Guerrilla Games introduces the Killzone franchise onto the PlayStation 4 with the solid and beautiful Killzone: Shadow Fall. As the only AAA title Sony currently has on the PlayStation 4, Killzone: Shadow Fall delivers a first person shooter that stands strong, but not without its own share of problems keeping it from being an amazing game.
Killzone 3 ended with a bang. Literally. The planet Helghan is uninhabitable and the Helghast have to relocate to planet Vekta after being granted refuge by the ISA. The Helghast are given half of the planet to call their own, dubbed New Helghan, and a giant wall is constructed to prevent open conflict; which of course, doesn’t work. Several years pass, and here you are introduced to young Lucas Kellan who attempts to escape New Helghan with his father during the forced relocation of the Vektans. Events happen, and the story fast forwards 20 years where Lucas has become a Shadow Marshall under the man who helped him and his father. The main crux of the story revolves around an infection that can finish the war and wipe the Helghast off the face of the planet. The Helghast want to stop it, and the ISA wants to obtain it.
The story of Killzone: Shadow Fall suffers for multiple reasons. One, the voice acting is pretty awful. Paired with corny dialogue that feels ripped from the worst B-movie science fiction flick, the cutscenes between missions can’t end soon enough. The levels also make slogging through the story unbearable as some feature lengths of time doing no shooting, which goes against why most people purchase a first person shooter in the first place. As fun as finding batteries in a bland desolate ship is, I would much rather shoot some Helghast between their glowing eyes. But perhaps the most problematic is the feeling they try to invoke in the player. War is hell. Something a lot of movies and games try to show, and they do the same thing in Killzone: Shadow Fall. But in a game that tells you how bad it is more than it shows you, it doesn’t work. Even more frustrating, which isn’t just a Killzone: Shadow Fall issue, is the lack of choices on how to act to maximize the emotional impact. There are specific instances in the game where putting the story in the player’s hands could work, and would make the story that much more engaging. Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen and is relegated to in-game sequences that should be suspenseful, but instead fall flat.
But at least the terrible story is set in a gorgeous world. Whether it be the amount of focus put into the foliage of the forest level or how amazing the view is as you float towards a space station, nobody can deny the look of this game. It’s wonderful. Most people criticize the Killzone franchise for the use of browns and greys, and in places, it still exists. But there is much more color in this game than ever before. This is most evident in outside areas where the lighting is superb and the levels themselves are larger than before. This opens the possibility of multiple routes to progress during the game, but also highlights the weakness of inside hallway levels and how less interesting they feel when comparing missions. The one complaint I’d have with the look of the game is the people; the scenery is jaw dropping, but the people are ugly, especially when compared against the stunning backdrop.
Killzone: Shadow Fall also features the OWL, a robotic bodyguard of sorts that changes the gameplay depending on how you use it. OWL has four sets of abilities selectable with a swipe of the touchpad: becoming a deployable shield, attacking enemies, changing to a zipline, and electric bursts/shocks. Also, if adrenaline packs have been picked up, OWL can revive the player if they are down when prompted. Until that point, it will stake out your body and attack Helghast until that point. The use of zapping enemies doesn’t feel incredibly useful until the last few missions where enemies start tossing out shields or have them around themselves. The electric ability will short these out and expose them to attacks. The zipline is forgettable (I actually did forget about it at one point…) because there’s no real need for it outside a few instances. Using OWL to attack gives the player a breather or aids in trying to flank them from another position. And of course the shield is…well…a shield. But using OWL is great fun and when he isn’t present, you’ll miss him.
This is partly due to the AI. When they attack in numbers, look out. It doesn’t take a lot to put the player down, so being swamped by enemies can be overwhelming quickly. Holding the right button on the d-pad will send out a pulse to update your view with outlines of enemies through objects to make them more manageable. There are a few points in the story where you have to bog down defensively and hold off waves of enemies for a length of time, and this is not easy. But even though they can be crafty and sneak up behind you, there were moments early in the game where they were caught up on scenery like not knowing how to walk through an open door and trying to ghost it through the wall on the side of it. Or not being able to walk over a cord and staying in place. It made it easy to melee kill them, but those didn’t happen often.
As much fun as I had during the campaign, it isn’t perfect. The checkpoints are less than gracious in areas. In one point of the game, you have to wait for a gunship to arrive as you defend a scientist. You have little place to go and I died numerous times. When the gunship arrived, I tried running up to it and died almost immediately due to the number of enemies firing directly at me. Get revived, die immediately again. Instead of a checkpoint when the gunship arrives, I have to start the entire thing over again. Another checkpoint issue was at the very end of the game, again during a shootout. It saved at a point I was vulnerable and being shot at, so when it reloaded, I was in the same position. It forced me to quickly get my bearings of exactly where I was, try to find a place of safety, and get my footing again before trying to finish it up.
Another point of frustration is the marker indicating where to go. Pressing up on the d-pad causes a tiny circle, smaller than the aiming reticule, to show up on the screen. In dark areas, this isn’t so terrible other than it being so tiny. But in outdoor areas, where there is so much color on the screen, makes finding the indicator near impossible. Sometimes, a second marker will appear as there could be secondary objectives to complete. These are not mandatory, and when completed, I noticed nothing rewarding to come from them. I found myself not being really sure why they were there other than to give the player another place to go and pad out the length of the game just a tad longer.
There are also two points in the game where you witness a free fall section. The first is fine, nothing spectacular. The second however…infuriating. At this point you get to glide through a collapsing city with not-so-responsive controls which leads to repeatedly smashing into the side of a cliff or collapsing building. It looks amazing as it happens, it’s just not particularly fun. The same can be said about a scene in which you hop in a helicopter and have to blow a train off the tracks using a gatling gun. The rail gun sequence only lasts about 20 seconds, but it’s 20 seconds of gameplay I am tired of in first person shooters.
Remote play works well…enough. Aside from the lowered frame rate and shrunken screen, the button configuration is what stood out as the problem. The OWL abilities are mapped to the front screen swiping, but the back screen had four quadrants. One quadrant would throw grenades, one would send out and recall the OWL, one would melee, and double tapping the last quadrant would allow the user to run. Perhaps I didn’t find where I could change these at, but it made the game too unsatisfying compared to the regular controller. Combined with the shrunken screen and the difficulty it created in seeing Helghast, remote play is functional, but far from the method anyone would want to experience Killzone: Shadow Fall.
Multiplayer is where the game truly shines. Players have the chance to create their own Warzones, which are a series of game modes and maps that can be played all at once during one multiplayer session. It also allows you to select which weapons each class can use, the same with their abilities. Aside from creating maps from the ground up, it gives the creator a large number of factors to play with before throwing it out in the wild for other players to join. But if creating Warzones are not your thing, Killzone: Shadow Fall selects a few user created ones that can be chosen from along with ones the team themselves have set up on the main multiplayer screen. Upon entering a multiplayer match, players are able to select their loadouts from one of three classes: scout. support, and assault. The formula from other shooters works here as well, so scouts are sniper-oriented, support have the heavy artillery and ability to heal and lay down ammo, and assault has an even disposal of offense and defense like using a drone buddy.
The loadouts themselves are open from the get-go with little to unlock. There are some weapon attachments that are inaccessible, but can unlock the more weapons are used. Abilities are available, but can get stronger when completing challenges. This provides an extra incentive to play multiplayer as there are over 1000 challenges to complete, and it’s pretty fun to do as it usually involves blasting people in the face. It’s a different approach from the usual XP-centric multiplayer most shooters have, and it’s a welcome one as you never feel completely overpowered with weapons owned by those with high levels.
Once in an actual game, it runs splendidly. The game is quick without feeling cheap as the frame rate is high and the kills take effort. The weapons are satisfying to shoot and sneaking up on someone to deliver a fatal neck snap is joyous. There are a number of game modes available such as the normal team deathmatch and the Killzone equivalent of capture-the-flag called Beacon Theft. But the most interesting mode is called Paranoia in the Park where everyone plays as scouts. Here, everyone only has one life and one gun, and no radar to know when someone is coming in close. The pulse echo can be your saving grace, but not something to heavily rely on. This is where snipers go to test out their skills, and it’s a blast.
Killzone: Shadow Fall has its fair share of problems. The campaign’s lackluster story only carries it so far, and the beauty of the levels are offset by the moments of boredom one experiences between story set pieces and fire fights. It’s still good for the most part, but by the end, you’ll want it to be over. But for those wanting a shooter to pick up and play, there are worse ones to select. Killzone: Shadow Fall won’t blow you away, and it’s not a next-gen leap in terms of gameplay and scope. It does include a great multiplayer shooter with a hook that doesn’t impose or punish new learners. And with very little games coming the next few months, Killzone: Shadow Fall would be a great pick up for those who are even slightly interested.