With the next generation now upon us we can stop speculation and begin really understanding the capabilities of these new consoles. When Sony announced the Playstation 4 they didn’t just tell us what it was capable of, they showed us. The Killzone: Shadow Fall trailer looked unreal, it quieted the claims of only a marginal increase of graphics and showed us just how ready we were to move on. Shadow Fall now stands as the premier launch title from Sony’s first-party studios. The game itself, while ultimately failing to bring Killzone to the top tier status it has long been striving for, is as next gen as a launch title can get.
So let’s get down to what everyone wants to know. Yes, Killzone: Shadow Fall looks and runs beautiful in full 1080p. Killzone’s greatest success is the greatest failure of most launch titles for a new generation of hardware, it actually looks next gen. It isn’t just in the visual fidelity either. Shadow Fall guides you on your adventure through some semi open environments that look absolutely stunning. From the closest cliff side to thousands of crates in an enormous storage/prison facility, everything looks fantastic. You can’t point at one area and say “this looks like it could have been on the PS3,” such an example doesn’t exist. One of the best examples of this is the game’s third chapter, which takes place on a mostly abandoned ISA starship. The approach from the outside gives you a perfect look at the sun behind it and stars all around. It is downright gorgeous, giving even hardcore PC gamers something to gawk at. The inside of the ship is moody thanks to perfect lighting, particles littered about the air, object that move through the zero gravity with a simple touch.
The Helghast especially have never looked better and getting up close is almost worth the few extra hits you’ll take in the process. Vekta City Looks almost real with its beautifully rendered glass buildings and is loaded with glowing neon lights and real time reflections as you fly past the various towering structures. For anyone questioning the integrity of the original announcement trailer, that sequence is playable in the game and looks just as good, if not better. No pre-rendered trailers this time around. It is a huge credit to Guerrilla Games that they could make such a technically proficient, artistically pleasing game and have it ready for the console’s launch. This is a game that will have you pressing the Share button as much as any other.
For all it’s grand success visually, Shadow Fall still falls into the familiar failings of previous titles. The single player starts with you playing as a young Lucas Kellen as your father tries to guide you both safely to the other side of the giant wall being constructed to house Helgan refugees. Of course things get dicey and you are saved by a Shadow Marshall, Thomas Sinclair, after your father has been killed by Helghast soldiers. Sinclair takes in poor young Lucas and teaches him the way of the force Shadow Marshalls until he too joins their ranks as a grown man. You once again take control of Lucas as he is sent to retrieve intel on a possible Helghast invasion, taking a troubles young boy and making him into just another soldier. The game tries to give personality to Kellen with a few witty remarks here and there and a few words of encouragement from Sinclair who, despite repeatedly telling him he is so worried about him and cares so deeply, continually sends him behind enemy lines. That, accompanied with Kellen’s continued desire to always refer to him as “sir,” really removes any sense of a father son relationship and any possibility of Kellen having personality. There is also the fact the he seems to take the side of whoever has his ear at the time making him wishy-washy and, again, without any personality or opinions of his own.
Other characters also fail to evoke much emotion. Sinclair is a bigot and believes that the Helghast want nothing more to destroy the Vektans and their way of life. Funny coincidence, the Helghast are putting plans into motion to destroy the Vektans and their way of life. Hera Visari is the new face of the Helghast people and despite her ideals to lead them into a brighter future, she is willing to plunge them further into chaos and war to get there. Neither side, nor their people, are worthy of any sympathy. Echo is the lone bright spot, a half breed Helghast with progressive thinking toward the future. She alone seems to be the only voice of reason in a world lost to single minded fools.
The campaign is an 8-10 hour experience that makes up for its relatively dull plot by being fun to play, most of the time. The Helghast are as fearsome as ever and prove more than a challenge on even normal difficulty. They’ll take shots from cover, they’ll move around to get better vantage points, they are just a better opponent than they were on the Playstation 3. There are the occasional awkward moments, one example being a patrol walking into me with their weapons ready but never actually responding to the fact that I was there, even after I began to kill them. Combat is fun even despite these flaws, though that doesn’t include the game’s occasional boss fights. These fights are dull, repetitive, and take more away from the game than they add. Finally time to kill that guy you have been chasing for the last two hours? Not until you kill his drones that provide ample cover fire and shields, then repeat that process two more times with each time bringing more drones and less fun.
Stealth is an important aspect of Shadow Fall and its more open nature. Many missions allow you to accomplish objectives in the order of your choosing and by the method of your choosing. You can, of course, go in guns blazing and shoot your way to victory, There is also the stealth approach which is fairly well developed and is immensely rewarding. Much like it is in many game that feature good stealth mechanics, it is very satisfying to accomplish your objectives with little to no casualties and without being seen. The game is actually much easier to play when adopting stealth due to the ferocity of your enemies. While stealth could have been embraced just a bit more throughout the campaign, the sequences available are a lot of fun and offer some replay value as you try and do things a bit differently each time.
Shooting has received a massive improvement over previous installments. The weighty feeling of the guns isn’t gone, but firing is much more accurate and effective. You shots will connect more often as long as your good and it makes dispatching the Helghast menace much easier, though the same can be said for them. You’ll have to religiously use cover if you want to survive. Similar to the system implemented in Killzone 2 and 3, simply push up against a piece of cover to attach yourself to it, aim, and fire. There is a wide variety of guns, though you can only have two at any give time, unless you pick up of the of game’s heavy guns which are dropped when switching weapons rather than stored. Shadow Fall also marks the return of secondary fire to weapons, though you’ll have to find one with the option. Most of the time you lean on your reliable LSR44. This is the gun many will be familiar with from the announcement trailer. With the press of a button it can be changed from a short to medium range assault rifle to a high powered, long range rifle. While ammo for this weapon can sometimes be difficult to come by it will be your go to weapon for just about any situation.
The OWL is another new addition to your arsenal as a multipurpose robotic companion. The OWL can assist you in combat, put up life saving shields, shield breaking stuns, and even give you a grapple line to otherwise inaccessible locations. It is also now your lifeline if you are downed in combat. The OWL can revive you only if you have Adrenaline and it is not damaged or on cooldown. Careful use of the OWL is important in some of the tougher fights, but more religious use can also prevent imminent death. The OWL’s mode can be changed by sliding your finger in a direction on the Dualshock 4 touchpad. The touchpad is perfect for simple commands such as this and is easy to do as reloading your weapon. Much like previous titles, Guerrilla has a few interesting new weapons that you will acquire as you progress through the campaign.
Many of these weapons, as well as the tight gunplay, are carried over to the multiplay. This is easily the best Killzone multiplayer has ever been and is possibly the best multiplayer available on the Playstation 4. The core of the experience is Warzone, Killzone’s changing objective mode. Matches can vary from a complete rout of your opponent to huge come from behind victories or hotly contested rounds that come down to the final seconds of a 30+ minute match. The objectives of Warzone can also be selected as individual matchmaking modes for players looking just for team deathmatch and the like. Levels are designed to perfectly accommodate these varying objectives and never gives an advantage to one side or the other. Pulled almost straight out of the campaign, levels look fantastic and have the same visual flair of the campaign. The biggest advantage given to multiplayer is the fact that it runs mostly at 60FPS compared to the locked 30 the campaign runs at.
There are now only three classes to choose from, Scout, Assault, and Support. Each class has their own weapon selection, progression, abilities, and customization options. The Assault class is your classic soldier type who relies primarily on assault rifles and medium range single shot rifles, as well as the OWL from the single player campaign. The support is the closest to a medic you’ll find and is able to place spawn points and revive downed allies. Scouts use long range rifles and cloaking to get superior positioning and safe kills. The classes are mostly balanced, though my experience has found a few teams abusing the Scout class to great effect. These were never unwinnable scenarios, but it is obviously frustrating fighting an enemy that is difficult to see and can more often than not shoot you before you can shoot them. Then again, that may say more about the community than it does about Guerrilla.
The game is punctuated by a powerful score that mixes orchestral with a bit of techno sound. The music always sets just the right mood, even if the events of the game fail to do so. Combat has aggressive tracks that perfectly match the combat on the screen while stealth sequences have a much more subdued sound to them. Sequences where Guerrilla clearly wants you to just take in the scenery have a wonderful, almost jubilant sound to them before going mellow and bringing you back to focus on your objective. I hate to do it, but I’d say it is comparable to the kind of soundtrack you’d hear in a Halo game, Halo 4 specifically. Many times I found myself leaning back just to take the music in and enjoy the scenery.
Killzone Shadow Fall is the true next gen experience players purchasing their shiny new PS4’s will be looking for. It is a game that cannot be done on the older hardware and provides a more rewarding experience because of that, at least at first. Once you get past the shiny new thing phase, you’ll find that Killzone has still failed to evolve its story telling. Even though the multiplayer is leaps and bounds better than its PS3 counterparts, Shadow Fall only feels like 3/4 the game it could and probably should have been. This is normally the part where I would say something like “there is plenty of room for improvement and I’m sure they’ll get it next time,” but we are four games into this series now. Four games and Guerrilla is still making the same mistakes in storytelling they have been making throughout their time making Killzone. I’m past the point of giving them the benefit of the doubt and am ready to say that this is probably the best we are going to get from them in this regard. Though I am sure the multiplayer will continue to be at the top of its game as this series inevitably expands, it may be time to admit that Killzone isn’t going the be the premier shooter Guerrilla and Sony have been trying to build it into. Shadow Fall is a good game and worth playing, but as more games come to the Playstation 4 that look just as good, play just as good, but offer a better overall package Shadow Fall may go from must have to just another game.