Review: Killzone Shadow Fall
When the PS3 was launched, Killzone 2 was a big part of the hype train, and things haven’t changed for the PS4. Killzone Shadow Fall is Sony’s first monster first party title, showcasing all the new tech in all its bloom lighted glory. It’s a decent showing, with a fun campaign, and solid, inventive multiplayer, even if it does have a few niggles that mar the experience.
Shadow Fall follows the continuing war between the peace-keeping Vektans and the helmeted, war-mongering Helghast. It’s a couple dozen years after the end of Killzone 3, where (spoilers) the Helghasts home planet of Helghan was blown to bits. An uneasy truce was declared, and Vekta gave half the planet over to them, so both races could live together. Of course, this doesn’t quite stick, and Shadow Fall charts the buildup of tensions between the races, which includes plenty of shoot-bangs.
The aforementioned shoot-bangs are pretty decent, with some good, solid mechanics here. Moving and shooting is precise and easy, and the new Dualshock 4 controllers tightness on the analog sticks helps keep it snappy. The cover mechanic is a bit naff, but generally the shooting is solid and even a novice (like me) will have fun with it. Most of the time, you’ll be shooting the red-eyed Helghast, but larger drone robots are mixed in too, keeping you on your toes. The shooting is nothing world changing, but it’s far from dull.
The weaponry on show looks impressive, but ultimately boils down to normal stereotypes. You’ve got two slots, and the main slot is always your main machine gun, which has a cool sniper rifle mode. The second slot can be used for pistols, shotguns, or just another machine gun if you like! You’ve got grenades too, but the ammo for these is scarce, so use them carefully..
You’ve also got a cool robot pal to use during the campaign, the OWL. All OWL functions are mapped to L1, and the mode can be changed by swiping the touchpad. It can attack, create a defensive shield, hack terminals and even deploy a zipline. It’s a bit gimmicky, but the OWL can provide a useful distraction for when you are overwhelmed, and can make all the difference in a pitched battle.
The game is set at a pretty knockabout pace, sending you all over the place for your missions. You’ll head through open forest, vibrant city areas, destroyed cities and even travel into space (including weightlessness!). There’s a lot of variety in the levels, with different colour palettes and architecture giving each place its own visual identity. One mission take place in Container City, a Helghast province made of old container units. It takes you through some tight sections with Helghast round every corner, before showing you how massive the city really is. Shadow Fall presents a cool world to explore, and seeing what comes next is part of the fun.
It helps that the game looks pretty damned gorgeous. Shadow Fall makes good use of the PS4′s grunt, with some incredible visual effects. Cities looks huge, and full of life. Foliage flaps in the wind. Light can dimly illuminate dark places, or blind with the intensity of the Sun. Dust, sparks and weather effects add depth to the visuals. There are a few problems when you get right up close to things, as some textures looks a little low res, but most of the time this won’t be an issue. A more pressing concern is that due to the enhanced visual power, enemies can assault you from further away, which can make them tough to actually see.
As cool as the visuals are, the sound design is a bit more spotty. The gunshots and background music are excellent, adding weight and grit to the game. When people open their mouths, the illusion falls apart. The voice acting is… well… it’s pants. It’s exactly the kind of dry, lifeless performance you would expect from a lower end title, with no voice acting budget. Everyone sounds so bloody bored most of the time, which makes it worse when it is occasionally good. The voice acting could have been way better, it would have just taken a few more takes.
The sole awesome bit of voice acting actually concerns the PS4 controller. Whenever you find an audio log, it plays from out the speaker, which is a wonderful idea. It lets you focus on the audio log without being taken out of the game. Shadowfall also uses the touchpad for the OWL functions, which is a tad unintuitive at first, but isn’t too awkward. Rounding off the new controller options, the light bar is also implemented, as a health bar. It glows green, orange or red depending on your state, and while you won’t often see it (as its on the back) it’s a nice little touch.
Once you’ve finished off the campaign, there’s the expected multiplayer portion waiting for you. While it’s never going to get CoD or Battlefield numbers, it’s surprisingly entertaining, especially if you are bad at traditional multiplayer shooters. I’m pretty terrible online, but was able to have some successes thanks to Killzone’s unique take on multiplayer modes.
The prime way you’ll play Killzone online is in Warzones, which essentially consist of playlists of maps and missions. Each Warzone will pit teams against each other, mixing up the objectives as you play. You might spend a few minutes in a team deathmatch, before moving on to a capture-the-flag type, and finishing on a search and destroy type mission, all without any loading in between. Your character can run about the map during mission switches, without kicking you back to the menu or spawn point, which helps keep you focused.
If the variety of pre-made Warzones aren’t enough, you can customise your own. This is remarkable simple, considering the depth you can go into. You can set which maps you want to keep in the rotation, which mission types, which weapons and abilities are allowed, and even set individual mission parameters up. You’ll be able to select other players Warzones in the multiplayer menu, letting you experience a whole new war. I tried a handguns-only capturing mission-only Warzone, which was… an experience. Some of them work better than others, but theres enough options here to fiddle until it’s perfect.
I said earlier that I was able to succeed, even though I’m pretty bad at multiplayer shooters. Warzones is the reason for this, with its multiple mission types rewarding the tactical player. I decided to go at objectives rather than go for kills, and the game was rewarding me for this. Shooting the other team to bits is fun, sure, but in a control point capture mission it’s a secondary concern. Tactical play is rewarded when it is needed, and was the reason I kept having fun with it.
If Killzone Shadow Fall going to topple CoD, Halo or Battlefield? Doubtful. Is it groundbreaking? No. Does it do anything remarkable outside of it’s visuals? Not especially. What Killzone Shadowfall is is a solid launch title, showing off the graphical grunt of the console without pushing any real boundaries. It’s pretty damned fun, all things considered, and the campaign is worth playing for the visual treats alone. The multiplayer is surprisingly interesting, and deserves to be given a shot. I’m no shooter fan, but I had a lot of fun with Shadow Fall, and it deserves a chance, even if it isn’t the second coming of Jesus.