Killzone: Shadow Fall is a gorgeous mess. What could have been a heavyweight contender in an already crowded market for next-gen shooters is bogged down by a tedious, cliched, and ridiculous single player campaign that Guerrilla Games arguably forgot to finish. Maybe they just didn’t have time. I can’t be sure. Thankfully, the robust multiplayer buoys an otherwise sinking package by building upon what was offered in Killzone 3, one of my favorite competitive experiences on the PS3.
The campaign begins with a hackneyed sequence in which our hero, as a small boy, is led by his father out of their apartment through a vaguely post-apocalyptic, unmistakably totalitarian, and entirely unfamiliar setting. After his father is unceremoniously executed in front of him, the boy is saved by a Vektan Shadow Marshal named Sinclair who raises him as a protege to take on the Helghast, a race of mutated humans that now reside on one half of the planet Vekta after their own planet was wiped out.
I’d go into more detail, but without prior knowledge of the series (and even if it’s just been a while since you played the previous entries), none of this is going to make any sense. The story is not particularly complicated, it just lacks any kind of flow. Events start abruptly, characters appear and then vanish, and Lucas Kellen, the protagonist, is never really fleshed out.
Killzone 3 told the rousing tale of Earth’s last stand against the Helghast. It was a classic sci-fi romp, and neatly tied together and even elevated the events that preceded it, which is why I was left baffled at the end of Shadow Fall. Everything from the dialogue to the level design felt unfinished, like the game never went through any revisions after the first draft.
The lack of flow bleeds into the gameplay as well. Shadow Fall is a very linear game, which is not a bad trait when executed successfully, but somehow I found myself getting lost while traveling from one objective to the next. The path that the game wants you to follow is rarely clear — I spent 15 minutes walking back and forth down a small corridor while the mission indicator kept pointing me in the direction of a locked door. The actual route I needed to take to get to the other side of that locked down was in the opposite direction. On its own, this wouldn’t be worth mentioning in a review, but its only one of dozens of similar incidents.
That’s not to say there isn’t fun to be had. Between alternating bouts of rage and frustration, I genuinely appreciated the difficulty of Shadow Fall. Enemies don’t go down easily, especially some of the larger, mechanical creatures later in the game, so it’s important to use the environment and the available weapons to your advantage in order to stay alive. Some of the weapons are also a lot of fun to use, namely the sniper rifles and the shotguns.
Lucas also has access to a small drone called OWL which can hack alarms, create ziplines, and best of all, attack your foes. Plus, the OWL is your only means of revival when you fall in battle. And you will fall in battle. Its utility cannot be understated, and sending it out to save you from an onslaught of Helghast, or just to take care of stragglers, is one of the highlights of the game.
One of the only things that kept me from tossing my DualShock 4 through my television during some of the more punishing segments of the campaign was the quality of the visuals. Guerrilla Games has crafted one of the most beautiful worlds ever seen in a console game, filled with bright colors, tall buildings and incredible character models. When Lucas is placed in wide open locales, it’s hard not to stop and examine every nook and cranny. This level of detail and lighting just wasn’t possible on the PlayStation 3. The team really took advantage of the hardware, and there’s no better launch title on the PS4 than Shadow Fall to show off what next-gen looks like.
Shadow Fall also has some of the most fun, robust multiplayer of any FPS this year, next-gen or not. Killzone was one of the first titles with online multiplayer on the PlayStation 2, and it really hit its stride in the sequels. Guerrilla picked up right where it left off in Shadow Fall, making a few adjustments to streamline the multiplayer modes and reward players more often.
The primary draw of online Killzone has always been the Warzone multiplayer mode. In Warzone, two teams are given a series of objectives to complete throughout a match. Instead of spending 20 ti 30 minutes playing Team Deathmatch, you’ll spend just a few minutes taking out the other team before a winner is crowned and a game of Capture the Flag begins. It cuts down on monotony and forces you to reconsider how best to traverse the map.
Rather than ranking up, players are instead given 1595 challenges to complete. This substantially increases the rate of progression, but also disrupts the addictive leveling up mechanic that most FPS games have made an inseparable part of their online modes. Other than that, unlocks still work basically the same as they have in the past: use a weapon or a class long enough and you will start to receive upgrades.
Designing your own custom Warzone is both simple and extremely flexible. You can decide which maps to alternate between, which classes, missions, weapons and abilities to allow, whether or not to include bots, and a host of other settings that will make your Warzone unique.
Shadow Fall is not the complete package it could have been, but if you have any interest in playing Killzone online, this is a worthy successor to Killzone 3 in that respect. If you are looking for a well-rounded FPS, you might just want to wait a little later into this console generation.