For a long time, Sony has been pushing the Killzone series as flagship software for the PlayStation. I’d consider myself a good means to measure how successfully they’ve achieved this. As someone who plays PlayStation consoles primarily, due mainly to the software catalogue, Killzone has never appealed to me. Having only ever played snippets of Killzone 2, I recently decided to play through the trilogy on the PlayStation 3, if only in preparation for Shadow Fall, as well as Mercenary on the Vita. I wasn’t at all surprised with the series. For the most part, I found the games to be bland and generic. However, the third game took a turn towards appealing to me, with more colourful landscapes, and just a pinch of gameplay diversity. This got me interested. Would Shadow Fall be reflective of the previous games with a new sheen provided by the PS4, or would it be another step in the direction of Killzone 3, branching out from generic shooter gameplay and environments?
With Killzone Shadow Fall being heavily marketed as the supreme first party PS4 launch title of choice, it’s clear that PlayStation still aren’t willing to let this franchise be anything less than a huge series for them. And thus, with a new system that subsequently broke console sales records, and with millions of “next-generation” gamers on board, this game is Sony’s chance to entice a new audience. Shadow Fall could define Killzone to an abundance of new players who are completely unfamiliar with the previous titles. This was a significant opportunity for growth!
Due to the explosive events at the end of Killzone 3, the Helghast were desperately in need of a new home. Thus, after years of being at war with each other on separate planets, an uneasy truce is made wherein Planet Vekta is split in half by a wall, separating the native Vektans from their long term enemy. The Helghast are given their piece of Vekta in the name of New Helghan as half of the population is forced to evacuate their side of the planet. Essentially, the player will take control of Lucas Kellan, one of these evacuees, who subsequently finds himself wrapped up in the agenda of the Vektan Security Agency (VSA), and in the role of a Shadow Marshal.
Something that I’ve always felt was lacking, but very possible in the Killzone series, is moral ambiguity. I’ve always felt like the games presented two forces caught in a struggle in which who was right or wrong in the first place wasn’t too clear, but you’re always expected to think of the Helghast as evil, because they have red eyes and you shoot them. Though it wasn’t amazingly executed, Shadow Fall does take a step in this direction. Encouraging suspicion in your allies’ motives and finding value in your enemies beliefs is the most valuable part of Shadow Fall’s story, and if this trend is continued in future Killzone titles, I will definitely find them much more interesting.
Another area I found the original Killzone trilogy to be lacking in was interesting characters. Shadow Fall greatly improves in this regard, too. The two characters you’ll spend the most time with are Sinclair, the director of the Shadow Marshals and a father figure to Lucas, and Echo, a Helghast/Vektan half-breed acting as an intelligence operative for the Helghast. Sinclair is set in his ways, and determined to wipe out the Helghast. As the only member of the VSA you’ll interact with, he acts as a representative for his faction in the narrative. With adequate writing and great animations, he’s suitably built for the role. Echo is much less conservative and is willing to admit the flaws of the Helghast agenda she takes part in. I found her to be the most interesting character to appear in the series, and a great conduit for the moral questioning I’ve been craving from Killzone. These characters were much more deeply constructed than I’ve come to expect. Unfortunately, though, I did find the protagonist’s facelessness, and unimportance to be detracting to ever caring about him at all. However, retrospectively I could appreciate the poetic value of Kellan as a representation of the countless unconsidered soldiers in the war. I still would have preferred a likable protagonist, but I can at least appreciate the decision having finished the game.
The story is notably disjointed to begin with, cutting to different time periods in a way that’s not particularly effective. Once the story reaches a steady pace though, there are some unexpected turns and interesting changes to motivation that keep the narrative interesting. It’s not a great story, but I’d consider it much better than any other Killzone title. I could always tell where the story was going, but the way that it reached plot points, and the gradual evolutions in the story arc throughout were enjoyable.
For the most part, Killzone Shadow Fall is a typical first person shooter. It takes a step towards more open level design and more diverse gameplay, which I consider a great design choice, but it’s never well executed. At its core, the game consists of traveling from one point to another, shooting all the Helghast you encounter. Sometimes you’ll do things slightly differently, but it’s mostly shooting. Through the campaign, you’ll be accompanied by your ‘Owl’; a floating drone you can command using the touch pad. You can command your Owl to stun enemies, remove their shields, protect you, shoot a zipline for you, or hack computers. Unfortunately, you won’t come across many opportunities to use your zipline, and I only really found myself hacking terminals and removing shields. The fact that you only use the Owl because you need to, prevents it from adding much to the game.
With that being said, certain levels give you multiple objectives to achieve in any order you wish, creating refreshingly open levels for a first person shooter. However, It’s mostly superfluous and doesn’t add any real depth to the levels, but the illusion of choice is more enjoyable than the extremely linear nature of most first person shooters. In addition to these open levels, there are segments revolving around the use of petrusite capacitors (which act as keys, essentially). These segments are theoretically awesome and allow for environmental puzzles reminiscent of a Zelda dungeon, but sadly, in practise, these segments are easy to get lost in and hard to navigate. In a Zelda game, you might think “Oh, I have to take this thing I found to the room with the bridge”, whereas in Killzone you’ll probably think “Now I’ve found one of these I guess I’ll walk around until I find a place for it”. I think these segments would have been more fun if more recognisable landmarks were around, to make navigation simple without the game having to hold the player’s hand and instruct them directly.
Honestly, my biggest disappointment was that some of the coolest parts of the game are spoiled by tedium and unnecessary challenge. I was so happy to see some variance in the gameplay that diverged from shooting, but these moments were often spoiled by repetition or having to take part in them for far too long. I felt like these segments would have been some of my highlights of the campaign, if they had been quick, and I hadn’t have died and started them again. However, none of the gameplay outside of the shooting holds enough water to be enjoyable for more than a few minutes. The surprises in the gameplay that caught me off guard came with the cost of sending me into die and start again multiple times without the necessary preparation. I love that these moments came out of nowhere, but they should have had a gradual build to difficulty to keep them enjoyable while sustaining a challenge. Several times I found myself bored with waves of enemies being thrown at me too.
Naturally, there is an extensive multiplayer suite available in the game, and as such, you can take part in a multitude of match types, or even make your own. It’s a fairly typical matchmaking service, but it works reasonably well. Although, strangely, there is no levelling or progression system, which is strange. I have a fairly substantial problem with the multiplayer mode, too. I’d expect to be able to view the goals I’m working towards completing or edit my loadout while waiting for my next match to load, but I can’t. It seems strange to me that these things can be done so easily at other times, but I’m left looking at last round’s results, waiting for the next map.
To put it bluntly. Have you played a first person shooter before? Yes? Well, you know what to expect. Killzone Shadow Fall plays really well, but it’s nothing new. It controls well, guns are satisfying to shoot, and the game, for what it is, is fun. There’s really not much else to say about the core gameplay, if you’re a fan of first person shooters, you’ll like the way Shadow Fall plays most of the time. Outside of the shooting that makes up the bulk of the game, it’s less promising. Anti-gravity sections, for example, are an interesting novelty at first, but they’re really not that fun, and after the first couple of times they’re just something you’ll try to get past as fast as possible.
The Killzone series first became renown for it’s visual fidelity with its second installment, which was technically impressive for the time, but sadly, the uninspired brown and grey battlefields weren’t interesting enough for me to appreciate from an artistic perspective. Fortunately, Killzone 3 featured much more colourful, lush scenery, and I found it to be a big step in the right direction. Shadow Fall continues that trend, with vast, colourful landscapes, and it’s beautiful. If you’re looking for a game to show off the PS4’s graphical capabilities, this is definitely a worthy purchase. I found myself using the share button constantly, just to take screenshots of a wonderful landscape, rain dripping down a character’s face, or a burnt corpse. There are a lot of great sights to see in this game.
Additionally, the characters are all convincingly acted and animated. In fact, these are some of the most realistic faces I’ve seen in a video game, topping even LA Noire. If somebody were to see parts of these performances without knowing it were a video game, they could easily mistake it for a film. Seeing this kind of quality at the launch of the generation gets me extremely excited to see where more narrative focused developers take it.
Killzone Shadow Fall is a fun first person shooter, one of the best looking console games I’ve ever seen, and a worthy member of your early PlayStation 4 library. Beyond its appearance, there isn’t anything astoundingly ‘next-gen’ about Shadow Fall, but running alongside your detailed shadow or seeing a character distinctly emote will certainly remind you that this is a step forward. If you’re not fond of shooters or multiplayer you’ll likely get tired of monotony but if you’re a fan of these things you’ll be over the moon with Shadow Fall. Where it tries to expand on the formula it can be underwhelming, or even bad, but while it sticks to what it’s good at, it’s among the best.