Quick Take: Killzone: Shadow Fall offers a glimpse of the future of PS4 gaming.
When the PlayStation 4 launched in mid-November, there were very few exclusive titles ushering in the new age of the Sony game system. In fact, Knack and Killzone: Shadow Fall were the only first party exclusives available on launch day, and while the former is a lackluster, family-friendly adventure that fails to showcase what the PS4 can do, the latter is the exact opposite.
Killzone: Shadow Fall is the sixth game in the series, but only the fourth console game in the long-running franchise, and the second title released this year, following the incredible Killzone: Mercenary on the PS Vita. Guerrilla Games, the creators of the series, have worked meticulously to create a game that not only moves the story of the war between the Vektans and the Helghast forward, but to also show off just what the PS4 is capable of.
As a first-person shooter (FPS), the player assumes the role of Lucas Kellan, a Shadow Marshall who works on Vekta to keep the peace between the Vektans and the citizens of New Helghan, a settlement created on Vekta for refugees of the war that ended with the detonation of the petrusite-laced Terracide Bomb (from the end of Killzone 3) that nearly wiped out all of Helghan.
The Shadow Marshals are essentially the SEAL Team 6 of the Killzone universe. They do the dirty work to keep the peace at all costs. Throughout the course of the solo campaign, Kellan will uncover a shocking secret that could spell the end of all life on Vekta, and he must race to stop it, even while being chased by his enemies, tortured, haunted by his past, and even held back by his own superiors.
The story is decent, and works to move the greater mythology of Killzone forward. Lucas Kellan is serviceable as the lead, and his immediate superior, Sinclair–who has raised Kellan after Lucas, as a young boy, loses his father in the game’s opening mission–is a well-written character with multiple facets.
The true standout is the character of Echo, a Vektan/Helghan half-breed, who is also a shadowy assassin and a dead-shot sniper. She reluctantly aids Kellan midway through the campaign and the missions that she is a part of are easily some of the best in the game.
Killzone: Shadow Fall looks gorgeous, as to be expected from a true next-gen game. The game runs in 1080p at 60 FPS, and the lighting effects and shadows are stunning. The first true display of the graphical dominance is during the first few missions when Kellan is dropped over the wall into New Helghan to rescue the crew of a downed military aircraft. The setting is a patch of forest next to a huge dam, and it’s late afternoon, so the sun is on its way to setting for the night. The entire level is breathtaking as each tree’s leaves are animated and the shadows on the ground correspond accordingly. This was the first time I truly felt like I was playing a new-gen game.
Killzone: Shadow Fall mixes up the levels so the player isn’t always in the dark, dirty slums of New Helghan, or the bright, clean cities of Vekta. There are even two chapters that take place on space stations–one an abandoned derelict–that involves a spacewalk and then the exploration and some minimal puzzle solving to clear the level. The variety here is welcome, as past Killzone games have relied too much on repetitive level design elements and settings.
The fourth chapter, which was used as the demo during the PlayStation 4’s announcement last February, involves a terrorist attack on the Vektan capital city. There are explosions and chaos and there is so much action going on–all at the same time–including fires and pillars of smoke and shootings and civilians running and screaming, and the PS4 processes it all. I felt the chaos of the moment and the frame rate never dropped during the entirety of it all. This level was a good indicator of what this system can do, and this is only a launch game.
As for the controls, Killzone: Shadow Fall makes full use of the DualShock 4 controller. Kellan is teamed up with a personal attack drone called an OWL, and the DualShock 4’s touch pad is how the player controls it. Swipe up and hit L1, and OWL will attack. Swipe to the left and press L1 and OWL will hack into a system or self-destruct to stun enemies. Swipe to the right and hit L1, and OWL becomes a zip line.
To put it plainly, the OWL is extremely handy to have, and the DualShock 4 makes controlling it a breeze. Also, the light bar on the controller is tied to Lucas’ health. It glows green when all is good, but as Kellan takes damage, the light goes to yellow, then to red, and then to blinking red before death comes. Playing Killzone: Shadow Fall in a dark room means the reflective glow on my lap is my health meter, and it’s fantastic.
Multiplayer in Killzone: Shadow Fall is stronger than ever, with ten maps to play on (with more coming in DLC), with three classes (Assault, Scout and Support) to choose from, each with multiple loadouts to customize. The games themselves are well executed, with the classic “Warzone” mode the best of them all. Warzone takes two teams of 12 (24 players total) and tasks them with completing multiple game modes within one long session. The first mode could be Team Deathmatch, but then could switch to Beacon Runner, or Conquest. It’s completely random which mode will come up next, and the team that wins the most modes wins the match. Warzone is perfect for gamers with short attention spans.
Killzone: Shadow Fall also has a pretty decent user-created mode, which allows the player to create their own versions of Warzone that can be published and played by friends and strangers. You can choose the map, the objective(s), the player limits, and so much more. I have a few user-created Warzones out there, as designing them and naming them has become a hobby of mine.
Killzone: Shadow Fall can be played entirely using the PS Vita, and the graphics understandably downgrade on the weaker processor of the handheld console. The rear touch screen stands in for the L1 and R1 buttons and the change becomes fluid after a short time. The rear touch screen also controls the OWL.
Killzone: Shadow Fall is not without issues. Guerrilla Games insistence on trying to give the main character legs and feet is laughable at best. If you look down while running, you will see two rag-doll appendages that look less like working legs and feet, and more like a character from the Silly Symphony cartoons of the 1940s. I bring it up, as every time I looked down, it brought me out of the game. I think this far along in the history of the FPS, we can all agree that the character has legs and feet and we really don’t need to see them to know that.
Also, the character models are not as refined and new-gen as the levels themselves. Sinclair looks good, for the most part, and Echo–who wears a hood–is okay, but everyone else looks off. I’ve seen better facial models on the last gen systems. I’d like to see Guerrilla Games make a better effort to create life-like faces and body movements, as an upgrade there could elevate the Killzone franchise into the same ring as Halo, or even the Battlefield series.
Lastly, objective markers can be set by Kellan using OWL to scan a room. This is a neat feature–and desperately needed, but in later missions, the objective marker got easily lost in the action on screen, and in one level that begins with a sub-orbital free fall, I had no idea what direction I was supposed to aim for. The on-screen instructions were running as I was falling toward a ruined city of skyscrapers, and I couldn’t dodge them and read what it was telling me at the same time. Pausing the game only gave me the objective goals, and didn’t tell me how to control my free fall, or where I was supposed to go. This two-minute event to start a mission took me over an hour, spread out over two gaming sessions, to figure out. I was frustrated, to say the least.
Killzone: Shadow Fall is a great launch game to really give players a feel for what the PS4 can do, and where it’s ultimately going. It looks stunning in almost every way, and the use of the DualShock 4’s proprietary features like the light bar and touch screen made the game a truly enjoyable experience.
I play and enjoy online multiplayer on both Call of Duty: Ghosts and Battlefield 4 on the PS4, but I find myself turning to the multiplayer in Killzone: Shadow Fall more and more. The maps are tight and fun, the customization of loadouts is very deep, and the players I play with are generally good people (I’ve found from experience). I think this is a true testament to just how good the online multiplayer is here, and I’m truly looking forward to more maps and weapons via DLC and through the season pass.
Killzone: Shadow Fall seems to have all the pieces in place to tell new and exciting stories, deliver stellar, out of this world multiplayer experiences, and utilize creative uses for the DualShock 4 controller. As the technology gets better, telling these stories, and giving gamers a product that they can get behind and truly enjoy should become easier, and Guerrilla Games is poised to take that advantage. The PlayStation 4 is the perfect game system for this franchise, and I think now even Guerrilla Games understands that.
Killzone: Shadow Fall was reviewed on PS4 using a copy purchased at retail. It released exclusively for PS4 on November 15, 2013.
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