The first truly next generation shooter is here. Killzone Shadow Fall builds on its predecessors, advancing the same story after a time jump taking us decades later. The Vektan and Helghast now neighbour each other, living in a delicately-balanced harmony. Politics, war and “human” nature all play a part in Shadow Fall, but how well does it accomplish the portrayal of each of these?
Killzone Shadow Fall is an extremely solid shooter. Building upon the gameplay of the previous numbered Killzone game, it’s as weighty and rewarding as ever. Playing as Vektan Shadow Marshal Lucas Kellan, you’ll be blowing the heads off Helghast troops in no time, and it all feels in line with what we’ve seen in Killzone before.
But this is a different world – one which, decades after the explosive ending of Killzone 3 where Helghan was destroyed and its people left for dead, the Vektans have, with a sense of guilt, taken it upon themselves to create room for the now truly homeless Helghast race.
It’s a story which brings politics, racism and plenty of other social issues which we’ve experienced throughout history on Earth into play. In this way, it’s more of a personal story than a broad sci-fi invasion story, and protagonist Lucas Kellan is developed well from the start.
Unfortunately, many of the issues which make the setting so successful are overlooked and disappointingly avoided in the narrative itself, with only a few brilliant glimpses of how all of these affect the world which Kellan inhabits. It’s unfortunate, and the story often drifts away from issues that really need to be explored to make the setting worthwhile.
Instead, it focuses more on The Black Hand, a group of Helghast terrorists including a familiar face as well as a new villain, Tyran. He’s the star of that particular show, and is a bit of a mix of the anarchistic terrorism of Vaas from Far Cry 3, and the militant drive of Colonel Radec from Killzone 2. A solid villain then, though one who is unfortunately underdeveloped and muddled unlike the aforementioned antagonists.
Despite social issues not being at the forefront and a villain who doesn’t quite live up to his billing, Shadow Fall is still well worth your time – after a rocky start, which involves many more “open” area sections, where you have to traverse a region – be that a forest, a city or a ghost ship – going from one objective to another in the most tedious of ways, the game really picks up, throwing more unique gameplay elements into the mix. You’ll find yourself on an adventure – which is a bit of a convoluted affair – that crosses cities and even worlds as you go, tying in some excellent new story threads despite never quite bringing them all together enough.
There are some incredible set-pieces throughout, and the more linear moments are honestly amongst the game’s – and perhaps even the the series’ – best. While there might not be anything groundbreaking per se, the hardware bump has allowed Guerrilla Games to squeeze quite a lot out of the PS4, even for a launch title. It’s a noticeable jump from last generation, and some parts of the game are superb.
But those open level attempts are a big problem, effectively a failed experiment realised too late in development, with some archaic design thrown into the mix, such as disabling alarms to stop enemy forces coming and some tedious sections in which you have to avoid large armaments and destroy them by deactivating two switches. There are even optional objectives, which offer little reward for more of your time, and long drawn-out sections where you don’t fire your gun once. Not all of these are bad, and it opens the way for a lot of collectables scattered around, but it doesn’t bring anything fresh to the genre.
Although, when the game looks as incredible as it does, you’ll learn to forgive some of the poorer sections. It’s really quite impressive how open some environments are considering that it’s a visually stunning game throughout. In motion, it’s almost photo realistic and just incredible to behold. From animation, to landmarks and lighting, there’s always something better looking to surprise you just around the corner. It’s this that really sets Shadow Fall apart, and some of the visuals are just phenomenal, with particle and rain effects complimenting some brilliance in the texture work.
Most of the design is excellent, and you can feel the advancements that the time jump has made to the world. There’s some fantastic work with virtual reality and holograms that you’ll see, which makes for some amazing effects, and it ultimately feels like a cleaner and more focused game, though the gunplay thankfully doesn’t lose its gritty, weighted feel in the process, with stunning, smoky gun effects pouring out once you stop firing. A lot of the aliasing that plagued PS3 games has gone too, making it a much smoother ride.
Unfortunately, there are some issues in the design, regarding the HUD, with the selection system for the OWL – a deployable drone – getting in the way and snapping you out of focus, and the only other option being to turn it off completely. There’s also an incredible overuse of lighting effects, with lens flare and bloom often blinding you. When the lighting is used well, it’s really good, but more often than not you’ll find staring into the sun – or even a simple light – a task, and it’s really jarring while you’re playing.
In terms of guns, you’ll perhaps feel limited in your choice. There’s no single player upgrade system, and you can’t buy weapons or equip custom loadouts as you could with the Vita entry in the series, Mercenary, so it’s more about picking up guns as you go, although you’ll always have to keep the default weapon too, which means even less variety. Thankfully, guns do have secondary modes which you can switch to with a tap of the d-pad, such as a powerful pulse fire or even an under-barrel shotgun. It’s less of a stealthy experience too – unless the game demands it – which feels like a step backwards.
The aforementioned OWL is a good addition too. Not only can it scout ahead and attack enemies while you hide behind cover, you’re able to deploy a nano shield, use it as a zipline or stun enemies, destroying their own shields in the process. Selecting each of these options is smart, with swipe gestures on the touch pad effectively creating a quick select option without the need to hold down a trigger and move the stick, breaking immersion. It’s really simple and useful in tough situations, and if you’ve got an adrenaline pack handy it can even revive you too.
Shadow Fall’s sound design is really special too. The guns roar while the brilliant score plays in the background, and it just all blends together to create a fantastic auditory experience. It’s helped by the DualShock 4 too – audio logs will play through the controller’s speaker which is a really nice touch. Likewise, your health bar will be represented with the lightbar, going from green to orange and then red depending on your health.
Overall, the single player campaign of Shadow Fall is really solid, and one which advances the formula and sets up a new franchise. It’s only let down by a misstep in some of the level design, which makes it all feel a bit padded out. There’s ideas here taken straight from Resistance and Starhawk, so it’s nice to see those series live on through arguably Sony’s best shooting franchise, and the new hardware makes for some visually incredible set-pieces which might just leave your jaw on the floor.
Multiplayer is the same advancement in terms of visuals and setting, though fans will be glad to hear that, at its core, it’s just more Killzone, with a changed ranking system, more customisation options and tons of brand new game modes. In fact, there’s thousands of game modes possible, due to the custom Warzones, allowing players to customise options from the timing of individual objectives within each Warzone, to overall settings, limiting classes or weapons and even emulating game modes from other popular shooters. These can then be uploaded publicly alongside the official Guerrilla ones, to make way for knife only party games or “hardcore” modes.
If you’re familiar with Killzone multiplayer, then you’ll know that the standard matches usually consist of multiple objective modes within one game. While they can now be limited to singular missions, the most popular game mode, Classic Warzone – which offers capture the flag, search and destroy and team deathmatch objectives and more within one match – keeps the same, solid formula, and the other modes currently lack players, even at peak times.
There are lots of options here and it’ll be good for groups of friends or communities to essentially create their own playlists, as long as you’re able to get players together and the connection holds up. Thus far, the game has been marred with technical difficulties, taking time to connect and dropping into games with just one or two other players. These teething issues seem to have eased up recently and it’s actually really fun once you get into a game, but there is still some unconventional design choices, such as the lack of a true party or lobby system.
Classes return, although they now take the form of Scout, Assault and Support. Scout offers ranged rifles, cloaking abilities and even teleportation, while Assault is quite standard with automatic rifles and abilities including nano shields and attack drones, and Support is the heavy class, with spawn beacons, air and turret supports to assist. There are lots of different unlockable abilities – essentially perks – as well as weapons and attachments, and you’re able to switch loadouts on the fly as you can store four for each class, meaning twelve in total.
There are lots of customisation options for each class, which thankfully means a good bit of variety in the gunplay. While abilities may seem overpowered – such as the deployable full-body sized nano shield, they’re all relatively balanced as everyone will be using them, and they have their downsides too. Trying to peer through the shield for example, despite its protection, will limit your field of view, so it’s not quite a level playing field, but none of the tactics can be considered too cheap.
The biggest overhaul in the multiplayer is the way your ranking system works, or rather doesn’t. You see, there’s no actual XP-based ranks as is common in multiplayer games, and it’s all about completing challenges to increase the number next to your name and unlock new attachments and abilities. This isn’t quite as rewarding as a standard XP-based system, but still offers something for completionists. Unfortunately, it’s hindered as you’re not able to view challenges in a match and can only do so from the main menus.
These challenges encompass everything you do in the game, whether that’s the time you’ve played, to abilities used or even what you’ve achieved in game modes and weapon-specific challenges to unlock attachments. Once you get into the flow of the system, it’s good, though there is another niggle with how the scoring system works in multiplayer: it doesn’t bring over the great point-based team score system that Mercenary had and instead reverts back to using overall round wins, perhaps keeping it very safe but feeling less fair in the process.
As for maps, these are all designed well and some of them are stunning to see, essentially variations of key moments during the single player campaign. These aren’t huge but support up to 24 players, and while there’s no destruction on Battlefield 4’s level, some of the cover destruction is handy and looks fantastic when the bit of wood you’re hiding behind splinters into pieces.
Botzone also makes a return, and although it doesn’t save challenges or statistics, you’ll be able to get that multiplayer experience offline as you fend off against 11 bots. The AI doesn’t quite have the unplanned brilliance of fending off against humans, but they do a good job of trying to emulate that – they’ll know to stay far while sniping or come close with a shotgun, or even split up to defend multiple objectives while reviving each other and using abilities like real players. It’s just something that adds to the overall multiplayer experience.
Killzone Shadow Fall is an extremely solid shooter. You won’t be getting the best story here – but it’s decent, particularly if you like the Universe – and it doesn’t bravely explore social issues as much as it could’ve in the single player campaign. It’s a campaign which starts off with inconsistent, open area sections that really miss the mark, but quite literally brings it all together as the game progresses to create something that’s genuinely fun.
And it’s beautiful. So wonderfully crafted, and a real step up from the PS3 generation of shooters. There’s more good design than there is bad, and it’s really something you should be experiencing for the visuals, sound and setting alone if you buy a PS4.
The multiplayer brings those solid shooting mechanics and blends it with something that’s very familiar for Killzone fans. It perhaps evolves in the wrong directions and some design choices are very strange and might even hinder your experience, but the amount of customisation and fun on offer here is paramount, and the game succeeds in that regard.
As a package, it’s a superb launch title and a great first person shooter. Killzone’s back, and we can’t wait to see where it takes us next.