Hands On: Killzone Shadow Fall

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.



  1. Hmmm, I sure hope they address some of the negative points you raised there and it doesn’t turns out to be just eye candy for your PS4. Thanks for the heads up Alex.

  2. Wow, this article is no where near as positive as I expected it to be :-(
    Sounds like a bad combo of changing up the original formula (a good thing), but not explaining how the new stuff works (bad thing).
    Hopefully the full game does a better job at explaining the basics as you go, as I have no problem with the higher difficulty curve, providing the mechanics are explained and I’m not left relying on trial and error.

  3. It better be good. If I manage to save up the money needed for PS4, Killzone will be my day one game, as I’m not interested in Driveclub at all ( probably will be have a lot of microtransactions and GT6 will own racing genre anyway).

  4. I guess the OWL etc are probably skills you pickup from the beginning & you’ve been thrown in at the deep end cos it looks pretty. :)
    I’ll definitely give this ago although I got put off KZ3 probably due to the fact I played KZ2 on ‘normal’ and never managed to complete it as the end boss was too difficult.

    • K3 is good, K2 is better but control wise they made the game a generic everyday controls for an shooter you ever played, R1 to shoot.

      The MP is addictive, it’s the only shooter I can play and kill people to this day. I loved the MP in K2 but in K3 all classes are open from start. It’s worth picking up

      • May give it a go at some point. I used to be deity on the MP on BF3, went on it last night and got my arse handed to me! I think I killed about 5 people and got I killed about 80 times in about an hour. I have no idea what was going on as well with the servers. I just wanted a normal ‘Rush’ game and kept joining random ruled crap. EA need to release a Next Gen version of BFBC2 multiplayer and I’ll be happy.
        Why am I talking about BF? This thread is KZ! Anyone wanna hear about my experience on SS HD last night? No, didn’t think so. Therefore I’ll shut up (or stop typing)!

    • In an interview one of the devs said you have the owl at the start and that all the skills are available immediately.

  5. Day one as I love KILLZONE :-) good read mind :-)

  6. I’m sure it wil be fantastic come launch day.

    • Will be interesting to see what you make of it when you get your hands on it.
      Sounds like you love KZ about as much as I do :)

  7. Should have let Tuff do the write up you know he will be positive, he loves killzone.

    But anyway good read, they will probably address these things & polish them. I found the other Killzone games flawless maybe cause I love the series so much but I felt they improved & listened to people from K2 to K3 control wise

  8. It’s reassuring to see that TSA can produce such unbiased commentary in the face of the E3 hype machine and Sony’s current good standing with the gaming community in general. I’m excited for this next iteration of Killzone, and hope Guerrilla can address your control concerns, either through tuning or through better communication, before the game’s launch.

  9. Did I read something about some type of role reversal and you played as the Helghast in this game and not the normal dudes or did I dream that??? If not, it would be pretty cool.

    • Killzone mercenary for the vita has you playing both sides. Nothing like that has been indicated for shadow fall. That said it is conceivable that the main character will work with the helghast to keep the more militant faction in check.

  10. I think it is very understandable that new input controls and a new feature as the OWL will need some time to learn. Unleasing the new controls in a quick demo at E3 might be a little to steep to learn though.

    Im confident they will ease the new controls into the full game at a nice pace so everyone can get to grips with it.

    I loved KZ2 (especially the TSA clan events), but somehow couldn’t get into KZ3 MP. It was to generic to my taste and the matchmaking was not to my liking. I really hope the bring a multiplayer experience akin to KZ2 instead of KZ3.

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