A fresh start
For franchise sequels that accompany system launches, it’s not uncommon to see the reuse of assets or game engines. We’ve come to expect a simple turning up of the graphics, if you will. The good stuff? The brand new stuff? That usually comes later.
Killzone: Shadow Fall does not follow that pattern. Guerrilla Games went back to the beginning, starting fresh with its first PS4 game. Sometimes a fresh start is the best thing.
Killzone: Shadow Fall (PS4)
Developer: Guerrilla Games
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Released: November 15, 2013
Killzone: Shadow Fall is set some 30 years after Killzone 3, in a time where the ISA and the Helghast are practically next-door neighbors, separated by a massive dividing wall — a Berlin Wall-type situation. While there are still smaller bouts of fighting, the situation now leans more toward political conflict and distrust. There are two sides of this piece of Vekta, half covered with life and progress, and the other half with slums where refugees are barely scraping by.
So now, instead of going against waves of soldiers in all-out war, the fights in Shadow Fall are small and quiet, and are usually based around secret missions where protagonist Lucas Kellan has to keep a low profile as a covert operative. These are missions that are of the utmost importance to ISA, though Kellan begins to question their importance as he comes to understand the Helgan side of the story.
Shadow Fall is more open than any of the previous games, taking players out of corridors and into vast, open play spaces. In fact, the game’s first area is so large that I got lost in it more than once. I immediately found myself hiding in the bushes, nervous over just how much ground there was to cover. Fans of the series as well as shooter players will notice a new flexibility and openness here, with many stages having multiple options for approaches. For these areas, there are no wrong choices. You’re free to go with what fits your play style and mood best, which is a refreshing change.
It seems that avoiding engagement with any more than a couple of enemies is the going theme for Shadow Fall. It’s you against the Helgan world, so you’re best served by laying low, working to pick off enemies individually if possible. Of course, if you’ve got the chops, you’re free to take on everyone at once. But it seems that Guerrilla built Shadow Fall around more careful play, maybe taking cues from stealth games like Dishonored. This tone makes everything you set out to do feel a bit more meaningful, and that feeling ties in nicely with the game’s story.
Most of the game’s missions have you doing things like sneaking across enemy lines to meet informants, or crawling in ducts to quietly take a target out. It’s stealth right alongside guns-a-blazing, making for a really entertaining mix across the 10 or more hours of the single-player campaign. In some cases, you can choose to play missions either way, though you’ll find a lot of them are best approached carefully.
But you’re not completely alone out there. A remote drone called OWL is at your command, ready to be sent out to peek around corners and get some suppression fire going so that you can take a quick breather. OWL can also set up a temporary shield, jam other shields, hack into enemy security systems, and even send out a zip line for you. To call OWL useful would be an understatement. I don’t think I would have made it through this game without it.
OWL’s control makes use of the DualShock 4’s touch pad, with directional swipes triggering its four main functions. Think of these swipes as a stand-in for more buttons on the controller. For example, to send OWL out to take down baddies, simply swipe upward to turn on its attack mode, move the reticle to where you’d like it to go, and then tap L1. OWL magically appears and starts laying down the hurt. Another tap of L1 brings him back. The zip-line function works the same way: swipe to the right, point, tap L1, and ride down.
Shadow Fall’s objective system is simple and elegant. A tap up on the d-pad will give you a quick reminder of what you’re supposed to be doing as well as turning on a temporary waypoint to head toward. Holding up on the d-pad lets you get a better look at your objective as well as review your past ones.
The rest of the d-pad is used for other abilities, with the most useful being a scanning pulse echo that lets you see the position of enemies and items through walls. Holding down the direction increases the range of the pulse, but holding it too long sends out static that makes your location known to enemies. The opposite direction on the d-pad gives you a shot of adrenaline, which temporarily heals you up as well as slows down time, giving you a short double advantage.
Guerrilla attempts to break up the shooting with sequences with other types of action, though not all of these attempts are as enjoyable as others. Short sequences that have Kellan floating through space were a nice change of pace.
Basic puzzles, mostly relating to unlocking doors or other pathways, reminded me of Dead Space, and were fine. But platforming in first-person is not an easy thing, and trying to do so on narrow platforms while dodging fast-moving obstacles was supremely frustrating. Finally, while the game’s couple of free-fall segments looked great, their control is clunky, which had me dying dozens of times each.
But these sequences are a small issue when factored into the full experience. Shadow Fall’s single-player campaign is well designed, thoroughly challenging, and full of surprises. It’s a journey that takes you from filthy underground ghettos to the top of towering skyscrapers, going up against everything from tiny automated robo-spiders to terrifying, building-sized sentries. There was never a dull moment.
Even if the single-player side of the game is good enough to warrant the price of entry, there’s still a robust multiplayer offering to add to it. Expect three classes, 10 maps, and almost two dozen weapons to play with. This 1080p, high-frame-rate offering will be what keeps you playing your PS4 beyond the launch window.
Among the modes, Wargames have match rules changing over time to keep things lively. You’ll be thrown into games that have you capturing or destroying points alongside your standard deathmatches, all in a random rotation. And speaking of lively, all of the weapons are available from the start.
Instead of fighting to earn experience, you take on challenges during multiplayer to benefit your profile. Your rank goes up as you check items off the challenge list. For example, blowing up an enemy turret will add to your rank.
The action in Shadow Fall’s multiplayer keeps you on your toes, especially in one mode called Paranoia in the Park, where only scouts can play. You get one life, one gun for sniping, and no radar — it’s kill or be killed. I spent a lot of time in the kill cams in this one. Play is fast, but not so fast that it’s hard to keep up. Being able to use the pulse echo to see all of your enemies within a short range is really nice, though they can see you just as well.
Matches take place across 10 maps, with fights going down anywhere from factories to penthouses to a future indoor shopping center. My favorite has you out in the woods in a wide area with plenty of hiding places in bushes and cave-like rock formations. You can climb up in tree perches to get your snipe on, but you’re a sitting duck for all those in hiding. Having cloaking abilities here makes things particularly interesting.
Guerrilla leaves it up to the players to determine match rule sets. Get as specific as you’d like with weapon requirements, lives, and player types, or leave it all open — it’s up to you.
Of course, the feel is more important than any mode or progression method. I’m happy to say that Killzone: Shadow Fall is butter smooth in multiplayer, with aiming and movement that feel precise and well-tuned. I’m sure that Guerrilla put some solid work in under the hood to make this happen, but I feel like the DualShock 4’s new sticks and triggers are doing their part as well. I was surprised at just how quickly I became connected with multiplayer’s feel. Never has a game’s multiplayer locked in so quickly for me.
If Killzone: Shadow Fall is what next-gen looks like, I’m pleased. Guerrilla aims to impress right out of the gate, with an opening that shows the high level of detail over what looks like millions of futuristic buildings glimmering in the sunlight.
The full 1080p resolution with a solid framerate never let me down, and I got so used to how that looked that picking up a current-generation shooter right after was almost shocking. Background textures are almost photorealistic in places, and Guerrilla makes excellent use of PS4’s power to light scenes at every opportunity.
My only real visual gripe were the doughy faces and stiff animations in some of the cutscene closeups, though they have no bearing on gameplay. Aside from that, there was the rare set detail that looked poor in comparison to the foreground stuff, and some of the NPC models weren’t up to snuff. But for the most part, Shadow Fall is one hell of a looker.
I like Killzone: Shadow Fall for its change of direction from previous series games, as well as its change of pace over other first-person shooters. Guerrilla has tried a few new things this time around, and should be commended as such. I welcome the almost sandbox-ish level approach, and the stealth segments did a nice job of breaking up the standard shooting action. It’s really nice when gameplay concepts win out over big set pieces and cinematic events.
Oh, and it’s beautiful. A stunner. Killzone: Shadow Fall is the game that will make you happy to own a PS4. This needs to be on your PS4 launch game list.