With the EU launch of the Playstation 4, gamers were left with a sparse choice of games to pick up on release. The most popular exclusive title seems to have been Killzone: Shadow Fall, but was it worth the wait?
Following on from Killzone 3, the story begins on the world of Vekta, homeworld of humanity and now, after the destruction of Helghan’s surface, a shared planet. Not entirely a friendly alliance, the Helghast and Vektans have been living on Vekta for a number of years, separated by a humungous wall. The uneasy living conditions have seen covert attacks on each other and the tension builds as both races strive to make sure they always have the upper hand… Of course, it all goes wrong and an incursion by the Helghast into Vektan territory sparks off the bitter war all over again.
Historically, it’s a great idea. It smacks of the separation in Ireland, Berlin when the wall still stood and (pointed out by James Knack of n3) the ongoing troubles between Palestine and Israel. The tension and questions that arise by playing as Shadow Marshall, Lucas Kellan give a lot of thought to both sides of the struggle and make you think about the repercussions of what may happen if you make the wrong choice. Not that you’re really given that option as the story runs on rails for the entirety.
You begin the game in the shoes of Lucas as a child, learning the basics and the background of what’s to come, while following your father through the apartment buildings of Vekta, just as the Helghan have infiltrated and are laying waste to the region. It kicks off the storyline with an emotional bang and leads into a roller-coaster ride of an adventure that starts properly, twenty years later when Lucas takes on the role of Shadow Marshall.
Killzone: Shadow Fall has kept it’s roots firmly grounded in the FPS genre, trooping your way through claustrophobic, industrial interiors and exploring the much needed, outdoors of Vekta. The scenery can change from dark, broken down streets and military bases to some stunning, next generation beauty in the more open sections of the game. There’s forests and a vibrant cityscape to test your mettle on, giving you a more open base for inventive assault rather than following corridors to your ultimate destination.
Unfortunately, this only happens now and again, where most of KZSF will drop you in levels where it seems as though you don’t have much of a choice on where to go or how to do things. I found my experience somewhat tiresome in the closed structures, searching for vents or different routes to no avail and eventually just swinging around doors and blasting everything in sight. Don’t get me wrong, the gameplay is meaty and the action sequences are great, thanks to the addition of the OWL, it’s just that with all the hype surrounding the ‘do it your way’ mechanics, Killzone only gives you freedom when it deems it necessary.
The sections that do allow you to go freestyle work fantastically. As someone who likes to play stealthily, I found that crawling through ducts to get behind the foe, hacking consoles to open up secret areas and setting up traps with the turret-like properties of the OWL were great. There’s nothing more satisfying than sneaking up behind a space-nazi after he’s finished radioing in to his comrades and spinning him round for a neck full of sharp steel. It’s still the most solid feeling melee system in an FPS game and is a highlight whether playing the campaign mode or in multiplayer.
Each level has it’s own mechanic, such as stealth, survival, disabling alarms, sniping and a host of other little missions to take part in, sometimes mixing and matching for a multi-part experience. Some of these can be frustrating, especially when you’re asked to defend a position while unlimited enemies flood the area. Even with use of your drone, it can be a hardened battle to keep all areas covered. Most however are quite fun, diverting from the usual gameplay of FPS shooters.
The OWL is a new gadget, introduced in the first open area part of the game. This multi-tool has four settings that can aid you on your journey along with some other, automatic and selectable options that are context sensitive. Your constant drone companion heals you with adrenaline when you’re downed in battle, with the added effect of bullet-time, allowing you to get on your feet, blast a few Helghans and get to cover before you take any more damage. The Tactical Echo function sends a pulse out, reading enemy and item locations through walls and helping with route planning when you need to stay quiet. The main use of the OWL, however, lies in it’s touchpad controlled functions…
Swiping a direction on the Dualshock 4’s new addition puts your wise, yet unfeathered friend into helpful modes. Flicking the pad up sets the OWL into a turret style attack drone that can be placed strategically or pointed directly at a certain, pain in the backside that needs to feel some Vektan lead. Down sets up an energy shield that’s useful for covering Lucas while stuck in a corridor with multiple Helghast piling in to use you for target practice.
Moving your finger deftly left creates a stun field that freezes your enemies for a short time, allowing you to position, run or murder your enemy without abandon. It’s also useful for navigating through the tougher areas of Vekta, where massive defence mechs roam, plastering chain gun fire in your general direction and launching a pile of grenades to eradicate your very person. Aim the stun-mode OWL at one of these terrifying, metal-based monstrosities and let it fly, chucking all your firepower into it before it wakes up and pounds your posterior into pavement pizza. Finally, you can switch right and use the OWL as a floating zipline. It can be used anywhere that has lower ground and is useful for escape and planning attack lines.
Characters are well acted although there are some dodgy lines in the script and you can tell the actors are a bit iffy on reading them aloud. Lucas sounds the part, straying away from shouty, military commander and settling with a more peaceful tone. Helghast still sound like a gang of chain-smoking Brits that can’t keep their voice under ‘bark’ level. What I did notice is a nice lack of over the top swearing that commands the scripts of other FPS games. For years, military games have been peppered thoroughly with expletives, using the F word without care and I find that it always makes the plot look a bit uninspired and the writers lazy. Not here though, which is a welcome change.
While not offering a hillbilly survivalist’s multipurpose armoury of weapons, the design of the weaponry in Killzone: Shadow Fall offer a minimalistic range of guns, preferring instead to add secondary fire that changes the make-up of them completely. It’s a clever way to install the feeling of diversity while only being able to carry two guns at any time and with the way that they feel, fire and switch modes, the offerings are some of the best seen in this corner of gaming. I don’t want to go into too much detail as it’s fun to find out what these ballistic beasts can do first hand.
In most levels, you’ll have an assault rifle as your primary weapon. It offers fast, chunky feeling death in it’s original form but pressing down on the d-pad transforms it into an energy-throwing mid-long range sniper bolt that can take out all but the deadliest of auto-erotic asphyxiation getup wearing Helghast. Your secondary weapons come from picking up enemy assault rifles, shotguns and heavy artillery or by raiding the lockers that can be found dotted around the maps. In certain areas, you’ll need specific firepower and you’ll be helpfully directed to your murder-machine via waypoint.
There’s grenades, both frag and emp, proximity mines and C4 to play around with. Some offering some prank like hi-jinks, especially the laser trip mines that are great when you’re outnumbered eight to one and can’t find a stealthy approach to the set piece.
Enemies are smart, most of the time, and the AI will direct troops to flank you or try and make you pull into a defensive position while you’re assaulted on all sides, pushing you to use the OWL and other gadgets as backup. Rather than just run at you, Helghast move behind cover and work their way forward, supporting each other with covering fire. At points, they’ll just stand in the open, giving you an easy target and subtracting from the intelligence they depict elsewhere. I found that most battles were hard fought and worked well. It’s sometimes cool to get annoyed at the difficulty because you didn’t set up properly in the first place, rather than being able to Schwarzenegger an entire platoon with ease. At other, certain points of the game, painting buckets of blood to concrete in copious amounts without the need to check your health is great fun.
Graphically, Killzone: Shadow Fall is stunning. So stunning in fact, that I’m going to upset the PC community at large by saying it’s almost on par with Crysis 3 in parts. That is, when it’s not the typical, dark interior levels and the textures don’t lag. It’s to be expected only a week after launch, but I can’t stress that the wow factor of a next generation console manages to please the eye whether on older hardware than current gen computing or not. Rays of light flash through treetops, armour shines like it should and cloth ripples in the wind and mostly moves independently of characters limbs. Facial animation is finely detailed and brings emotion out if expressions. There’s virtually no lazy textures and it make’s you feel part of a new era of gaming, at least on consoles.
The boom of explosions, ping of bullets and ambient sounds all add to the feeling of immersion in the game, supplied with background music that leads the story as well as the action. The feel of the game is enhanced by sight, sound and the chunky gameplay. Lucas maneuvers faster than previous Killzone protagonists although you can feel the kick of heavy gunfire and the resistance of cartilage when snapping a neck. Holding onto an aircraft’s winch rope while dodging buildings inspires elation and vertigo whilst navigating the mission areas can leave you a bit overwhelmed at times, trying to find cover and somewhere to set up your defences but the entire journey feels just right.
Guerrilla Games have made a good show of a launch title, bringing Killzone: Shadow Fall to the forefront of the FPS genre. It really takes the IP into the next generation technically and has set the bar a little higher than what we’re used to. It’s not perfect, but it pushes when needed and shows that we’re in for a treat as the Playstation 4 is in it’s complete infancy of what can be achieved if the right minds work hard to bring us something with a bit more than just shooting and running.
If you noticed that I haven’t mentioned the multiplayer much in the review, it’s because I’ll be writing a separate piece in order to justify the experience. The single player campaign is worth almost every penny in it’s own right but with the addition of a customisable, varied and intense multiplayer mode, Killzone: Shadow Fall is a complete package of wonderful carnage.
Please keep an eye on n3 next week to read the multiplayer review.