Heralding the arrival of the PlayStation 4 comes Sony’s premier first-person shooter Killzone: Shadow Fall from developer Guerrilla Games. The story is set 30 years after the conclusion of Killzone 3, with planet Helghan in complete ruin. The event, referred to as “The Terracide”, leads the ISA to allow Helghan refugees a partial home on planet Vekta. This creates a cold war type setting with a massive wall separating both civilizations with the main goal becoming an effort to stop a future war from brewing. While the campaign is not perfect, Guerrilla has succeeded in creating beautiful environments and a story that will keep the player engaged. On top of that, the multiplayer suite is top notch and incredibly fun. This culminates in a brilliant package marred only by design decisions that make some parts of the campaign feel quite generic.
You are Michael Kellen, one of the best Shadow Marshals (aka ISA’s covert assassins) the Vektan Security Agency (VSA) can muster. Mentored by the director of the Shadow Marshal, Thomas Sinclair, Kellen goes through a journey where he has to make decisions on his own in order to stop another all-out war. Helping you with your effort is a half-Vektan, half-Helghast character named Echo. As the game goes on, Kellen and Echo develop an intriguing relationship and he questions his own allegiance as the game reaches its climax. Surprisingly, the game’s plot is one of its stronger assets while the gameplay in the campaign falls short of past Killzone titles. The developers decided to go for a more open level design, a la Halo, but all that goes away for large portions of the campaign near the mid-point and tail end of the game. This bizarre decision negatively affects the fun factor and to a degree turns what began as a fresh shooter experience into your everyday corridor shooter. Furthermore, even the zero-g sections meant to keep the gameplay fresh, as you navigate through missions taking place on space stations, are quite interesting in the opening segments of the game but turn into boring escapades through space in the second half of the campaign. Guerrilla would have been better to keep the entire campaign open and fresh as the first few missions were.
With you along the ride is a hovering drone companion named OWL. This gameplay feature, while great, only highlights the short comings of the second half of the campaign. Using the touchpad, players will be able to slide up/down/left/right to command OWL to either attack, stun, shield or rappel,respectively, while also healing you when the player is shot dead assuming you have an adrenaline pack. This works wonders in the more open environments as the player has a lot of control on how to go about and dispatch each new set of enemies. Furthermore, first person controls are turned down a bit from heavier feeling Killzones of yesteryears to more of a modern day shooter feel. A negative aspect comes in the way of enemy AI. There are many moments where either they spot you too quickly, breaking up what could have been a fun stealth section, or they are clumsy, walking into walls at times. This can get frustrating as it instantly breaks immersion and I found myself restarting the checkpoint far too many times.
What Killzone: Shadow Fall does right and almost perfectly is the use of the PlayStation 4 tech. Everything from character models to lighting look stunning as you move through breathtaking environments that deserve to be appreciated. Lack of load times and phenomenal set pieces really cement Killzone’s reputation as one of the best looking games on the market. Going from environment to environment, set piece to set piece, with not as much as a single flash of a black screen really keeps the player immersed in a living breathing world.
The multiplayer suite of Killzone: Shadow Fall is really what fans of the series look forward to most and they will be happy with the results. Taking the great controls and visuals from the campaign, the multiplayer is incredibly fun to play especially when jumping into classic Warzone where 2 teams battle it out in a range of objectives such as Team Deathmatch and Capture the Flag. The winner of 3 of the 5 rounds gets a special treat in way of an end game cut scene where the best players of the winning team execute the best player of the losing team. The odd decision to forego XP and have all weapons unlocked from the get-go forces players to turn to skill instead of level to win in-game firefights and capture valuable objectives. Customizable game variants may well be a huge feature in the future if the Killzone community can come up with compelling game modes that are then shared with the public like its exclusive brethren Little Big Planet. The maps are another plus with a wide range of visually different locales that have just a few problems in terms of map balance when some of the better teams are able to spawn camp the opposition. Patches may also be needed in some of the abilities including the OWL drone becoming a second buddy of any player which results in rather cheap deaths with the drone doing all the work and the player getting lucky at times. Nonetheless the fast paced finale of most matches is incredibly rewarding as your team tries to hold out defending that last bomb or killing the last member of the opposition in a sudden death situation in Team Deathmatch.
Killzone: Shadow Fall is an amazing game. Its only real downfall is the quality of gameplay through poor design in the second half of its campaign and this is what stops it from hitting even higher heights. The story is much better than past games with an emphasis on its dark cold war mood and its multiplayer portion should have a thriving community for months or years to come. Its use of the PlayStation 4 tech at launch only makes me wonder what can be achieved in years to come as developers get acquainted with the new hardware. From its stunning visuals to its emphatic set pieces and its addicting multiplayer, Shadow Fall is a must-buy for all of PS4’s early adopters!