As the PlayStation 4’s poster child, Guerrilla’s Killzone Shadow Fall has a lot to live up to. In the absence of another first party first person shooter, Sony’s reliance and focus on the Dutch studio’s ability to continue to cater for a dedicated fanbase is at least single-minded, their focus direct and unwavering. Killzone as a brand doesn’t hold the same sway as something like Halo, but its individuality can’t be denied.
In Shadow Fall, that sense of uniqueness is compounded by a myriad of new mechanics, manifested via a new physical input method: the DualShock 4’s touch pad. It’s not easy to get to grips with: despite the swiping becoming second nature quickly, the outcome of each directional push never really obvious, and that’s something that’s made worse by a set of d-pad inputs that aren’t signalled or prompted.
The issue with Killzone Shadow fall is that the game tries to do too much too soon. The touch pad essentially acts as an input device for a small floating droid known as an OWL, which can be sent into battle to fight, used to distract guards, hack terminals or fire off a zip-line. That’s all well and good, but there’s no real clear on-screen indication of what’s what, and in the heat of battle it’s far too easy to forget which swipe does what.
And the d-pad – which is used to change weapon type, activate a health pack or scan the environment – suffers from a similar problem. Extended use might alleviate this issue, of course, but a short demo period wasn’t nearly enough to get familiar with the multiple commands.
When you do get it right, Shadow Fall makes a great deal of sense. The OWL, a floating droid at your every whim, is capable of taking on a couple of enemy soldier and highlighting their location via the short-range scanner. Used as a distraction it’s brilliant, the Helghast aiming at a hovering hunk of metal rather than the player character, charged with – in this demo at least – rescuing a group of downed survivors.
The level playable was impressively open-ended, both in terms of the physical environment and the multiple ways in which the player could opt to progress. Do you take out an enemy with a sniper round from a distance; or do you tackle him from above with a zip-line? The forest environment offers plenty of places to hide, but once th Helgan know where you are, simply crounching behind a rock won’t save you – the game displaying much improved AI that seemingly hunts in packs rather than individually, and they’re deadly.
But is it fun? It’s hard to say – the demo segment was perhaps poorly chosen: it might look pretty (and it does) but it requires an understanding (and memory) of everything the game offers in terms of new features and some sense of what this mysterious OWL droid is capable of. Playing the game like a standard first person shooter got me killed twice in a row, and wrestling with the swipe pad hinted at solutions that never worked on a first attempt.
The extra features are smart, at least: healing yourself also provides a short-term slice of slow-motion, the ability to see through walls and spot enemies echoes that of The Last Of Us but comes with a quicker pacing and much more limited use; and the OWL if nothing else hints at a tactical series of decisions that simpy aren’t communicated with a standard controller and little thought and energy.
So whilst Shadow Fall looks the part (and it is pretty) I think it needs some work in the controls, and although it’s possible to play the game like all the other Killzones, it’s best tackled as a shooter with a brain rather than a mindless blaster. It’s good, and definitely good looking, but there’s work to do before the game releases later this year.