Looking back towards the launches of consoles past I can’t help but associate the launch games with their respective machines. I think of the joyous times that were Super Mario 64, chasing mushrooms in a 3D landscape, much like acting out a music video from The Beatles. I recall the original Timesplitters, a personal favourite that become one the most beloved series in my PlayStation 2 days. However, despite these two examples the legacy of fantastic launch titles is very short lived. Most launch titles fail to surpass the first few years of a consoles life with much success. Needless to say, as development processes improve games become far more impressive leading up to the end of consoles life-span (e.g. GTA V, The Last Of Us). This makes the task laid out before Guerilla Games, a Sony first-party studio, a difficult one. How do you produce a game for a brand new system that not only highlights the new power, but also lasts the test of time? Pass me some beers and I’ll think of something, maybe.
Killzone: Shadow Fall is first-person shooter developed by Guerilla Games, which is set after the events of the previous instalments in the series. Rather than produce a direct sequel Gurerilla Games has focused on a new narrative based on the world of Vekta. In addition, instead of choosing to bring back a previous protagonist the player now takes control of Lucas Kellen, a covert operative known as a Shadow Marshall, making his first appearance in the series.
Following the war that devastated the planet of Helgan, home to the Helghast, the victorious ISA have allowed refugees to their live on their homeworld of Vekta. Half the world now belongs to the Helgan and half to the ISA, separated by an enormous wall to help keep the two cultures from colliding. Both sides still suffer with feelings of mistrust and resentment at the situation and carry out espionage tactics to monitor each other, which is were Kellen and the player come in to the fray.
Killzone Shadow Fall has the not so enviable task of delivering not only a fun mulitplayer game but also a solid singleplayer campaign, something that DICE has failed to accomplish with the Battlefield franchise. The core mechanic in singleplayer remain the same as most first person shooters; an array of armaments, a host of enemies with different classes, and an objective that requires you to use those armaments to full effect. It is a mechanic that works and has been used in the previous Killzone titles welcoming both those who have played before and those new to the series.
New to the series is the use of an OWL drone that is controlled by using the Dualshock 4’s touch pad and the L1 button. The drone has the ability to act as a zip-line, defensive shield, airborne gun turret, and an stun grenade causing an electronic explosion. By swiping across the touch pad the player can select one of the four abilities and by pressing L1, place and activate the drone. Mapping the drone to the touch pad is necessary as the d-pad is already in use for medic packs, selecting secondary fire mode, using the sonar pulse, and highlighting objective information on the HUD. With all the other controls already in use the touchpad is a natural choice for all OWL controls. Both are new features that feel like a perfect organic combination rather than a forced gimmick designed to highlight one of the new features of the PS4 controller. The OWL itself is a useful asset that brings new options into the first-person shooter genre. The ability to zip-line down onto enemies units and bring up a shield to protect yourself from any counter-attacks is a fluid process without any pauses that makes for a truly unique and exciting experience. The only downside is that when directing the drone it can miss the mark, especially when targeting enemies during an intense fire-fight.
Importantly for a FPS, Killzone Shadow Fall serves up some solid shooting mechanics that successfully manage the important balance between skill and accessibility. Most guns can be picked up and aimed with a fair amount of precession, but using the best weapon against different enemy types and choosing reload opportunities is reliant on player ability. Likewise using the correct weapon based on a players own style (aggressive vs defensive) is important as each gun has its own set of attributes. Most weapons are fun to use, but the selection on offer is relatively weak compared to other shooter game on the market. The secondary fire options that some weapons offer does bring some renewed life to the roster, especially in the case of the LSR44 Spoor, Kellen’s main weapon, which can be charged to produce a devastating single shot. As well as the guns, several grenade types are also available to the player. Standing out from the conventional explosive grenades is the E-pulse version that can stun enemies as well as disable electronic units, taking advantage of the Sci-Fi setting of the game.
The narrative throughout the singleplayer is somewhat lacking in characters of interest. Nothing ever enticed me into caring for the characters introduced into the story despite the number of painful attempts to bring personal conflict and emotion in to the game. Most of the time I was all to aware of the artificial nature of the characters and their seemingly implausible personalities. My lack of empathy could be explained by the relatively simple story line that was all to short on innovation for what I had expected from a next-gen title. The majority of the time I felt frustrated by the actions taking place in the story and I was disconnected from the characters before they had a chance to truly engage me. Simple game flaws also let the game down such as dialogue instructions given during action heavy sections, which are easily missed.
Overall the singleplayer is somewhat of let-down given the pre-launch hype and what was available on the previous generation of consoles. The innovative controls and accomplished mechanics are offset by an sub-par narrative and characters that make Hayden Christensen’s portrayal of Anakin Skywalker tolerable (OK, maybe that is a bit harsh). While the campaign is worth a go and a nice way to pick up a few easy trophies along the way, I can see very few players treasuring their experiences or coming back to replay the singleplayer.
As with previous Killzone titles, Shadow Fall has an online multiplayer that allows players to take the action beyond the singleplayer campaign. Multiplayer consists of warzones that contain different missions objectives (e.g. Deathmatch, Capture the flag style Beacon retrieval etc.), separated into different classes players have unique abilities and weapons designed to form effective teams. There are over ten different maps available on which the action takes place.
Compared with other first-person shooters Killzone presents players with a less sophisticated version of small scale battles. Vehicles are not present and maps are suited to a corridor style shooter that is more synonymous with the Call Of Duty franchise. This forces players into close quarters combat that will not suit the gamer looking for all-out large scale warfare that Battlefield tries to deliver. That doesn’t mean the multiplayer is without any tactical approach as a mixed of different pathways and classes result in battles that can be won through strategic manoeuvres. While on the other hand, those who enjoy charging in to the action without having to plot their every move can find entertainment here. Both options are made more
accessible to all players by the slower pace of the multiplayer combat. Rather than continuous frenzied action it is possible to have lulls in the fighting, which thanks to the more concise nature of the maps, tend not last long enough to risk become boring.
To Guerilla Games’ credit all maps and modes have no glaring issues and play well. The only issue I have encountered is that the player balance can sometimes be uneven creating a turkey shoot for the more skilled side (unfortunately I have not been on this side when that occurs, but that obviously has nothing to do with my awesome skills). In addition to the playability of the game Gureilla Games have introduced customizable warzone offering plenty of opportunities to find game modes that they enjoy and create their own Killzone communities. More impressive is the support of the game the developer has shown, with new free maps and paid for DLC introduced to keep interest high, there has been a purely positive vibe surrounding Killzone’s multiplayer. I particularly enjoy the decision to make all maps available in order to not fracture the player base, an idea that other FPS developers should be taking note of.
Killzone Shadow Fall’s multiplayer is an excellent attempt to bring fun back to the FPS genre. It is easy to pick up and hard to master, but makes the journey between the two rewarding as well as entertaining. While maybe not stretching the new console hardware to anywhere near its full potential the multiplayer has enough about it to keep it competing with the current competition, especially while it supported in such a brilliant manner.
Music and Sounds
Most of the soundtrack can be heard in menus or the singleplayer with the multiplayer remaining noticeably silent. While working through the campaign the soundtrack does a successful job of staying in tune with what the narrative is trying to tell, building up to dramatic points with exciting, purposeful beats. The menu music in comparison,is nothing to write home about, but nicely fills the silence while you make your selections.
All other sounds have been mixed with precision and correctly suit the futuristic setting of the game. Weapon sounds have the perfect mix between sci-fi sleekness and furious grit. Similarly, advanced technology like shields and drones sound realistic while still retaining the unnatural tones that are associated with future weaponry. Acoustics and explosions remain grounded in reality, which keeps Killzone Shadow Fall authentic and from falling to deeply into the realms a sci-fi shooter.
Undoubtabdly, Killzone Shadows Fall’s best feature is its graphics. They are impressive on a scale befitting the new era of console gaming. Landscapes look beautifully envisioned, just as the graphical designer would want them to appear, rather than having to scale back their images in line with the technology’s capabilities. Unlike the previous games Guerilla Games have had the opportunity to produce a colourful, light-filled display that was not possible with the grey, docile tones of the Helghast and their planet. It is clear they have taken full advantage with lighting effects shown off to full effect in the new setting of Vekta.
The only downside, if there is one, with such beautiful graphics is that on occasion there is a feeling that moments of graphical splendour are simply a showcase to display the PlayStation 4’s new power. The best example is that at points in the campaign the overly-elaborate visuals can draw attention away from the story while adding nothing to it. Beautiful worlds are impressive, but they have to be filled with something. I still remember the first time I saw the visually stunning moment Reapers pour down to the planet of Palavan while playing Mass Effect 3. Not only did it look great, but the imagery produced feelings of awe that captured what the game was trying to achieve. In this respect, Killzone fails to have the same effect.
Killzone Shadow Fall presents a mixed bag which will appeal to different audiences. As a singleplayer game I find little to appease me other than some impressive visual displays. As a multiplayer game I find all the fun and excitement that made the series popular with the PlayStation community. However, multiplayer is what gives Killzone the longevity beyond replaying a campaign mode. It is here online that I have spent my time and I will continue to do so as long as Guerilla produce the level support they are currently managing.
As for the test of time I believe Killzone won’t be a shinning example of next-gen power for very long. The harsh truth is that other than graphics and innovative controls it is hardly noticeable that this is a next-gen title. For now though, any PS4 owner looking for a fun FPS should give Killzone serious consideration, but for those of us who are looking for the true next generation of gaming experiences the wait may be a little longer.