When a new console launches, there seems to be three types of games that always launch with it: a racing game, a new IP, and a gorgeous game that tests the systems abilities. The PS4 had DriveClub (Or it would have had it not been delayed), Knack and Killzone Shadow Fall. Shadow Fall was shown at the PS4 reveal event to prove just how incredible the new console could look, and it looks even better now at its release. Unfortunately, graphics do not create an amazing story, but story can be made up for with great gameplay and multiplayer.
Our story begins 30 years after the events Killzone 3, with the Helghast home world uninhabitable due to the detonation of the Terracide (a genocidal bio-weapon). The survivors of the blast have been relocated to the Vektan home world of Vekta, where they have been granted half the planet. To keep the two, still angry, sides from killing one another, a massive wall was been built between the two sides. The analogies to the Cold War are quite obvious throughout the game, with the Helghast playing the part of the Russians, and Vektans playing the US and its EU allies.
You take on the role of Vektan Security Agency shadow marshal, Lucas Kellan. If you’re wondering what a Shadow Marshall is, it’s a combination of Spy, Navy Seal and Space Marine. Lucas is tasked with trying to stop an all new genocidal weapon from falling into the hands of the Helghast.
If it sounds like you’ve heard this kind of story before, you have. It’s a simple story, but one that gets bogged down in poor writing and the need awkward pacing. Many aspects of the story, like it’s analogs to the Cold War and even our own War on Terror, are incredibly interesting. Quiet moments when you are among-st citizens of both sides are fascinating, and could have been worked into a much greater social commentary, but those threads never come to fruition.
Guerrilla created only about three interesting characters for our tale; your commander at the VSA, Sinclair, a Helghast spy named Echo, and your primary antagonist Stahl. Sinclair, played by David Harewood of Homeland fame, is the normal tough stoic commander who is constantly suspicious of the opposing side. Harewood offers a great performance, but his writing is two dimensional. Echo, played by True Blood’s Jamie Gray Hyder, shows players Lucas’ Helghast counterpart. Hyder gives a good performance, but you will see her actions and background coming from a mile away. Stahl, played by Gideon Emery, is an almost over the top antagonist. I can’t tell if his writing is cheesy, or Emery plays things a little over the top, but it all feels somewhat cartoony. It’s not necessarily bad, but it feel wrong in such a serious tale.
In classic Guerrilla Games fashion, Shadow Fall is gorgeous. I don’t know what kind of deal with the devil Guerilla made, but they have once again created a mind meltingly beautiful game. Gone are the brown and destroyed landscapes of previous Killzone games, and in their place are the luscious colors of Vekta. The landscapes are massive, all immensely detailed, as are the enemies. Shadow Fall is a true testament to what next-gen gaming can be. With each game, the Amsterdam based studio pushes the limits of PlayStation hardware, and I can only imagine how good future games may look, if this is just a launch title. One downfall of the game visuals is it’s insistence on lens flare. I’ve always hated when the sun becomes my enemy in a game, and Killzone falls into this trap far too often. Don’t get me wrong, it looks good, but it hinders the gameplay, which should always come first.
You’ll traverse each side of the wall and beyond during the games 8-10 hour campaign. Thankfully, each level feels unique and rarely feel derivative of previous missions. Many of the games ten missions also give the players a large play space and the freedom to tackle an objective however they see fit. The option to play missions stealthy or guns blazing is always a plus, but Killzone’s stealth system is far from perfected, which can cause a perfectly executed flank to become a firefight at the last second.
Unfortunately, a few of the missions proved to be infuriating, and forced me to set down my controller for a while to not break it. I don’t want to spoil anything, but you’ll notice just how bad the games stealth system is during a few middle missions, and it may infuriate you as hard as it did me. The zero-G segments also felt forced at times, and one particular free-fall segment proved even more frustrating then the stealth missions. The game’s core combat and gameplay thankfully work great, and any missions that let you into a large play space function far better. The standard shooter mechanics are bolstered by a cover system and slide action that make each combat more enjoyable. I also want to credit Killzone with an awesome ending that I really was not expecting.
The enemies are the Helghast, as always, and they come in the standard variety of enemy types. There are basic soldiers, medics, heavys and almost every other normal video game solider. Interspersed with these soldiers are mechanized enemies like spider mines and drones. These don’t exactly revolutionize the game, and often hamper the experience. The spider mines especially prove more of an annoyance than a challenge. In later missions, the odds can also feel overwhelming due to the types of enemies you fight, but when you conquer your foe, it is incredibly satisfying.
Multiplayer is where Killzone really shines. Warzone is Shadow Fall’s primary multiplayer mode, which features multiple, changing objectives that continually keep a match feeling fresh. During a normal 15 minute match, players will compete to get the most kills, capture beacons, and destroy enemy bomb sites. On top of all of the rapid changes, multiplayer runs at an incredibly smooth 60 frames-per-second and at a stunning 1080p. I noticed no real drops in frame rate, even when there were upwards of eight players and two drones all battling over a single bomb site. The 24 player gametypes can prove quite hectic, but feel the maps expertly allow accommodate the large number of players.
Each map is meticulously thought out and planned to the tee. The structure of each map focuses the fighting into central portions, with multiple different flanking routes to get the jump on your opponent. With all weapons being unlocked at level 1, players can really find the right weapon for them and focus on it. I have grown tired of the Battlefield and Call of Duty grind for a certain gun, and then it is awful. Replacing this grind is Challenges, which are specific tasks for the players to complete using different guns. Completing these challenges unlock different attachments for the weapons, and increases your overall rank. All of Killzone’s weapons feel unique, but not overpowered, with each one serving a specific role for each of the three classes: scout, support and assault. Each of these classes also has access to perks like cloak (for the scout) and support drone (for support) that allow you to really play the multiplayer how you want.
All warzones are customizable as well. If you want to play pistols only on certain maps like The Spire and Park, you can create that Warzone, and make it playable for all players. This custom gametype matchmaking is something I have been clamoring for in other titles like Halo and Gears of War for years and think it could extend the games lifespan even further. Guerilla has also said it plans on making popular community warzones into official playlists. This type of work with the community with create a long life span, as will all future map packs for the game being free.
Killzone Shadow Fall showcases exactly how much of a powerhouse the PS4 really is. The graphical fidelity of Guerrilla Games’ latest title is simply tremendous, being arguably the best looking game I’ve ever seen (and I’ve played Crysis 3 on Ultra). The gameplay is tight and fluid, while learning from mistake of previous game. The mostly well designed missions make the journey through the campaign enjoyable, although the story and voice acting are unfortunately lacking. Multiplayer is the shining light of Shadow Fall, with warzone offering up new objectives every few minutes. Customizable gametypes and the deep challenge system will bring this game a rather long online lifespan. Shadow Fall proves itself to be a worthy showcase of PS4’s potential, and just how good it is today.
Final Score: 4 out 5
by, Bobby Marquardt
Full Disclosure: I completed the campaign on Normal difficulty, and it took me right about 9 hours. I have played roughly 4 hours of multiplayer and reached rank 99 in multiplayers as of this writing. This review was completed on a retail copy purchased at Target. All images taken from Killzone’s official website.