A first-person shooter, no new console launch can do without one these days. Sony has taken note and brought one of its big hitters to the PS4 launch party with Killzone: Shadow Fall. With a mixed past for series, can Guerrilla Games deliver a must-have title for Sony’s shiny new console, or should you stick to the likes of Battlefield or Call of Duty? Read on to find out.
Game: Killzone: Shadow Fall
Developer: Guerrilla Games
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Shadow Fall picks up shortly after the events of Killzone 3 where (major spoiler) Helghan was pretty much obliterated by the ISA. With the remaining Helghast survivors having no place to go due to their planet being inhabitable (petrusite will do that you see) the ISA very “kindly” grants them refuge on Vekta. Feeling guilty much? Anyway, that section of Vekta is dubbed New Helghan and a wall erected to keep the two away from each other. The whole situation is rather tense with each side keeping an eye on each other’s activities and more. As you can imagine, the so-called truce between the two parties doesn’t last for too long and the poop very much hits the fan.
You play as Lucan Kellan, a Vektan Shadow Marshal, who is in caught in the thick of it all and then some. Don’t worry, I’m not going to spoil how exactly Kellan’s involved, but I will say his tale is the most part of Shadow Fall’s story. His ever evolving relationship with his commanding officer is particular interesting. The rest of tale woven by Guerrilla Games is okay, but never really fully developed. It’s a shame because the whole Berlin wall aspect of the story and the moral questions that are briefly raised are actually interesting, it just seems like maybe Guerrilla Games were a tad reluctant to really go down that avenue. That said, it’s by far the most interesting and engaging story in a Killzone game to date, one that services the gameplay pretty well.
Right, how do I put this? Hmm. Killzone: Shadow is utterly gorgeous. Whether your fighting off the Helghast on Vekta or battling online with 23 other players, the game just looks amazing. Everything from the lighting (oh man, the god rays) to the trees and character models look damn bloody good. During a couple of sections of the game (one early mission and another later on) I found myself slowly walking around, just taking the sumptuous visuals in (and sharing them on Twitter of course). I died a few times doing this, but it was more than worth it! Oh and unlike previous Killzone games there’s some nice vibrant colours present in certain parts of Shadow Fall too. It’s mostly light blue and a bit of red, but it’s nice to see a slight change from the darker colour pallette of its predecessors.
For the tech boffins out there, Shadow Fall runs at a silky smooth and super sharp 1080p at 60 frames per second. Unless I’m going crazy (slight possibility), I didn’t once notice any slowdown in the campaign mode or multiplayer either. In fact, there’s very little to moan about when it comes to the visual side of things with Shadow Fall. More than any other PS4 title (or even Xbox One for that matter), it signals the arrival of the next-generation of home consoles. It’s jaw dropping stuff, it really is. If this is how good a launch title can look then I can’t to see what developers can get out of the PS4 further down the line, especially the likes of Guerrilla Games.
Not only does Killzone: Shadow Fall look amazing, it sounds amazing too. I’m not going to pretend I’m an audio expert, because I’m not, but other than Battlefield 3 perhaps I can’t remember a first-person shooter sounding this good on a console. I’m told Guerrilla Games paid special attention to the Shadow Fall’s sound and you can tell, especially if you’re lucky enough to have a good surround sound set-up. The distinctive sound of each weapons combined with the quite decent score and the shouting of comrades or enemies makes for one damn immersive experience. You’ll listen out for the unique sound of the Helghast soldiers, trying to pinpoint their locations amid the mayhem of intense shootouts. It’s good, very good in fact, with special mention reserved for somewhat eerie yet amazing sounding audio logs that play out of Sony’s lovely new Dual Shock 4 controller.
The formula hasn’t changed greatly when compared to previous Killzone games, but the tweaks Guerrilla Games has made in Shadow Fall most definitely improve it. It’s still mostly about engaging the enemy head-on, but there are now a few sections that give you the opportunity to take out the Helghast silently. I wouldn’t say it’s stealth at its purest and the mechanics are incredibly deep, but the introduction of these sections is very much welcome. Most of the missions are pretty intense, demanding much of your skills, so to have a few slower paced, stealthy sections to break things up works really well. In fact, strangely enough, some of the earlier sections of the campaign where the gameplay is slowed down a little were quite possibly my favourite parts of the game.
In terms of its core mechanics, as touched upon briefly a bit earlier, Shadow Fall is still very much a Killzone game. That’s far from a bad thing though as in this humble reviewer’s opinion Killzone has always had the best mechanics present in a console shooter. If that comes across a controversial opinion, apologies, but that’s certainly not my intention. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the lighter feel of Call of Duty and to some extent Battlefield, but they’re more or less both twitch shooters that cater towards the mass market looking for instant gratification. Killzone is an entirely different beast with solid gunplay that has some real weight behind it. I mean you can really feel it, and I love that. You might not instantly click with it like the other shooters, but if you give it time and embrace its nuances, you’ll come realise how good it really is. I hate to label it, but it’s probably the most “hardcore” first-person shooter available on a console right now. The removal of auto-aim in Shadow Fall strengthens that notion, a move Guerrilla Games should be applauded for as now how well you do is down to your skill and nothing else.
Apart from the introduction of stealth and the removal of auto-aim, the inclusion of the OWL and scanning are the final two big additions to the Shadow Fall arsenal. The OWL is essentially your flying “robot” companion or as I like to call it a flying Swiss knife. It has four modes – attack, stun, zipline and shield. To change between modes you simply flick the touch pad on the DualShock 4 either up, down, left or right and then press the L1 when the respective icon is highlighted. It’s not the most extravagant use of the touch pad, but it’s intuitive and ultimately works really well. In terms of the modes themselves, attack is the one you’ll probably use the most. Not only is it a good way to kill Helghast without you doing anything, it’s also a good way of distracting a group of enemies and then pouncing in for the kill. The OWL has a limited amount of power though, so there is no way you can rely on it to do your dirty work for the entire length of the campaign. Still, it brings an element of risk vs. reward into play as you decide when best to use your trusty OWL. You’ll use the other three modes on occasion too, mainly zipline, but only in certain situations. It would’ve been great if the use of zipline was opened up a bit so you can move from point-to-point at speed and taken down enemies, but sadly it’s use is somewhat restricted.
The ability to scan your environment is another lovely addition, allowing you to highlight nearby enemies or points of interest and then plan out your next move accordingly. To use it, you hold down right on the d-pad, but hold it down too long and you’ll alert the enemies of your presence. Much like the limited power of the OWL, it’s an element that helps keep the campaign balanced no matter what difficulty your playing on. That leads me very nicely to my next point, enemy AI and the challenge that brings to the table. Killzone: Shadow Fall is by no means an easy game, in fact it’s quite tough, especially during the latter half of the game. While it could be argued that the game is a tad unfair and the difficulty spikes towards the end, I don’t believe that to be the case. You see, the enemy AI in Shadow Fall is very good, meaning you have to be on your toes at pretty much all times. There’s no easy battle, as the Helghast will very cleverly move around the environment looking to cause you pain at every moment, and that’s exactly how it should be, right? This is a war after all, you can’t expect them to just stand there for you to kill. Yes, you will encounter a couple of harder sections as the game draws to a close, but that should be expected. To counter that, you need to use the tools at your disposal and plan your attacks carefully. It’s tough at times due to the intense nature of some battles, but that’s an interesting (yet fair) challenge for you to tackle and overcome. Man up, soldier!
Shadow Fall’s campaign mode will take you around 9 hours to complete on the normal difficulty settings, with exactly the same amount of missions to play through. If you’re a completionist, add 3-4 hours onto that figure if you fancy getting all the unique/rare trophies. Then there’s the excellent multiplayer, a mode that I hope doesn’t go unnoticed by anyone that picks Killzone: Shadow Fall up. Previous Killzone titles had some really good multiplayer options and most are present here too. The usual modes are all intact, with custom Warzones having the potential to really take off if the community has anything to do with it. Personally, I’m a huge fan of the 24 player Team Deathmatch mode. It’s so much fun, with action waiting for you around every single corner of each map (there are 10 available on launch). Unlike most first-person shooters there’s no traditional XP system, instead you progress and unlock items by doing challenges which can be seen in the multiplayer menu. Classes have been streamlined too, with Support, Assault and Scout being the only three available. It’s no big problem though as there are plenty of customisation options for you to change things up to your liking, including weapons and abilities (read: perks). Like I said, it’s a great multiplayer mode and if it clicks with you then that disc will stay in your PS4 for quite a long time.
The weighty gunplay, challenging enemy AI and lack of aim assist might be a turn off for some, but spend time with Killzone: Shadow Fall, embrace its hardcore tendencies, and you’ll uncover what is arguably the best first-person shooter experience available on a console. Killzone has always been an amazingly visceral shooter, and that aspect is even more prevalent now thanks to the jaw dropping visuals. I’m pretty sure launch titles aren’t meant to look this damn good! Great thing is the core experience remains exactly the same in multiplayer too, losing none of its quality.
Sure, the story could’ve done with a bit more work and there are a couple of slightly frustrating sections, but they don’t really detract from the overall quality present in the package. I’ll put it this way, if you like first-person shooters and want a game to show off the PS4’s power, Killzone: Shadow Fall is pretty much essential.