Killzone: Shadow Fall has a tough job. It’s in the same position as Resistance was back in 2006, having to trot itself out as both a showcase for shiny new hardware, while trying to establish itself as a credible series for a new generation. That’s a lot of responsibilities for a new game, even if it’s part of an established franchise. Shadow Fall manages to succeed, at its goal, but it’s not going to turn the world upside down the way Halo.
The story is just another addition to a pile that’s gotten progressively messier with each outing. For those that are still trying to follow the turns and counter-turns, Guerilla has gone all Cold war-era as form of narrative short-hand for Shadow Fall. With the Helghan home-world bombarded with radiation and rendered uninhabitable, the Vektan winners offer to let the defeated survivors live on Vekta itself, dividing the capital city in half and putting up a big wall. The not-subtle-at-all parallels between West/East Berlin and the post-WWII division of spoils continues with some genuinely interesting moral ambiguity that’s let down by the fact that this is a new team of writers trying to deal with the mess left by previous teams of writers on earlier games. The story occasionally becomes interesting, but that’s despite the Killzone legacy, not because of it.
But first, let’s get the big launch question out of the way. Does Shadow Fall show off what the PS4 can do? The answer is YES. Keep in mind it’s a launch title, so games three or four years down the road will blow this away, but for now, this is the best looking first person shooter out on consoles right now. Guerilla Games made their art team watch Alien, Blade Runner and Legend then made sure their lighting team got certified by Ridley Scott’s School Of Shafting Lights and set them loose on the game. Yes, it’s 1080p, yes the frame rate is a pretty consistent 30 fps, though it’s not perfect, with some occasional frame hiccups and pop in here and there, but it’s pretty rare. On the whole, this is a game that you want to load up and show off as demo material when people ask “So how do PS4 games look?”
But the real heart of any game is the game itself. And here, Shadow Fall is a mix of uneven single player that’s partnered with a very strong multiplayer component. The single player campaign is largely good; it’s still got a bit of that weighty feel that is the signature of Killzone controls, but it mixes up the traditional gameplay with a lot of new additions. Many levels are far more open now, affording options for stealth as well as straight out corridor blasting, and the player now gets to use an “OWL,” a drone companion that hacks terminals, creates a personal shield, acts like grapple hook gun or straight up shoots at enemies. It’s a pretty dramatic shift from what Killzone is known for, but it works, inviting more exploration and experimentation, creating a slower paced game at times, by allowing players to exercise alternatives. There’s a sense of choice to many of the shoot outs in Killzone that hearken back to some of the better levels of Killzone 2. In many areas, players can stay on stay on ground, taking shots from cover, or they can snipe, or they can take to the high ground, or they can use the drone to walk out in the open and fire from the safety of a shield, or they can use the drone to attack others and act as a distraction for flanking maneuvers. The game allows players to find more than one way to win the fight.
The major problem with the campaign is one of pacing. Most of the time Shadow Fall is confident about what kind of game it is, and it’s when it leaves players to decide how they want to fight it shines. Unfortunately the spectre of Call of Duty hangs over the game, and it occasionally stumbles into imitation of that franchise. There are “action setpiece” moments, just like in COD, that try to mix things up, and some of these moments—like free falling from orbit—feel tedious with unreasonable difficulty spikes, which is the exact opposite intent of such sequences. These are supposed to be “palette cleansers;” fast fun ways to change the pace of the game with short new mechanics for players to briefly enjoy. When they act as a gate to advancing the game, that’s a failure in design. Fortunately, this new, more open ended style of shooting tends to outweigh the obvious attempts at imitation, and it creates a Killzone experience that doesn’t quite feel like what’s come before. The shinier graphics are part of that obviously, since there’s still a major “Wow” factor when the game shows off the urban sprawl of Vekta from the air, but at times there’s almost (but not quite) a Halo feel to the game with its larger levels that don’t just shunt you from one corridor of shooting to the next.
Killzone: Shadow Fall is good launch title, but it’s not a mind-blowing one. It’s gorgeous, and the single player campaign plays well, if unevenly at times, and the story is becoming more problematic with each sequel. But the multiplayer is a real gem here, with a solid foundation that will keep fans happy. This is a safe game to play, and in some ways, the ONLY game to play for PS4 fans that want an exclusive FPS that shows what their machine can do. Just don’t expect it to turn your world upside down.
To read Wayne’s full Killzone: Shadow Fall review, check out issue 30 of CGMagazine