Killzone: Shadow Fall Review (PS4)

Killzone: Shadow Fall has a lot of responsibility on its shoulders. It’s the biggest title in the small window of launch exclusives, and it’s also been given the job of demonstrating the power of the Playstation 4. It could arguably be the most impressive console game on the market, but is it simply a pretty face or is it a showcase for the future of first-person shooters?

The plot picks up 30 years after the events of Killzone 3, with the Vektan ISA rendering the home planet of the Helghast uninhabitable. As a means to make up for their planet’s destruction, the Helghast are invited to settle in one of Vetka’s biggest cities. The war may be over but the tensions remain, and the Helghast have not forgiven–and sure enough, tensions begin to boil over and thus begins the events of Shadow Fall.

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Shadow Fall sets its tone early on in the game, making it quite clear that the large-scale battlefields of previous Killzone titles have been replaced by something on a much smaller scale.

In regards to plot, Shadow Fall may feel like a convenient way to almost reboot the franchise. After all, Killzone 3 ended with sequel-bait that suggested the war was far from over. The truth is Shadow Fall plays and feels like a reboot, and hence the new plot focus makes sense. There feels like a great amount of potential for Shadow Fall to draw upon real-world events and politics when it comes to former enemies being forced together as a result of a war crime.But instead of exploring the tensions between the people of each faction and the politics surrounding the game’s world, Shadow Fall chooses to go into a linear story of saving the world, one bullet at a time.

The frustrating thing about Shadow Fall’s story is it does display some genuinely interesting elements at times. There are a few sections sprinkled through the six-hour campaign that put into question who in fact the good guys and the bad guys are in the grand scheme of things. At times, Shadow Fall flirts with the idea of the player and his people being the villain of the piece, but this is often lost in what is ultimately a generic story.

Things are not helped, either, by a rather one-dimensional cast of characters who all seem to be devoid of many, if not any, human-like motivations, and instead feel purely like devices designed to push the plot forward. This unfortunately leads to the plot feeling rather lifeless and pointless as each character is seemingly only interested in killing and destroying. By the time the credits roll, there is no love for either the Helghast or the people of Vekta, leaving the game’s conclusion rather underwhelming and a tad silly.

 

kz8Outside of the story, Shadow Fall plays slightly differently to past entries in franchise. Given the game’s departure from the grunt on the front line to the more elite operative, the game plays without the sense of weight the franchise was once known for. The gameplay plays more like a modern first-person shooter while still keeping holding onto various Killzone staples, such as the cover popping and more realistic movement. At its heart, Shadow Fall is a pretty simple case of shooting everything in sight with the traditional large and loud weapons the series has always featured.

The core gameplay is generic, but undoubtedly solid, allowing the game to flow nicely. The addition of the Owl, a small drone that follows the player throughout the game, does add an extra tactical touch to each firefight but fails to make the combat feel particularly fresh. The Owl is mostly a support tool that will open fire on enemies to either kill or stun them, or drop a shield for the player to take cover behind. In the later stages of the game, the Owl becomes something of an unnecessary tool as the levels became increasingly smaller and linear, but to their credit, Guerilla Games almost compensates by making good use of the Dual Shock 4′s touch screen by mapping the Owls abilities to simple swipes of the finger. It feels natural and carries a decent novelty to the whole mechanic of the features.

kz1One other element of gameplay Shadow Fall attempts is stealth. There are a number of levels that give the player the option to try and sneak into certain areas via various paths in a level. While this gives the option to break up the rather one-note firefights, the stealth doesn’t work all that well. Enemies will randomly spot the player from improbable angles and distances, thus ending the chance of taking a more stealthily path to a objective. The whole mechanic feels more like an afterthought that was simply thrown into the game in an attempt to break up the almost constant exchange of gunfire.

One of the main criticisms aimed at Killzone as a franchise is its lack of variety when it came to environments. Desecrated battlefields and crumbling bombed-out cities were a dime a dozen throughout all three previous games. Shadow Fall, however, is the complete opposite. There’s an impressive range of environments that look and feel distinctively different from each other, which makes the game feel almost like a tour through the creative minds of those at Guerrilla Games. Each environment has a strong identity and theme, often accompanied by some exemplary imagery, allowing the player to feel like they aren’t just going around in circles. The Vekta cities showcase what exactly the society and lifestyle of a Vektan is, while on the flip side, the Helghast slums provide a polar opposite whilst retaining beauty of their own. There’s something to admire in each environment; they truly do feel like works of art thanks to creative minds and the power of the PS4.

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Even with their strengths, the only complaints hanging over the environments come towards the latter stages of the game. Some areas feel rather needlessly padded out with corridors leading to nowhere and areas feeling tacked on. The only other real issue comes in the shape of some areas being a bit too narrow, making the Owl almost utterly useless. These are only minor issues but they do create a certain sense of frustration, even more so during combat.

Killzone: Shadow Fall‘s strongest point is undoubtedly its visuals. The game looks utterly stunning, displaying a good example of what the PS4 can do. The world looks beautiful, with various parts of the game making sure the players takes note of the visuals on display; the lighting system breathes life into each and every area through its natural look; character models look fantastic, with special mention going to the faces of some of the main cast, the Helghan look utterly menacing as their signature red lights bounce off the world around them; and there’s a sense of beauty to almost every frame of the game, with various moments forcing the player to just stand and soak up the world surrounding them. Set pieces may be overused in modern videogames but Shadow Fall gets away with them purely for how stunning they look.

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Stepping into online territory, Shadow Fall‘s multiplayer is a steady mix of quality and non-stop action. In terms of the maps, they can feel a little cluttered, often resulting in the player walking into things, resulting in cheap deaths. But while there’s nothing really at the heart of the game, it still remains fun.

The class set-ups, however, are better. They offer players various ways to approach the tasks at hand and kit themselves out for the game mode ahead. Each class comes with abilities that can often turn the tide of battle, such as the likes of reviving downed players, spawning support drones, and deploying turrets. They’re all present across the three different core classes.

The likes of Warzone, a Killzone favourite, provide the best experiences thanks to the ever-changing objectives. For the most part, Shadow Fall‘s multiplayer is a well-crafted–if a little safe–experience that is a great way to burn some time after the campaign. Its main fault is the lack of game modes on offer, but this has been an issue that Guerilla Games has already promised to remedy via free DLC to be released in the future.

Killzone: Shadow Fall may look the part of a next-generation first-person shooter, but its gameplay is stuck firmly in the realms of traditional FPS titles. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it may disappoint those looking for a next-generation experience. The plot fails to build upon the potential it had and falls into cliches far too often. That being said, however, the campaign is decent, albeit far from anything new. Multiplayer is great fun but, much like the singleplayer, is very safe and doesn’t try anything new. Shadow Fall is a good game, just not a great one. But it will certainly be appreciated by those looking for a simple, and gorgeous, videogame experience.

Sean Halliday


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