An uninspired name for an uninspired shooter
With a new generation of consoles comes higher expectations. We want improved graphics, advanced artificial intelligence, and new, inventive gameplay mechanics. We want a better version of what came before.
Unfortunately, Killzone: Shadow Fall actually lags behind previous entries in the franchise. With only its graphical fidelity to boast of, this PS4 exclusive offers little else to the new console owner than a dull, frustrating shooter steeped in generic sci-fi writing.
Following the events of Killzone 3, the Helghast, previous occupants of the now-uninhabitable planet Helghan, have been relocated to Vekta where they have been given half of the planet to recolonize. A massive wall has been erected in the hopes of deterring hostilities between the two nations, still bitter about a war both sides claim the other started. This backstory – a nice setup for space genocide – manages to open the fumbling narrative as the game begins proper.
The first mission takes place in New Helghan with the forced deportation of Vektans to their “side”. The player takes on the role of Lucas Kellan, a young boy attempting to escape with his father. After meeting a Shadow Marshall (a highly trained Vektan soldier) named Sinclair during their escape, Lucas enlists, eventually becoming a Shadow Marshall himself.
The surprisingly well-crafted opening mission grants the player a taste of decent storytelling before Shadow Fall plunges into its confused, frustrating mess of a narrative. Offering little more than a reminder that the Helghast are the antagonists, the newly-promoted Commander Sinclair sends Lucas Kellan off on a quest for the good of Vekta: the elimination of the Helghast.
Shadow Fall toys with the idea of following orders against better judgment but never manages to say anything worthwhile about it. The increasingly aggressive Sinclair hounds Kellan about the evils of the Helghast all while slipping into the antagonist role himself. It is clear that the game wants the player to resent Sinclair but a frustrating and anticlimactic ending to the story renders this growing tension fruitless.
An objective emerges mid-story in locating “The Weapon”, a biological Helghast-killing device that is never really fleshed out. Sinclair wants to use it to destroy his sworn enemies and the Helghast want it to prevent said destruction. The Weapon serves only as a device to propel Kellan through the patchwork tale’s nine main missions.
Character development is laughable. Starting as a hero and quickly descending into a vengeful madman, Sinclair’s motivations are never explained. Kellan, one of few with an actual reason to hate the Helghast, becomes a mindless slave to his superior, eventually making decisions on his own only to further a different character’s agenda. The narrative might have been bumped up to mediocre status had the writers crafted even an inkling of motivation for the player to care about these characters, but with a name like Killzone, I suppose story expectations are low.
Shadow Fall features the gameplay we have come to expect from the franchise. Despite the character’s strangely low height, aiming and shooting is smooth with varying degrees of recoil per each weapon.
As far as weapons go, there are plenty to choose from. From rocket launchers to submachine guns that can be adjusted for sniping, Shadow Fall has a great variety, suitable for any situation.
Alongside Kellan’s large arsenal, he has access to an OWL – a flying robot with offensive, healing, hacking, and zipline abilities. Aside from reviving me when down, I didn’t utilize it for much aside from a distraction when swarmed by enemies. Like much of the game, it’s a solid idea with poor execution.
Shadow Fall tends to direct the player towards a stealth system that both works too well and completely fails, depending on the encounter. Oftentimes a sole guard will be standing watch, facing away from Kellan but suddenly aware I am right behind him, alerting others to my presence. Other times, I found myself assassinating entire squads from behind, not one becoming aware of my position. This problem stems from an issue present throughout the entirety of Shadow Fall – enemy AI.
I occasionally came across Helghast soldiers that were frozen in place regardless of what was happening around them. Other strange behaviours included enemies taking cover on the wrong side of debris or attempying to walk through walls. Thankfully, the majority of the Helghast seemed to grasp the “I” in AI and these problems weren’t overly frequent.
Enemy variation is a further problem. Standard soldiers, snipers, and only a few different robotic types left me unsatisfied in my dire quest to exterminate the Helghast. Later in the story, energy-shielded enemies make an appearance and they prove to be some of the least enjoyable baddies I have experienced in recent times. Able to withstand anything but a melee attack or energy weapon, they reek of the developer running out of ideas. Even a few more enemy types could help lessen the slog.
Despite my many criticisms, it is hard to deny how gorgeous this game is. Stepping out of the muddy browns and grays of previous entries, Shadow Fall features a colourful world to battle through. Even in darker environments, some fantastic lighting helps bring some new shades to a previously bland palette.
Of particular note are the character animations. Lip synching is well realized (despite silly dialogue) and facial movements accurately portray the emotions – however limited – of each actor.
Killzone: Shadow Fall features a fairly robust multiplayer suite, hearkening back to the days of Goldeneye with its Warzone feature.
Essentially, players can adjust parameters to include only specific weapons, objectives, maps, and abilities in their custom modes. For example, if a Warzone creator wanted to have a deathmatch with only pistols and grenades, it is easily accomplished.
I spent a good chunk of my time with multiplayer on the “Like a Boss” Warzone, created by Guerilla Games. A shotgun and pistol mode, players battle over what is basically a flag in the center of the map in a team king of the hill.
While there is great potential for Warzones, it lacks the charisma of a higher-tier shooter like Battlefield 4 or Call of Duty: Ghosts. It is a solid effort but ultimately marred by superior entries in the genre.
It is unfortunate that Shadow Fall is the game that it turned out to be. Intrigued by what appeared to be a more story-driven shooter with gorgeous visuals, I left the campaign feeling terribly disappointed. Between the rough AI, the poor narrative, and the very limited enemy types, it is hard to recommend this title even to those desperately seeking another game for their new consoles. For those after a “next-gen” shooter, there are better titles out there with much more to them. As much as I have enjoyed some of Guerilla Games’ previous work, this one is ultimately best left to the shadows.