Genre: First Person Shooter / Platforms: PlayStation 4
Developer: Guerilla Games / Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Platform Played: PlayStation 4.
I’ve spent a long time with Killzone Shadow Fall and if I have to come straight out and say it, I will. This game surprised me. Guerilla surprised me. And the game may just surprise you too. If you take the time to appreciate it.
As a first party first person shooter for a new system, Killzone Shadow Fall is Sony’s flagship game with the launch of the PlayStation 4. First unveiled in February this year, the game has gathered much attention and the pressure is on. You’ll notice right off the bat just how absolutely beautiful the game is both in graphics and performance. The detailing on enemy soldiers still has me in awe after having the game for a while and all the while the framerate holds up both in single and multiplayer. It’s a brilliant example of what we can look forward to with this new console.
It’s been a long two and a half years since 2011’s Killzone 3 so it’ll feel good for fans of the the series to jump right back into the war of attrition between the imperialist, idealist and oppressive Helghast and the apparently “good” ISA we were first introduced to in 2004. However, if you’ve played Killzone 3 then you’ll notice the changes to the game immediately, most notably the setting. Set thirty years after the events of Killzone 3, Killzone Shadow Fall takes place on a divided Vekta, the homeworld of the ISA. And when I say Vekta is divided, I mean that quite literally thanks to a massive wall erected to separate the Helghast and the ISA after the former’s home planet of Helghan was destroyed at the end of the last game.
Living in a setting meant to evoke feelings of the Berlin wall which separated West and East Germany from 1961-1989, the Helghast and the ISA now form a tense existence living side by side. The two nations are not at war but then again, peace isn’t exactly the desired state of mind here.
You take on the role of Shadow Marshall Lucas Kellan, a sort of one man SAS commando team whose job it is to undertake clandestine for the Vektan Security Agency headed by Sinclair (no relation), a man who loves his country so much there is nothing he wouldn’t do to preserve its wellbeing. Throughout the game you’ll meet some characters who at first come off as extremely generic and one dimensional but as I said in the opening of this review, there are surprises. Perhaps the biggest surprise with many of these characters is just how deep their personalities actually go. For instance, Kellan will encounter a Helghast agent named Echo along the way who, unlike the rest of the Helghast military/government, doesn’t want a war and isn’t interested in building a strong nation. For the first time in a Killzone game we actually encounter a member of the opposite side who isn’t hell bent on killing you or your allies. It’s nice for a change to see a more human side to the Helghast.
If you’ve played any Killzone game before, Shadow Fall is going to feel like an entirely different game to what you’re used to. This time the game shifts the focus from being in the middle of a hot war and instead a cold war with a greater emphasis on stealth and tactics. You’ll find yourself alone many times in Shadow Fall and it will teach you to abandon the guns blazing approach you probably used in Killzone 3. In Shadow Fall you’ll last a lot longer if you plan around your enemies rather than shooting first and hoping for the best. To do this, you as the player are equipped with several weapons and gadgets that are going to make your life a lot easier. Well, not a lot but we’ll get to that later.
As a Shadow Marshall, you have the highest tech at your disposal. One example is the “Echo” which allows you to be able to see through walls for a limited time to plan your attack. However, holding down the echo button for too long will give off a shrill shriek which will alert enemies. Perhaps the most prevelant and useful gadget is your OWL drone which supports you in combat. Using the PS4’s touchpad on the controller you can set the drone to one of its four modes, attack, EMP blast, shield or zipline, the latter of which comes handy when you’re up high and want to move to ground level quickly and safely. The drone as a gameplay mechanic is intuitive in its execution as it’s controlled via the PS4’s trackpad. It could have easily been mapped to the D-pad but it works well enough that it doesn’t feel like a gimmick. The drone also works really well in combat, particularly when using it as a shield which allows you a reprieve in battle as well a temporarily safe point from which you can pick off enemies.
Gameplay this time around is a lot less heavy than previous Killzone titles. Your character no longer moves as if he’s wearing a pear of concrete trousers but instead it feels more akin to Far Cry 3, especially with the newfound sense of verticality to the game. Enemies are also no longer marching bullet sponges. If you knew where to hit them in past KZ games, you could down them pretty quickly but the Helghast now actually cease to live if you shoot ten rounds into their chest like in the real world. Whilst they’re easier to kill, the Helghast are a bit more intelligent bar a few AI glitches. Though they know you’re alone, they’re not going to simply rush you because you’re one man. They’ll flank you as well as lay down fire to suppress your movements. It’s not the best example of AI in a game, but it presents a challenge to the player. It’s surprising how much gameplay has evolved for the better in Killzone Shadow Fall.
Where Killzone Shadow Fall dips in quality however is the story. The story itself is just not all that enthralling and to be quite frank, it’s almost the same as Killzone Mercenary’s which is greatly disappointing given Guerilla’s efforts with Killzone 2’s great story and Killzone 3’s impactful ending. At times it feels as if you’re going from point A to B with little real reason and other times, the high stakes nature of the story fails to really make you sweat. If you’re facing open war, you should be worried about it.
Killzone Shadow Fall’s characters save the story with their performances. The acting from Homeland’s David Harewood as Sinclair and Jamie Grey Hyder from True Blood as Echo are but a few of the cast that make the story worth finishing. Even if you don’t feel the threat, they at least do and it’s gripping to see what lengths some of the characters will go to fulfil their goals. Of them have motives you can relate to one way or the other. The problem is however, you have to think about these characters for a while to get them. Not all of them instantly come off as understandable so if you could be in danger of playing the entire game without really noticing their plights and that potentially makes Killzone really quite forgettable on this front.
It’s dangerously close to being generic when it really isn’t.
Whatever you feel from the end of the campaign, you’re going to have a lot of fun in the multiplayer. It gives you a really good reason to stick around after the credits role and it’s even a contender up against other multiplayer heavyweights like Call of Duty and Battlefield which are out right now as well.
What you’ll notice right off the bat is how accessible Killzone’s multiplayer is and this is due to the game not having a levelling system seen in other multiplayer titles. Instead, you’re given all of the weapons and loadouts from the start. While this may seem like it’ll make the game too easy at first, it’s how you play that counts. Having a heavy machine from the start doesn’t guarantee that you’ll win, it could be the other player coming up behind you with a pistol instead that could prove to be more combat efficient. Proficiency is the key here and you’ll do well to test out your different classes and loadouts.
Playing the game will give you unlockables in a traditional fashion but these are things like different scopes, new sidearms and attachments to your weapons. Again, no single weapon promises success but if you use one the right way, you’re sure to succeed. As said before, Killzone abandons a classic progression system through perseverance in favour of a skillful player and it’s all the better for it. In the current climate it feels like a breathe of fresh air to actually have to think about what you’re doing instead of roaming a map for hours to level up just by playing over time.
Skill is not only found on the battlefield however. Killzone Shadow Fall allows for players to create their own custom game modes which can really take a new spin on how this game is played. One such example was a multiplayer match where knives and pistols are the only weapons allowed on the field. There are many possibilities to be had here so it gives you the incentive to return.
As someone who isn’t a huge multiplayer gamer, I find the multiplayer to be just right. It’s accessible to newer players but at the same time to accommodates for veterans who use their skill to their advantage.
I said at the beginning of this review that Killzone Shadow Fall surprised me. Hopefully by reading this review, it has surprised you too. For the most part, they’re good surprises. The characters at first come off as 2D and plain but the more you play the game and the more you think about them, the more you’ll grow to understand them. They’re not all meant to be liked, some are even downright detestable but not without good reason. However, you’ll really have to sit down and think to fully appreciate just what good characters they are which is a shame as it should be realised by the player from the beginning just how good they are. They’re cliches most of them but they work. It’s just a shame it takes a while.
The multiplayer is something I’ll actively go back and play. I always give multiplayer a fair shot on any game I review but Shadow Fall, you guessed it, surprised me with how in depth it is in its approach to the way we play the game and how it accommodates for players of all kinds.
The story takes the game down a few notches, more than it deserves. If you played through Killzone Mercenary’s story, you’re going to disappointed with what is basically a retread of the Vita exclusive. Guerilla has good writers which leads me to question why they went with such a generic story. It affects the tone of the game. Killzone Shadow Fall is more of a thriller than an action game, or at least it should be given the setting. In a thriller you’re meant to feel suspense, not familiarity and boredom.
Overall, if you have PS4, you should buy Killzone Shadow Fall if you haven’t already. Whilst it doesn’t hit the heights of past games such as Killzone 2, it breaks new interesting ground for the series and paints an exciting picture for where the series can go next.
. Relatable and sympathetic characters.
. Fun, challenging gameplay.
. Refreshing and thoughtful multiplayer.
. An all too familiar story.
. The characters need some warming to.
. An underwhelming central theme.