Since the release of its first sequel on PS3, Killzone has been home to (arguably at least), the finest shooting mechanics in all of gaming. It’s weighty, brutal, visceral and utterly engaging. More than any other game out there, Killzone has always done a great job of making you feel the power and weight of shooting an automatic weapon.
The thing is though, the shooting part of today’s first person shooters is only part of the package, and it is once again the accompanying gameplay that keeps the latest Killzone from achieving true greatness.
It’s a shame too, as as always, the visuals, presentation and AI are all top notch. The visuals in particular are extremely impressive and, to this point, are probably the finest to be found on the PS4. Whether they top the utterly gorgeous visuals found on the Xbox One’s, Ryse: Son of Rome is up to debate (I would say no), but either way, this is an extremely handsome game and a fantastic way to show off your shiny (and matte) new PS4.
That will come as no surprise though; like the gunplay, attractive visuals are something that Guerrilla Games has always done well, and as a showcase of next-gen horse power, Killzone: Shadow Fall cannot be faulted. The lighting in particular feels like a big step up while the expanded colour pallets (now coming in colours other than grey and brown) has given the art design a new lease of life. Facial animations still fall short of the industry’s finest, but when you’re on the battlefield and everything is going bang, few games have ever looked better.
Where it can be faulted sadly, is in pretty much all the same ways that the series has been faulted in the past. The story, despite a few admirable attempts at dealing with serious issues tends to fall a little flat and suffers from being built upon a rather nonsensical premise (more on that later), while the Helghast once again fail to connect as a genuinely interesting enemy force. As before, they, like the story are fine, but in a genre as competitive as this, ‘fine’ is rarely good enough.
Still, the multiplayer is once again fantastic and is as deserving of a committed following as any of the other big hitters in the genre. While it is unlikely to receive the same levels of long term commitment as the genre’s biggest hitters, you can once again expect to find a smaller, but nonetheless loyal set of followers that will ensure that Killzone: Shadow Fall receives the kind of updates and support that its rock solid infrastructure deserves.
Despite carrying on from the events at the end of Killzone 3, Shadow Fall feels like more of a spin off than a direct sequel with none of the series previous cast members making an appearance and, despite that initial set-up, largely delivering its own unique story arc in the Killzone mythology. While nobody will be crying over the loss of Killzone’s previous cast of characters (beige would be the best way to describe them…..that, or milky rice), it’s not like the new ones are that much better. Sure, they are a little less crass and certainly more palatable, but for the most part, Shadow Fall suffers from all the same faults as its predecessors.
The story too, while at least attempting to spin a decent yarn, once again fails to liven up this decidedly drab universe. Yes, there is more colour to be found on Vekta (where the story has been moved in light of Helghan’s destruction), but it never comes through in either the storytelling or the characterisation. That premise doesn’t help either – why, if you have defeated any enemy force, would you give them half (HALF!?) of your planet and essentially let them kill your own civilians and generally do what the fudge they like? I’ve got nothing wrong with the occasional narrative leap of faith – this is after all, video games we are talking about here – but come on, if you want me to take your story seriously (which Guerrilla obviously do), you’re going to have to do better than that. In fairness, said set-up does lead to some of the game’s more interesting plot developments, but really…..half?
Anyway, story and characterisation aside, Killzone, as it always has, feels absolutely great the moment you start shooting things. The weapons are fantastic throughout and the weight of both the firing and of your own movement are once again pleasingly heavy in a genre in which most soldiers still seem to travel around on roller blades. As always, Killzone does a better job than most of making you feel like you’re actually in the midst of a battle. It lacks the explosive set pieces of a Call of Duty or the unrivalled AI of a Halo, but in terms of moment to moment combat, Killzone is still at the top of its class.
The Helghast too, while largely useless when it comes to interesting storytelling, could not be more fun to shoot – they are smart, aggressive and consistently feel like a very real enemy being hit by very real bullets. They are still a tad bland from a visual standpoint, but unlike the majority of FPS cannon fodder, feel like genuinely tangible enemies; enemies that feel the impact of bullets and, well, really want you rather dead.
Ok, then, so far, so Killzone then. Well, yes I suppose, but in fairness to Shadow Fall, it does have a few rather special tricks up its sleeve. The first, and arguably most dramatic of these is the inclusion of the OWL drone. This devise allows you to stun or attack distant enemies, pull up an electronic shield or fire a zip line to progress to different areas of a level. It’s simple to use, but adds a great deal to the gameplay and some very interesting tactical options that break up the traditional, move forward and shoot everything approach that the series (and genre) are famous for.
With its more open level design and the different strategic approaches to battle made possible by the combination of multiple routes and the OWL’s tactical abilities, Shadow Fall, from a purely gameplay perspective, is easily the most interesting and rewarding in the series’ history. It’s a shame that the level design becomes increasingly linear as your progress, but at its best, Killzone: Shadow Fall feels like a grand combination of all of the genre’s finest offerings.
It’s a shame then that Shadow Fall is so rarely at its best. As the levels become more linear and the set pieces increasingly uninteresting, you’ll find yourself blasting through decidedly bland corridors on a far too regular basis with even the OWL drone becoming less prominent as the game progresses. It’s rarely anything less than fun and the core combat is always top notch, but despite some signs of change and an obvious commitment to progression, Shadow Fall, for better and for worse, still feels and plays just like Killzone games always have.
Still, despite the relative ups and downs of the single player campaign, the multiplayer once again delivers via a collection of fantastic maps, excellent gunplay and brilliant game modes. The OWL drone abilities, playing out as special abilities in multiplayer, when combined with the unique classes come together to create a selection of abilities that mean each player can carefully define their own character class and approach to multiplayer battle while the excellent gunplay once again provides the bedrock for what feels like a genuinely unique shooter experience.
Classic Warzone returns with its rotating collection of game modes (Deathmatch, Capture the Flag etc) while Custom Warzone now adds the ability for players to make their own game types with their own rules. While obviously dependent upon the players involved, for those with a little commitment and imagination, this mode can expand the options and gameplay styles for multiplayer combat exponentially. From one hit kills to limited lives and custom game modes, Custom Warzone really puts the power in the gamer’s hands.
It looks fantastic, it often plays great and the multiplayer is absolutely brilliant. Sadly, while the highs are once again very high, the same old lows keep Killzone from greatness. Sony’s flagship shooter, despite Guerrilla’s finest efforts, remains a second tier shooter masquerading as a Premier League product. Shadow Fall is very hard to dislike, but as is so often the case, extremely difficult to love.
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