Review: Killzone Shadow Fall Is A Great Way To Start Life With The PS4
It's not just the PlayStation 4 that's here now, but also the first of Sony's franchise reboots. Does Shadow Fall take Killzone in a better direction, or was it all better left untouched?
- Worth The Time?Yes, I'm sure of it.
- Things LovedBrutal and challenging gameplay, the OWL is an excellent core mechanic that makes the gameplay feel fresh, fantastic world design that beats out all of its predecessors, arguably the best Killzone campaign yet, the story actually redeems itself and becomes interesting, it has a great ending, out of this world visuals with a smooth frame rate, the multiplayer is an absolute blast, more multiplayer maps are inbound as free DLC.
- Things HatedSome bad level design can make you get lost, the objective marker can be unnoticeable in certain environments, it can be frustrating as you'll sometimes get swarmed and shot at from all directions, lack of melee kill animations, you do wish for a few more unique guns, enemies can irritatingly blend into the background, you aren't invincible during melee kills.
- RecommendationTo all Killzone fans or PlayStation 4 owners who are major shooter fans, Killzone Shadow Fall is the real deal, and the ideal launch title.
- Name: Killzone Shadow Fall
- Genre: First Person Shooter
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: Online (24 players)
- Platforms: PS4
- Developer: Guerrilla Games
- Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
- Price: R649-799
- Reviewed On: PS4
Killzone Shadow Fall had a lot of hype behind it not only due to it having been revealed back in February of this year, but of course because it’s the big launch title for the PlayStation 4 and the fourth major title in the franchise, although admittedly the game only really came to fame after the fantastic second entry. Now, there has been quite a bit of debate among our team regarding the lofty expectations and the reality that is launch games. Nevertheless, there comes the time when the final product is sitting in your lap and the time to discuss how things ought to be is gone. For me personally, I approached this game as I did any other, blocking out media hype, the words of friends and any emotional attachment to the series and PlayStation itself, and simply allow the game do the talking and then make a judgement. It’s an approach I’ve trusted in for years, so next generation or not, I had Killzone Shadow Fall to play and that’s the game I’m reviewing, irrespective of all other factors.
The game, like Sony’s future franchises, is a reboot yet is canonically part of the same world. The game takes place some thirty years after the events of Killzone 3 where the ISA has granted refuge to the Helghast survivors on planet Vekta, as a result of the Petrusite detonation that rendered their planet uninhabitable. The Helghast have colonised half the planet and both factions are separated by The Wall, yet still run covert operations against each other with the aim of stopping the war each side blames the other for. Players take on the role of Lucas Kellan, a Shadow Marshall under the command of war leader Sinclair, who wants to cripple the Helghast and end the battle. I won’t say much more, because the opening few acts of this game are a lot of military wank that actually put me off as it was your same old typical crap of the poor struggling, heroic humans against the devil’s monstrous army of Helghast and it honestly just felt juvenile, or as though Guerilla Games really hasn’t progressed.
However, to my great happiness, that was just initially. Fortunately, Shadow Fall takes a turn for the interesting when you visit the Helghan planet and see why the Helghast are the way they are, and discover what’s really going on as a result of the war, and see things from the other side. Now, let me establish something here first. I’m really not saying stories can’t have straight and simple good and bad guys and neither am I saying that every story needs some deep exploration of moral complexity and bad guys who are just misunderstood. Not at all. I’m just not a child anymore and can’t stomach that ‘Merican hero rubbish. I at least want the villains to be explored, so I know why I should hate them and what their motives are, because no one in these wars fights for nothing. After all, both sides believe they’re right, and their soldiers believe in that cause as well. It’s just good to have subtext, and something more to your narrative than a cartoon plot. Sure, this particular set up is nothing new as far as narrative originality is concerned, but the way Killzone Shadow Fall presents it is really intriguing, and it all leads to a fantastic pay off with an ending that was honestly pretty great and pleasantly surprising. It felt conclusive, and as a story I enjoyed it far more than the usual drivel from this series.
The first thing you’ll notice about Shadow Fall is that its unlike any of its predecessors with its art direction and world design. In my opinion, it’s far superior. While I absolutely loved the dark and gritty world of Killzone 2 where the only things that stood out were the red Helghast eyes, here the locations are so visually interesting, especially the Vekta and Helghan planets, that you’ll be in awe most of the time. There’s great use of colour as well, which is a jump from its monotone predecessors, yet it still retains the Killzone feel. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind about this being an absolutely gorgeous game, and its phenomenal visuals are further complemented by its crisp smooth frame rate. It’s the real deal at 60fps, and I can confirm that only on two occasions in my extremely lengthy time with this game did I ever notice frame rate drops, which were really slight and brief to the point of insignificance. Once you go 60fps, if this kind of thing matters to you, the fluidity of movement makes it difficult to go back to anything else. This game is just beautiful, with ridiculous amounts of detail, jaw-dropping lighting and stunning world design. The kicker? This is just the start. And Shadow Fall is a good one at that.
The gameplay is more or less in line with with its predecessors regarding the feeling of it all, but there are plenty of elements that do more than enough to freshen up the whole experience, making Killzone Shadow Fall almost feel like a whole new game often enough. At the forefront of these features is the OWL, an advanced attack drone that is essential to survival. You see, Killzone Shadow Fall is both brutal and challenging, and if you don’t make use of your resources, you’ll die. A lot. The OWL has four primary functions governed by swipes on the DualShock 4’s touch pad, namely attack, stun, zipline and shield. Attack sends the drone to fire out on your enemies and draw their attention away from you, stun causes it to emit an EMP blast that temporarily throws multiple enemies off and disables their shields if they have, zipline enables you to traverse the map and shield brings up an energy field in front of you that blocks incoming bullets. The OWL is a great deal of fun to use and it’s an excellent core mechanic that you’ll struggle to do without, especially since its other main function is reviving you if you die using adrenaline shots, of which you can carry two at any one time. This is not done automatically as the OWL needs to be recharged to do it and of course you might actually want to die and reload your save.
The OWL definitely makes gameplay feel very fresh, and on top of that you’ve got a bunch of weapons that are extremely satisfying to use. Of course you have your conventional machine guns, pistols and shotguns, but you also have, as your primary weapon, an energy-based machine gun that, at the push of a button, can turn into a high-powered rifle with a deadly charge shot as well as a few other interesting weapons. Like its predecessors, its not the originality of Killzone’s weapons that make it so enjoyable and satisfying, but rather the fantastic feeling of power and weight behind firing these weapons. You do find yourself wishing for a few more unique guns though, as well as additional melee kill animations. While the ones that are available are spectacularly brutal, long before the end of the campaign you’ll probably have grown tired of even your favourite one. On that note, a questionable gameplay flaw is in the fact that you aren’t invincible during melee kills, so you can often get shot to death while doing one that you can’t cancel. Online it makes complete sense because you can save your teammates this way, but in the single player campaign it can just be frustrating.
There are some other sources of frustration in the gameplay as well, sadly. Firstly, while it’s great to see that some levels are expansive and open and allow for freedom of movement, some bad level design can cause you to get lost now and again, and a fairly consistent pet peeve of mine was being unable to properly see the tiny objective marker that can be unnoticeable in certain bright environments. Perhaps the worst offender though is how enemies can irritatingly blend into the background, because Shadow Fall’s new sense of vibrant colour means the Helghast eyes don’t stick out as much, and as a result you can fall victim to getting shot from all directions and not knowing where enemies are, especially when there are plenty of them. Overall though, the campaign is a fun thrill ride that certainly packs more stand-out moments than its predecessors, and in many ways it was the best campaign in the series for me, especially with that ending and a few moments I definitely went to go replay after finishing them. It’s pretty lengthy as well, clocking in at ten chapters.
Killzone Shadow Fall did convince me of a few things with the new DualShock 4 controller as well. The first is that the analogue sticks are a dream for precision, and I could aim and get those headshots and snap to targets better than I ever could on the DualShock 3, which feels so inferior by comparison. Secondly, the trigger buttons are so much better for shooting, and you’ll no more need to always remap the fire key to R1 because the marshmallow trigger just never helped. I liked how the game mapped the OWL’s functions to the touch pad, which is not only smooth to use and efficient but also enables the game to translate nicely to Vita via Remote Play, which worked beautifully. I thought it was alright as well how the game used the light bar, where it’s green if your health is full but turns red when you’re low or out, but I can’t see much practical use for it right now, and it felt pretty unnecessary other than to be visually pleasing. Playing shooters on the PS4 already feels much better than on its predecessor.
The multiplayer is classic Killzone more or less, but it feels fresher than ever with its very new map designs, perks and widespread variety. The game ships with ten multiplayer maps, but more are on the way as free DLC, which is awesome. Like in previous Killzones, there is your usual Team Deathmatch and Warzone, which is the staple mode in which you get a variety of team objectives throughout one session. However, this time around there are plenty of additional little fun game modes you can join in on as well, which are basically matches with unique parameters. For example, I played a mode in which only sidearms and explosives were allowed, and another in which every player got a shotgun chosen by a developer of the game. These definitely spice up your game when you feel for something other than the usual, and they give you reason to keep coming back online to see what’s new out there.
Usually I’m not always a big fan of simplification, but I like how the class system has been streamlined to Assault, Scout and Support. It’s more sensible, and the three classes have more than enough about them to make playing each a very different experience. The perk system is at the heart of differentiating the classes, and it makes the multiplayer fantastically good fun. For example, Scouts can turn invisible and stalk enemy players with a knife, while Assault can select a perk that gives them a huge speed boost and Support can pick one that allows them to plant turrets onto the ground. Each class has multiple perks to mix up their playstyles, as well as a preset ability. Scouts have the ability to send out a wave that locates nearby players even through walls, Assault can bring up a defensive shield and Support can heal fallen allies. Each class also has its own set of unique challenges and skill enhancements to unlock by completing them, and these are fun to pursue. It definitely helps make the game a lot more addictive, especially when you’re unlocking more weapons and gear and making your own set of four loadouts for each class, giving you plenty of setups to play around with.
I’ll be honest. I’m not really the biggest multiplayer fan these days. I’m currently only a massive junkie for Dota 2, although I did used to be one for Counter Strike, Battlefield and Call of Duty 4 once upon a time. That said, there hasn’t been a multiplayer offering for a long time that made me as happy as Killzone Shadow Fall. In my second session, I played for six hours straight and only the death of my DualShock 4’s battery forced me to leave. It’s just that fun, and I’m actually eager to play it some more. It doesn’t help also that finding a game is an extremely fast and easy process, and you’ll basically be in one five seconds after joining. The cynic would argue that it’s my limited options on PS4 right now that’s making me love Shadow Fall like this, but firstly there are very few games I’ll ever go back to play more after a review – most of them I don’t – and secondly I have FIFA 14, so if this is keeping me away from that then it must be doing something pretty damn right. For me it does really well to compete with the excellence of Killzone 2, and while it may not innovate the series, it certainly does more than enough to make the whole experience feel fresh and exciting. I even got excited for certain maps when they suited my preferred stealthy style of play. How sad is that? The maps are all really great by the way.
Killzone Shadow Fall is a fantastic way to start life with the PlayStation 4. While its predecessors were largely similar, this feels like a fresh outing for the series. Overall, it’s truly a great game that does have its flaws, but in the end succeeds in winning you over quite easily with its excellent and highly entertaining multiplayer offering. It’s not exactly a mind-blowing game, if we factor out the visuals of course, but for me it’s the ideal launch game and is perhaps my favourite entry in the franchise. I have a good feeling that this game will help ease the wait for future releases. At least for me it will.