Killzone: Shadow Fall Review: A Launch Title Done Right

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The PS4 has been out in the wild for nearly a week now, and has already sold over 1 million units. The hardware is great, barring a few random issues that only a sliver of early adopters have experienced. On the other hand exclusive software for the PS4 is hard to come by. With only three exclusive launch titles Sony fans have slim pickings when it comes to playing a game for the PS4 that can’t be played on any other medium.

Killzone: Shadow Fall is one of the three PS4 exclusive titles that launched with the system, and it’s the fifth entry in Guerrilla Games’ Killzone franchise. Shadow Fall is set many years after the end of Killzone 3, which saw the destruction of Helghan at the hands of the VSA. Due to the annihilation of their planet the remaining Helghan are moved to Vekta to start New Helghan. Having their former enemy in their backyard makes many Vektans uneasy, and over time the paper thin truce between the two sides begins to deteriorate. Both Helghan and VSA forces spy on each side thanks to the deep-rooted mistrust between them, which leads to the creation of the VSA Shadow Marshals. These elite soldiers lead the covert operations taking place in Helghan territory, and as their name implies they’re both stealthy and deadly.

After a brief flashback style introduction that keys players into the main cast you’re given control of Lucas Kellan – a Shadow Marshal with no love for the Helghan occupation. Under the tutelage of the VSA’s head honcho Sinclair Kellan has become a renowned Shadow Marshal on both sides of the fence. He’s a brutal and efficient killer that gets tasked with missions no one else wants to do, or can do for that matter. His undying devotion to the VSA and Vekta has made him a legend and Sinclair’s go to guy, but throughout Shadow Fall’s 10-hour campaign he begins to question his mentor’s actions, which leads him on a harrowing journey with some unexpected company.

Kellan deploys his OWL

Kellan deploys his OWL

Quite frankly, Killzone: Shadow Fall’s weakest point is its story. I never fully bought into the universe, and at times it was hard for me to follow exactly who was doing what to whom to get everyone’s panties in a bunch. There’s definitely a little more character to the cast of Shadow Fall than the previous games, but the overall narrative felt tiresome and predictable at times. The finale goes for a big “WTF” moment that just felt deflated, and rarely was I on the edge of my seat.

Fortunately for Shadow Fall, most FPS games don’t feature a deep narrative, so it’s not like the generic plot ruined the game. What really helps Shadow Fall to prove its launch title merits are its amazing visuals. Upon first firing up the game it’s made perfectly clear that this is a next-gen title. The PC master race will surely scoff at the graphical power of the PS4 and Xbox One not being on par with current PC tech, but for console gamers the vast improvements are strikingly clear.

The lighting provides lifelike environmental effects that will cause you to pause and take in the scenery more often than not. Being a predominant console gamer I’ve never seen the level of detail that Shadow Fall offers in its background textures and particle effects in any current-gen title. Just watching rainfall kept me in awe as I played through the various environments featured in the game. Each mission offers new locales, so the visual design of the game is varied enough to keep each area looking unique. Both the framerate and resolution of Shadow Fall also helped to cement it as a true next-gen offering, so any concerns about this game being a hollow launch title should be put by the wayside.

The lighting is simply stunning to behold

The lighting is simply stunning to behold

The gameplay itself is standard Killzone fare, but the inclusion of the OWL, a drone-like companion for Shadow Marshals, does offer some new mechanics. Using the Dualshock 4’s new touchpad the OWL can be tasked with four operations to help turn the tide of a battle. It can be used as a mobile turret, a shield, a shield breaker, and finally a zipline – all functions Kellan must rely on in each mission. They definitely added a more tactical feel to Shadow Fall, versus the straightforward gameplay of the previous entries. Shadow Fall also features more of an open-world feel, which lends itself well to the OWL gadgets, and the idea of the Shadow Marshals being stealthy agents full of badassness.

Shadow Fall’s campaign is fun and full of amazing next-gen console visuals, but it does suffer from a few issues outside of its weak plot. One of the more glaring ones to me is the lack of a mission indicator at times. Your objectives are marked on screen with a diminutive orange circle, which at times is hard to find, or non-existent. On more than a few occasions I found myself backtracking to previous locations to see if I missed a hidden door, ventilation shaft, or other secret areas that would lead to the next checkpoint. This also occurs with certain mission objectives that may require you to perform a function that is essential to moving on to the next objective.

This game also throws some insane challenges at you at random times that really amp up the difficulty. These moments come out of nowhere, and can lead to frustrations even on the normal difficulty setting. There are a few sections that will cause you to die over and over until you figure out what the game wants you to do, or you finally get the edge over the rather intelligent and punishing AI. There’s also a skydiving meta game towards the end of the game that will test your patience to the max. Let’s just say I died over 30 times while trying to complete it. I hated it to say the least.

In addition to the solid, but predictable campaign, Killzone: Shadow Fall also features a robust multiplayer component. Warzone returns as the main game type, which features all sorts of tried and true FPS multiplayer excursions packed into one match. Team deathmatch, capture the flag, and search and destroy variants all take place in a single game, which helps to change up the pace of play, and gives gamers who may not be twitchy-trigger-finger-deathmatch-pros a chance to compete and contribute.

Multiplayer sports the same level of visual quality as the campaign

Multiplayer sports the same level of visual quality as the campaign

Players can choose from three classes of warriors: Scout, Assault, and Support, which in turn offer four configurable loadout slots. By completing challenges in matches new and improved items can be unlocked to use in these loadouts. Matches themselves aren’t as fast paced as a COD match due to the slower character movements, but they still offer up some intense FPS multiplayer action to enjoy. I don’t think Shadow Fall will deter longtime Call of Duty and Battlefield fans from investing years worth of their time into those franchises, but it’s multiplayer is a nice change of pace from those juggernauts, and a worthy addition to the overall package.

Killzone: Shadow Fall most definitely achieved its goal of providing a killer next-gen launch title experience that is surely worth showing off to your non-PS4 having friends. Its weak story is overshadowed by the intensely vivid visuals, which clearly showcase the difference between what a next-gen console can do over a current-gen one. At times things do get frustrating thanks to the efficient AI and occasional missing objective marker, but overall Shadow Fall’s campaign is solid, and the inclusion of a fleshed out multiplayer component only bolsters the game’s replayability factor. The PS4’s exclusive launch title lineup is meager at best, but Killzone: Shadow Fall is definitely a great introduction to what the next-gen console can do.

Killzone: Shadow Fall | Review Summary
The Awesome: Next-gen console level graphics, Solid launch title, Fun multiplayer | The Not so Awesome: Mission objective not always clear, Difficulty spikes
Killzone: Shadow Fall
Date Published: 11/20/2013
Killzone: Shadow Fall does the PS4's weak exclusive launch lineup justice. Its graphics are worth writing home about, and while the campaign has its issues it's still a fun 10 hours of next-gen gameplay that showcase the powers of the PS4. The inclusion of a robust multiplayer component ensures that Shadow Fall packs enough value to keep playing it well into 2014. This is definitely a game worth picking up when you purchase your PS4.
8 / 10 Buddhas

Review Statement: The author of this review paid for a copy of Killzone: Shadow Fall for review purposes.

[#ff entbuddha] “Making you a better geek, one post at a time!”
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