Killzone: Shadow Fall PS4 Review

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I have to admit that I haven’t been all that excited for this new era in gaming. This is probably the first time where I have genuinely felt apathetic about what to play on launch day. I suppose you could say that I’m a bit down that there isn’t that one standout title in this next-generation of gaming to make you explode with awe, which I guess we call current-generation now? Since two half-shiny, half-matte black boxes have just released on the market to successful sales.  On Sony’s side of things, Killzone: Shadow Fall is their key launch title for the PlayStation 4. Now, some people might have a bit of a chuckle with that, but I have fairly enjoyed past Killzone titles, and the series has always been known to showcase fantastic graphics for the hardware they run on, so what better way to show off the power of the PlayStation 4 than launching with a Killzone game.

The story continues around 30 years after the events of Killzone 3, which fans will know didn’t exactly finish with a pleasant ending for the people of Helghan. Now the remaining survivors of Helghan live on the ISA world of Vekta as refugees, but are forced to keep to themselves by having their lives split from the rest of the world thanks to a humongous wall blocking contact with the other side. The living quality of both races is strikingly contrasted – the Vektans live in the glory of sun, colour and wonderful vistas, while the surviving Helghans are living in horribly dark, damp shanty towns. That’s only the tip of the iceberg, as some Helghans are still bitter about losing their home world, so a terrorist group known as the Black Hand has formed and is attacking various key locations in Vekta to overcome the Vektans and rule the planet. This is where the player comes in as one Lucas Kellan, a Vektan Security Agency Shadow Marshall, who is tasked with keeping peace on Vekta, by going on convert operations instructed by his boss, Sinclair; unknown to Kellan, there’s a bigger problem at hand that could be disastrous for the planet of Vekta.

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While I did find the plot to be rather poor, to the point I gave up caring what was going on – it’s convoluted for the sake of it – the story does allow Guerrilla Games to send the player to a variety of locations. This was first done in Killzone 3, and it worked wonders in showcasing the company’s artistic skills, while at the same time presenting more of the world of Killzone that wasn’t just brown and orange. In Shadow Fall this goes one step further, as players will traverse rocky hillsides situated within a ravine, visit both sides of the wall, which displays just how terrible the living quality is for the Helghans, and also go into space to take part in some zero-gravity action. One of the biggest improvements I found in Shadow Fall was how strong the use of colours was. It’s not in every level, but, when it is, there’s a strong futuristic vibe that makes me hope that our future would just be as bright and colourful as the ISA section of Vekta.

As for the campaign structure – it’s full of ups and downs. Shadow Fall is more of a solo soldier experience. Gone are team members, such as the constantly-hated-by-the-internet Rico. Instead, Kellan mostly infiltrates alone, with him only having a partner in a couple of levels, thanks to Echo, a rather well represented female soldier who will help with support during some missions. The earlier parts of the game are undoubtedly the more enjoyable sections, as it throws in open spaces for the player to explore, giving a feeling that the game is willing to expose the player more than past titles.

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In fact, this isn’t quite the case. While the areas are bigger and offer a sense of openness to tactical advantages on enemies, much of the game remains stuck in the past and plays very similar to old Killzone titles. Once you’re past the wonderment of the first couple of chapters, it’s back to corridor shooting, linear level progression and awful item fetching. It’s such a shame that the game teases at the start what could possibly be done by the people at Guerrilla Games, only to be sent back to typical and linear first-person shooting gameplay. Maybe time became a problem and they had to reduce the level design scope for launch, but for whatever reason it may be, it has hampered the overall quality of the game’s campaign.

It only gets worse as the game continues on. If we had a graph to portray fun, then as you get further into the game this line would begin to become steeper and steeper, starting off high and then decreasing to 0 on the Y axis, or in some cases hitting minus. The final major level – not including the little bonus mission at the end, which again shows some stealth potential and ups the fun – becomes a chore of utter disappointment, as the game sends waves upon waves of Helghast soldiers. It’s not fun; it’s idiotically monotonous, as I hid behind structures to pop out cover shots at what seemed to be a 10 minute wave of survival. This scenario is used a couple of times throughout the game, and every time it was always frustrating. This is my main concern with Shadow Fall – it feels like it was using some of those mechanics to extend the single player campaign length, and, in all honesty, I wish they hadn’t because it ended up spoiling the overall quality of the game’s single player.

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Even the robotic sidekick, OWL, a hovering drone that has multiple uses, seems to be implemented somewhat half-arsed. The game loves to throw it in your face when you’re learning one of its four abilities – attack, stun, shield and zip line – but once the initial stage of introduction is over, the OWL really doesn’t add all that much to the game. It becomes the device to remove shields from soldiers or act as a decoy, so that you can get some sneaky shots on the occupied enemy. I feel that the infiltration aspects that Shadow Fall was going for aren’t fully realised in this game. The only new instrument that I feel works well and is used often is the radar that you can ping to discover enemies situated around the level, similar to a bat’s sonar. This is really helpful for scouting out the Helghast and taking them down without having other enemies notice you. Everything else though, from level design, gameplay and this OWL drone, aren’t used or crafted to exert the sneaky, infiltration theme, and that’s a huge bummer, because this style makes it different from the “Ooh-Ahh” man fuelled war of the main three entries in the franchise.

The saving grace for Shadow Fall is its multiplayer. Sure, the PlayStation 4 does have the amazing vehicle combat and refreshing changing landscapes of Battlefield 4 and the tried and tested formula of Call of Duty: Ghosts, but Shadow Fall still manages to be different, which is down to the feel of Killzone and how the multiplayer is represented.

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Shadow Fall’s multiplayer doesn’t fall into the same line as the experience-focused games that I just mentioned. Instead, Shadow Fall offers up three classes, support, assault and scout. In each class, much of the gear is unlocked, and the more you use that gear the more it improves. A spawn tower for the support class might get upgraded to last longer on the battlefield after you successfully meet the challenge requirements. Upgrades and weapon accessories are the only unlockable things. Weapon accessories unlock by simply using said weapon, as earning kills with them will eventually unlock more scopes and other add-ons. Since there is no experience levels, what players will find is that they have a number next to their name, which is a count of all the challenges that player has manage to accomplish. There are hundreds of these, as I’ve seen some players around the 200 mark next to their ID.

10 maps themed on various single player levels are included in the multiplayer, which is enough at the moment to satisfy current multiplayer sessions. What makes this game enjoyable is Killzone’s famous Warzone mode, a feature that makes multiplayer matches generate various objectives on the fly, making it more involving than simply shooting the other team. One minute your team could be charged to assassinate a player on the opposing side, then the next to be capturing a flag point. Building on top of that feature, Guerrilla Games has allowed users to create Custom Warzones, giving them the ability to limit weapons, types of kills, which classes can be used and of course what objective is activated and for how long. There’s quite a bit on offer here for people who like messing with custom game types. I have always found Warzone to be one of the cooler features of Killzone‘s multiplayer that distinguishes it from other games, and now this custom version adds even more reasons to enjoy it.

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This enjoyment of the multiplayer, and some parts of the single player, is due to the improved feeling in controls. Starting with the hardware, the DualShock 4 simply feels better to play a first-person shooter with. The triggers are much easier to pull, the chunky size of the DualShock design means that it feels more natural when gripped, and the sticks feel correctly distanced apart, meaning your thumbs never come close to touching. The analogue sticks also offer a sturdy feeling under pressure that seems to limit any sudden jerks in movement. There’s actually no issue with having a symmetrical layout for the sticks, as now it feels right to play a shooter with a PlayStation controller. In regards to Shadow Fall, the game no longer suffers from that input lag that people seemed to mask with an excuse that the game was adding a sense of weight to guns. Now the game runs butter smooth in regards to movement and aiming. Even the developers are confident in the new controller, because they’ve removed auto aiming from the game, making this a shooter that is designed around you being a skilful player.

Sony needed to have a looker for launch day, and for the most part, Shadow Fall does offer a teasing glimpse into the graphical power of this new console. Killzone’s futuristic art style shines so well with the technical power on offer here. Most textures seem to be detailed, the lighting is gorgeous, as god rays blast through trees or your OWL robotic buddy floats through an empty spacecraft lighting up the corridors with its portable torch, and models and facial details can at times look exceptional. Animation seems to be a mixed bag. On one hand, especially the cutscenes, it looks fantastic, but during gameplay, those awful animation issues pop up where models are skipping movements while changing states. It can look jarring when surrounded by such pretty locations and particles.

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If you are coming directly from an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3, then Shadow Fall will look wonderful to you. If you’re a gamer who has been dabbling in PC gaming with a decent rig, then a lot of this won’t be as awe-inspiring. It only looks marginally better in some areas than a lot of recent shooters on the PC, such as Metro: Last Light or Crysis 3. It’s only the start of this new generation, so I expect that we will soon forget about how Shadow Fall looked when we are three or four years into the console’s life.

Killzone: Shadow Fall isn’t the great launch title that Sony was hoping for with its shiny new box. The campaign is too varied in quality to bring a worthy single player experience. For every high point you experience, there’s a low around the corner, and the last bits of the campaign were so monotonous and unexciting, thanks to typical cliché gameplay for the genre that is mixed with tedious level design. If you’re looking for a single player shooter, then this isn’t the one to get, but if you’re looking for a solid multiplayer, in which you can have some serious fun shooting dudes with an arsenal of weaponry, then Killzone: Shadow Fall might be a justified purchase at £50 in this rather limited and safe launch line-up for the PlayStation 4.

6/10

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Version tested: PS4

Developer: Guerrilla Games

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

Genre: First-person shooter