

Posted by THRICE_604

I'm over half way through campaign and I've been enjoying it. Only really bad mission really so far has been the train mission just because of the confusing layout.

Posted by Rekt_Hed

well shit :/ looks like its time to cancel my pre order then (one advantage of getting a PS4 games in the UK is the early reviews from you guys). Will wait for the price to come down before checking it out.

Real shame they cant tidy up the animations and AI when the game does look real pretty

Edited by jsnyder82

Buyer beware! There are no southpaw controls at launch.

As someone who is as left-handed as left-handed can get, Southpaw Controls = Blecch.

Posted by DeadPanJazMan

It's totally cool if people wanna wait for good games before they buy their console but my opinion is I'd like to get in there and check out the eco-system of the PS4 and have some fun with things, if there was going to be a price drop in March I would totally wait but being as a price drop is unlikely for the forseeable future then I personally don't see the reason to wait.

Posted by Benmo316

Yes, Shadow Fall looks stunning. Yes, the campaign seems like a disappointed (I'm only on Chapter 3). On that note, I got really excited about the premise of Shadow Fall. Cold War scenarios always intrigue me. It's a shame the writer couldn't pull it off from what I've read in reviews. But then there's the multiplayer. For some reason I always get hooked into Killzone multiplayer and Shadow Fall is no different. Warzone matches are my favorite match type of any multiplayer shooter. Hopefully there will be enough people playing for the months to come.

Edited by Sooty

@npfeifer said:
@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.

No worse than Halo or Call of Duty.

Singularity and Wolfenstein were heaps better than most FPS campaigns, recognition given: not a lot.

Even BioShock Infinite was pretty shit, except the opening and end.

Posted by DedBeet

Feelin really good about selling my PS4 and making some cash right about now.

Right, since better games are not ever coming to the PS4.

Posted by Wolf3

I *liked* the story in 3 just fine, and really enjoyed the game. Was amazing how much better it looked than 2, given I assumed 2 maxed out the PS3...I mean everyone assumed it wouldn't look as good as the renders, and then it did, but you could see a little creakiness around the edges. 3 blew 2 away graphically, and IMO in story telling and gameplay too.

I've only played the first few minutes of Shadowfall (and haven't played, but own Mercenaries), but it's jaw droppingly good looking, I love the setup in that first area, and I'd be surprised if I don't enjoy this quite a lot.

ZERO interest in any deathmatch though. Can I pay $30 for my FPS and exclude it? :-D

Posted by freakin9

@dedbeet said:

@felixthenomad said:

Feelin really good about selling my PS4 and making some cash right about now.

Right, since better games are not ever coming to the PS4.

Then he can rebuy the console then. No need to get defensive about a guy making some quick cash now.

Posted by spraynardtatum

Some of the final levels were really poorly designed in this game. I didn't like running around with the capacitor things at all and I had one instance where I had to completely restart a level because a gravity shift thingy didn't trigger and I was stuck running around this tiny arena with no clue what I needed to do. I felt like, on the whole, it was too directionless and too linear at the same time. Some spots were pretty fantastic and fun though.

The multiplayer is everything I wanted it to be. I'm enjoying it a lot while I wait for BF4 to be a serviceable experience. That shotgun....and that kill sound......just wonderful.

Edited by chilipeppersman
Posted by i77ogical

Jeff has done a great job lately of giving in-depth reasoning for his dislikes, as well as finding positive things to say, even if it doesn't tip the scale of the review substantially. Enjoying his reviews.

Posted by Storms

I find it ironic to talk about the quality of the campaign mode in a shooter these days. Almost none of these pew-pew games have anything more than an awful story done badly. Exceptions are far and few between. If you subtract points from Killzone for the story, you ought to do so for Call of Duty and Battlefield as well. Nobody plays shooters for the story, the campaign isn't much more than a tutorial -- sometimes the devs make the poor choice to pour their heart and soul into a story, but it is completely wasted on the average FPS gamer who could not care less about immersing himself in an interesting world. It's all about mechanics and map packs, the fiction is inconsequential.

The time has come to end this farce. Let's just scrap the story modes from these online shooters. It's a waste of time and money for those who make the games. On the flip side, we can then remove tacked-on multiplayer junk from story-based games. Everybody wins.

Edited by SomeJerk

Been playing this since the Euro release (oh dear it was just yesterday), just about done with the SP.

1) The SP lacks graphical polish. Had the EA QA remote teams gone through this there would not have been a single pixel looking wrong ever. Maybe it's my experienced alpha/beta tester eyes but I notice a lot of stuff being so off that it should not happen.

2) The SP lacks polish in general. Was it rushed after all? Some things don't feel right, some things don't move right, scripting breaks, animations have a lot of terrible in them (try that chapter where the NPC walks down the stairs with you in Vekta city and watch), I've also experienced the terrible thing where I shoot an enemy before he gets flagged as vulnerable. And then there's the "wtf where do I go now" that not even holding up for a bit can help with. Shouldn't happen - especially to a braniac like me, unless I trip over my IQ-peener by tackling a problem in a far too complicated manner it should not happen.

3) I'm personally not feeling the multiplayer at all, while I appreciate the gunplay and feel, sound, graphics the feel is not there for me. Battlefield series? Fiiiine ass gunplay feel and sound and having vehicles which helps, but that's a tried and true style that's been around for over ten glorious years. Yes, BF1942 has a gunplay feel I prefer over this.

I'm going to sell for Knack and not regret it because I want to make Knack Souls my bitch while getting my multiplayer fix from the surprise-hit War Thunder PS4. Solid game in singleplayer and multiplayer, but worth time and money? Only if you want a graphical showcase that happens to be an actual exclusive FPS.

3/5 personal opinion.

Posted by csl316

There are portions of the campaign that are cool, but plenty that are straight up bad. It's been several years since I've traded in a game, but now that I'm done it's going toward AC IV.

My first Killzone game. Had 2 sitting there for a few years but now I'm wondering if I should even bother.

Edited by neonfisk

@sdoots: Damn straight! That multiplayer will keep me goin for months!

Posted by Se7enthKnight

I just picked this up and am now playing it. Haven't gotten into the single player yet. Even if its mediocre though, in my opinion this seems like the best multiplayer game out on PS4. Love the Warzones. However, it's my first Killzone, so those that played the previous two on PS3 are likely not as impressed - but the same could be said for COD or Battlefield.