Developer: Guerilla Games Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release Date: Nov. 15, 2013 Rated: M for Mature
Platform: PlayStation 4 MSRP: 59.99 Platform: First Person Shooter
It’s one hell of a tech demo that’s for sure….
By Terry Randolph
Ah, Killzone, infamously labeled the “Halo Killer” by Sony when the game first launched. This was the game meant to rival, if not beat, Halo at its own game; a stellar campaign marked with adrenaline-ladled gunfights with plenty of enemies to kill on screen. For Sony especially, this was the shooter that would lure fans of Halo away and onto the Playstation 2. Unfortunately for Sony, and developer Guerilla Games, the game was released to mediocrity. However, while many questioned the move, Sony allowed Guerilla to develop a sequel to the game that would go on to be known as the pinnacle one of the franchise. Killzone 2, released five years later for the Playstation 3, took huge strides in improvement all around and received critical acclaim. The biggest addition, and aspect of the game to really stir debate, was the addictive multiplayer. Killzone 2 was the game to truly spark the debate on which of the two franchises were better, and really served as a turning point in the war story between the Vektan and Helghast. Killzone 3 was released to critical acclaim, but was cited as having done little to improve on its predecessor. Still, fans enjoyed the game and had a blast knowing that Guerilla Games was starting to hit its groove. Not to mention, it was considered a fitting end to the tale the games told.
Killzone Shadow Fall, is both a launch day title for the Playstation 4 and the fourth iteration in the franchise. The game is so different from its predecessors that it feels odd to say it is a Killzone games. The map is a lot more open and provides various routes to approach a single objective while at the same time rewarding those who take a strategic approach. Where once large, boisterous gun fights were waiting for you to start, Shadow Fall opts for smaller, tighter situations. The storytelling, probably the biggest challenge for Guerilla, takes a huge risk at trying to provide a tighter, smaller story that escalates over time. The story tries to be significant and make an impact on the player’s morality, imploring them to ask themselves who an enemy is, if the aftermath of wars are justified and the price to pay to keep a shoddy peace agreement when both sides are waiting to strike each other. While the story relies too heavily on triend-and-true clichés, Killzone Shadow Fall does a great job all around to be a rare type of game; a great launch day title.
Killzone Shadow Fall takes place 30 years from the end of Killzone 3; after the long, arduous war between the Helghan and Vekta, a “peace” has been established between the two factions. On the planet Vekta, the Helghast have been given refuge with land of their own. A wall is put between the two factions, giving a clear indication of the extent of peace both sides share. In reality, the diplomatic tension is rising between the two, and it might only be a matter of time until another war escalates. The game starts with our protagonist Lucas Kellen captured while in Helghan territory. He release is given on a condition; the Vektan release their prisoner going by the codename “Echo”. From there, things begin to increasingly escalate between the two sides, and it is up to both Kellen and Echo to stop another all-out war from happening.
I commend Guerilla Games for attempting to create a tighter, controlled scenario that tries to be poignant; compared to the other games in the franchise the writing is very mature and complex. Guerilla doesn’t shy away from showing you what they believe the player needs to see. This is a tale meant to show you what comes at the cost of war, particularly for the losing side. More specifically, it’s a game meant to show you how a war shouldn’t be measured by who wins or how, but by the effects it leaves behind. There is an extreme contrast between the Vektan lands and Helghast, almost to the point where it’s a little too much. All of this is meant to evoke questions within the player regarding the morality and justification of war. The final big question is who really is a hero, and who is really the enemy?
While being a good attempt, this is also the game’s biggest weakness; the execution in storytelling is bad. The storyline is riddled with tired-and-true clichés many shooters have used over and over again. I would argue that Killzone Shadow Fall presents the major dilemma first-person shooters are going to have to overcome when trying examine the effects of war; gunfights should not be the focus. I understand that Killzone is known more for its gameplay and technical marvel, but there has to be a balance between storytelling and gameplay. In a game trying to be poignant the storytelling has to come as a priority. A great example of a game to do so was Spec Ops: The Line. Dialogue is also rather one-dimensional and flat; so many things are repeated by characters that it almost comes off a bit as a mantra. Characters, while feeling a bit more personable, come off as being one-dimensional and forcefully shaped into their respective archetypes.
The biggest problem of the story is the events shaping the narrative; most of them feel forced and contrived. If anything, they serve as a means to push the plot forward and make no real impact on the player. One-third of the way into the game, a major event takes place in order to shift the plot to have bigger stakes. For me personally, I felt that the big reveal took away the impact the story could have had. The first third of the game provides an interesting concept in that the battlefield was not in war, but in diplomacy. The first third of the game was the most interesting to me because it placed an emphasis on the fact that the battlefield wasn’t out in the open, but hiding behind the doors of diplomacy. Paranoia ruled both sides that the other was readying for a war, and so the intrigue was based on that. Overall, it felt more natural and could have used the “Doomsday Clock” scenario as a building block to the premise. Instead, with that giant plot point/reveal, it gave Guerilla room to create a convenient third party for an enemy and a focus on an exciting shooter than story it strives to tell.
In contrast, Killzone Shadow Fall is a hell of a tech demo that showcases the what the PlayStation 4 can do now and in the future. The details placed into the graphics are crisp and look amazing overall. Backgrounds look nearly realistic and are beautiful to look at. There were moments after gunfights I would stop and look at it for a while. The colors are vibrant and distinct, never settling for the typical grey-scale color we’ve come to expect from shooters; there’s no murky layer hiding any technical shortcomings. The tiniest of things, like the folds and creases of clothing, are rendered phenomenally. Not to mention, the framerate holds solid; I never experienced a screen tear or glitch in my playthroughs.
Not all of it is perfect though, characters’ facial animations come off stiff and emotionless where they feel disjointed from their voice actors. Foreground, or the parts of the level players interact with, can be less detailed than the background and look a little less polished. These are just little gripes in comparison to how good the game looks. Killzone Shadow Fall shows how much the PlayStation 4 improves over its predecessor, and it only just launched.
Guerilla Games also delivers some solid gameplay that improves on their previous iterations and makes itself distinguishable too. Because there are several ways to approach objectives, gunfights don’t have to start with the player going in gun’s blazing. Most cases, players have to strategize who they will go for first in order to get out of these small, intense situations. It’s refreshing, especially when the trend for first person shooters seems to be run-and-gun (aka on-rails shooting). For example, one on level I had to take out several snipers on outposts and hack a security panel to ensure reinforcements wouldn’t come while I picked off my enemies. On another level I was able to sneak past an enemy, into a vent and take out another one from behind before circling my way back to take them down. The enemy variation also provides an extra challenge as to how to take on a situation. If players go in blindly, gun’s blazing, they’ll be punished for it.
Another cool feature added to this game is the robotic companion you carry with you called an “Owl”. This little machine does everything for you; provide you cover-fire by drawing the enemies to it, set up a rappel line for you, zap enemy, revive the you and hack whatever you need it to. Many times I used this little guy to give me a small window of time to shift positions to gain an advantage over my enemies. I can say that I really enjoyed the gameplay for Killzone Shadow Fall.
Depending on the player, there is one thing that can either be a detractor to them or not annoy them at all; the game has a lot of heavily scripted sequences. In these moments, players either have little or no interaction with them. These moments are established to push the plot forward, and force the player to go along with it. For me, I didn’t mind them at all and just went along with it. To those who don’t like to put up with them, they’ll probably be somewhat annoyed by this.
Overall, Killzone Shadow Fall is a great game that does a stellar job showcasing what the PlayStation 4 is capable of and a glimpse of what it is going to be able to do throughout its run. Guerilla Games tries valiantly to make a game meant to evoke questions about war and the morality at the heart of the issue. Inevitably, the game fails to do so with its overreliance on clichés and Hollywood-like stakes that it pushes into the game one-third of the way in. The gameplay and level design are superb and offer various ways to approach each level that gives it a good amount of replayability. It also has its fair share of heavily scripted sequences, and depending on the type of player it can be a bit annoying. I give Guerilla props for trying something new and different because they succeed for the most part. There is a lot Guerilla can build on from the game, and based on the developer’s history, they will only improve.
With all that said, there’s a dilemma I face in recommending the game or not; this is an exclusive launch day game for the PlayStation 4. Quite honestly, both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One have rather weak line-ups of exclusive launch day titles to play. Also, because they are both brand new consoles, there’s a question of justifying spending the 400-500 dollars on these systems. Is Killzone Shadow Fall the game anyone should buy a PlayStation 4 for? No, not at all. If anything, until there are more games released, like Infamous: Second Son, I’d say hold off. Should you play the game if you have a PlayStation 4? Yes, only if you are into shooters. This is not a game that stands an exception for everyone to play, but something to pick up if you’re either a fan of the game or of shooters.