Review: Killzone: Shadow Fall (PS4)
Title: Killzone: Shadow Fall
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (39 GB)
Release Date: November 15, 2013
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Guerrilla Games
Original MSRP: $59.99
ESRB Rating: M
Killzone: Shadow Fall is exclusive to PlayStation 4.
The PlayStation Network download version was used for this review.
I know that you all think that I’m going to just completely gush over Shadow Fall because I’m such a fan of the series. But it’s not because of that, it’s because the game is really that good. I do have a couple of issues here and there, and don’t forget that this review will be completely spoiler-free.
Killzone: Shadow Fall takes place about 8-10 years after the events in Killzone 3. Helghan is uninhabitable, so a treaty is signed between the two races, allowing the Helghast to inhabit one half of Vekta. A large wall is constructed around the entire planet to keep the two races separate, since there are obviously some bad feelings still. You play as a Shadow Marshall, which is the Vektan version of a Special Forces or SEAL Team. Your missions are normally highly classified, and many times even off the books completely.
Your primary weapon has two firing modes, one as a silenced submachine gun, the other as a short-range sniper rifle. You can also carry a secondary weapon, which by default is a pistol. The pistol can be replaced by picking other weapons up from your fallen foes, with choices ranging from a standard machine gun (with a secondary grenade launcher), to a sniper rifle, all the way to a rocket launcher. Much of this will feel incredibly familiar to those that have played past entries in the Killzone series. But now, there’s a new weapon at your disposal, and it will quickly become a very important tool in your fight against the Helghast, the OWL.
The OWL is an attack drone that you carry on your back, and is a vital piece of your arsenal. You control what mode it’s in by swiping a certain direction on the touchpad of the DualShock 4, which after a bit of time, completely becomes second nature. There are 4 main modes: Attack, Stun, Zipline, and Shield.
Attack will do just that, you point at an area or specific enemy and hit L2 to send the OWL to fire. It can really only take one or two enemies on before it has to return to your back to repair, but it’s more effective than you’d expect. It’s a great way to take enemies down that just won’t come out from cover.
Stun can also be very effective, especially with enemies that have a personal shield activated, and even with some larger enemies that aren’t very susceptible to your bullets. The OWL can only send one stun blast out before having to recharge, but it can definitely give you edge when a large group of enemies is ready to overrun you.
The Zipline is a staple in your arsenal when traversing the much larger areas than you’ve ever encountered in the series. All you have to do is find a spot lower than where you are, point at it until the icon lights up, and hit L2 to swiftly glide down the line. Even better, if an enemy is in your path, you can hit Circle to drop from the line and perform a brutal melee from above.
The Shield, now here’s a lifesaver! Swipe Down on the touchpad, and hit L2, and a portable shield that you can fire through appears in front of you. It only lasts as long as how many rounds it deflects, but it can be that difference which decides whether you live or die. There are a few spots later in the game that I doubt you’ll even succeed at without using it.
The OWL can also perform two other vital actions. At certain times, you’ll need to hack into control panels and to deactivate alarms, and the OWL will take care of those functions. When you move your crosshair over one of these panels, the icon will change to a little computer monitor, then hit L2 to start hacking. The alarms have been implemented in different ways in the past games, and this time is really no different. When you engage the enemy, they’ll quickly make a break for an alarm station to call reinforcements in, and they won’t stop pouring in until you shut that thing down.
Another new ability is that you can now hold right on the d-pad to send out a sonar pulse of sorts. It will identify any friends or foes in front of you, and if you then hover your crosshair over each highlighted enemy to get more information, including armor and attack proficiency. The other vital ability of the OWL is that if you have an available adrenaline pack, the OWL can revive you before you die. A beneficial effect of applying the adrenaline pack is that for a few seconds, you can slow things down when looking down your sights.
What really threw me off a bit though was the fact that areas aren’t simply dark hallways that go from Point A to Point B to Point C. Instead, things are much more open for exploration, and in some instances you’ll even be able to choose how to best accomplish your mission. You’ll be presented with a couple of ways to tackle things, either make a break for the soldiers that you’re tasked to find and rescue, or make your way to the communications center to take it out, making it impossible for them to call for reinforcements. Any of these decisions change how the next leg of your mission will go, and it definitely adds to the depth of the overall game.
I love this added gameplay, but at the same time, I did find myself getting lost occasionally. Your only indication as to where your next objective is only shows you where it is, not how to get there. So for those that normally don’t play a shooter because there’s no exploration, Killzone: Shadow Fall may be for you. There are even some times during the campaign where you’ll be floating through areas lacking gravity, adding even more to the overall complexity available. I’m not used to this much freedom though, so it took me a little time to get acclimated. Don’t fret though, there are still plenty of straightforward firefights in your way, and they’re executed so amazingly through-and-through.
What can I say except that I can’t believe that this gorgeous game is a launch title for a console. Bright colors pop-off of the screen, everything is drenched in light, and the animation is like nothing that you’ve ever seen in a game. The visual depth brought to life by the artists at Guerrilla Games is simply stunning, and if you don’t die at least once because you’re too busy panning the scenery, then you’re doing something wrong. Because Shadow Fall takes place on Vekta, there’s a stark contrast in styles between the Helghen and Vektan sides of the wall, and for Killzone vets, it may be a bit jarring when you’re walking through lush, green vegetation.
At the same time, everything is self-shadowed, and drenched in any light available. You’ll see all new tricks-of-the-trade in visual effects, and I guarantee that you will mutter at some point, “this is a launch game?” Textures are incredibly detailed, and not once does the framerate dip, not even for a second.
I hope you have a nice surround sound system, because Killzone: Shadow Fall is going to use everything that it can handle. The sheer depth in sound effects and atmosphere, coupled with some outstanding voice acting is something that I’ve never experienced in a game before. Funny thing is, I think that Killzone killed my subwoofer! I noticed a lack of bass all of a sudden, only to find tat my subwoofer doesn’t work any more. I’ll make sure to send the bill to Herman Hulst.
One other thing is the rarely mentioned speaker on the DualShock 4 controller. It’s kind-of cheesy, but I do like that when you find an audiolog hidden throughout your travels, they actually play through the controller. It’s actually kind of cool doing it this way though. I mean, it didn’t need to happen, but it works.
An interesting note about the soundtrack is that it was actually composed by two separate people, one each for action that takes place on the Vektan and Helghan sides of the planet. They were both given the same information in terms of tone and direction, and what they both came back with is incredibly interesting in contrast and pace. It’s a pretty cool idea that actually works perfectly for how the game is setup.
Yup, this is Killzone, and it’s all good baby! As you’ll hear in podcast episode 345, there have some some pretty significant changes to the core multiplayer system ,and after playing it for 3 hours, it works very well. There is no more XP system, but instead all of your promotions and unlocks are handled via a challenges system, which is key to making sure that the new Warzone system doesn’t allow for boosting.
In this iteration of Killzone, Warzone is completely customizable. Want to run a match where everyone is only allowed a sniper rifle and one life available? How about a match where you have 3 classes available, one as Assault with only a machine gun, but lower available health, Snipers with only a pistol, and Support with only Health Packs and a Knife? Yup, you can get THAT specific! We played an array of matches tonight, and everything was handled with ease. 10 maps ship with the game, and an array of DLC is in the works, but here’s the best part. Any map packs released will be FREE to all!! This is such a great offering for players, and should eliminate disparity between those that purchase DLC and those that don’t.
Even with a couple of stumbles during the campaign, this is a fantastic game, and like I said, I have a hard time believing that this is a launch title. Shadow Fall is the biggest step in evolution that the series has seen, and although a few die-hards may have an issue with the more open nature in sections, I think that many are going to appreciate what’s been accomplished here. The story takes some pretty interesting twists and turns, and the action never gets stale.
Add-in an exceptional multiplayer system, that runs at a silky-smooth 60 frames per second at a native 1080p resolution, with an incredible breadth of options and flexibility, and you’ve got yourself a game that will not only impress on every level, but that will also last you a long time.
If this is a launch title, I can’t imagine what we’ll see two years down the road. The new generation of console gaming is truly upon us, and so far, it’s looking pretty damned good!
* All screenshots used in this review were provided by Sony Computer Entertainment.