I have always felt that the Killzone series was full of brilliant potential that was always held back by poor execution. Despite this, they managed to thrive on Sony platforms and remained solid first-person shooters, even with all of their flaws. Killzone was a self-proclaimed “Halo-killer” that ended up another generic brown and gray FPS that failed to please. Killzone 2 had much better luck and introduced us to the power of the PS3 and the overall escapade was much more dramatic and engaging. Killzone 3 continued to build upon the success of the previous entry, bringing the trilogy to a dramatic close. Now, Killzone: Shadow Fall enters the fray as the only notable first-party exclusive in the PlayStation 4’s launch lineup. It aims to reinvent the series – and for better or worse, it does just that.
Killzone: Shadow Fall (PS4)
Developer: Guerrilla Games
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Released: November 15, 2013
Killzone: Shadow Fall takes place 30 years after the events of Killzone 3. The Vektans were nice enough to give the surviving Helghast the ability to live in harmony on the planet – but on the city on the other side of a massive dividing wall like the unwanted dogs they are. Knowing the Helghast and their inspiring grudge-holding skills, it was only a matter of time before they put forth their plans of revenge against the Vektans. Players take control of the protagonist Lucas Kellan as he carries out covert ISA operations on the Helghast side of the wall in an attempt to thwart their plans before they can be put into motion. Given the nature of his insertion, Shadow Fall replaces Killzone’s trademarked battleground warfare with smaller, intimate encounters that can play out a number of ways, but if you slip up an alarm will sound and endless waves of enemies will make your job a lot harder.
The story of Shadow Fall is unlike anything you’ve seen in a Killzone game to date. Building upon the rich history the series has created over the years, the story of Shadow Fall actually feels like a believable result of the previous conflict and hostility that lead everyone to the current state of the world. Most surprising of all, Shadow Fall is capable of bestowing us sensitive types with emotional attachment to characters on both sides of the wall.
The entire stealth aspect feels inspired by Crysis – optional and encouraged, but far from mandatory. You can dispatch enemies in a run-and-gun fashion just as easily as you can if you were to sneak up on them, but the later is what Shadow Fall is all about. The level design is more open than that in previous games and as a result supplies players with more tactical freedom. It’s far from what could be considered an open world – but that’s completely fine considering it’s incredibly easy to get lost and disorientated in some of the outdoor levels and their current state serve their purpose well.
To help aid Lucas in his adventures in Terror Town, he is joined by his OWL, a remote drone that can be used in various ways to minimize Lucas’ risk of being caught and maimed. It can supply suppressing fire, set up shields, jam transmissions, hack things, and attach zip lines to make navigating the environment easier. Switching the OWL’s abilities is done by swiping the controller’s touch pad in one of four directions and then pressing L1 to execute. The process of using the OWL feels unnatural at first, but once you get used to the PS4 controller’s touch pad, you’ll find the speed of switching his abilities a welcome surprise. If used correctly, the OWL can be a powerful tool in Lucas’ arsenal, turning players into a high-tech killing machine along the likes of a super-solder.
I’ll admit, I’ve never been a fan of the multiplayer part of console first-person shooters because I’m about as useful to the team as a potato, but Shadow Fall’s wide range of multiplayer maps and modes were enough to sway the likes of me into giving it a go. Out of the box, the multiplayer portion greets players to 10 maps, three classes, and damn near two dozen weapons to shoot your friends and enemies with. The classes are more refined and consolidated versions of classes featured in previous games. These classes are Assault, Scout, and Support – all are exactly what you’d expect, but Support gains some of the Medic class abilities from past Killzone titles, making it my class of choice.
The main draw of the online portion is “Wargames,” which is a game mode that features constantly changing rules test players attention spans and their ability to focus on objectives over kill streaks. A lot of online first-person shooters reward players for ignoring the objective and instead opting to go for the kill, but Shadow Fall’s leveling system goes up when you check completed items off of your challenge list to add to your rank. This makes the act of leveling up feel much more rewarding. The entire online experience shines when you take into account the 1080p high-frame-rate the PS4 is capable of producing.
If I have any complaints, it has to be over the textural detail on the character’s faces. While some cosmetic details such as rain trickling down their face is a realistic improvement, the forced expressions on their drab faces pain me to look at. They honestly make me wish everyone were wearing a Master Chief helmet so I didn’t have to wonder why the next generation of consoles is incapable of rendering humans that actually look human. The overall graphical improvements aren’t as impressive as the leap from Killzone to Killzone 2, but they really shine when running at stutter-free frame-rates. To be fair, the graphics are a minor complaint in a sea of praise as far as I’m concerned – but still worthy of note.
The open level design, stellar story-telling, and wealth of online activities make Killzone: Shadow Fall the best entry in the Killzone series to date. It’s a launch game done right and serves to justify the existence of the PlayStation 4. If you’re a fan of story-rich universes and the first-person shooters they are wrapped up in, you’ll gladly find Shadow Fall to be a noble and competent effort by Guerrilla Games that reinvents the Killzone series for the better.