Killzone Shadow Fall Review (PS4): “Taking a 30-Year Old War Closer to Home than Ever Before”

Killzone Shadow Fall Cover Logo

Killzone Shadow Fall is the linear continuation of the previous installments: Killzone, Killzone 2 and Killzone 3. It takes place 30 years after the events of Killzone 3 and the drastic war that had started then is still taking place now, with one exception. Instead of fighting across the planets Vekta and Helghan, the war is taking place solely on Vekta. A giant wall separates the two factions after Vekta offered refuge for the Helghans. You play as Lucas Kellan, a shadow marshal employed by the Vektan Security Agency (VSA). As you attempt to win the war for the Vektans you soon find that things aren’t always as they seem – and people are not always as they appear.

Story: 4/5

Killzone Shadow Fall takes a dramatic leap forward in time, in which many things have changed. The Vektans and Helghans now live side by side (again), Lady Visari has resumed control of the Helghan political party, and there is a new enemy – The Black Hand, a radical Helghan group bent on eliminating the Vektans completely. Your job as shadow marshal is to stop all of this and bring Vekta to victory.

Killzone Shadow Fall has a wonderful beginning to its story. It starts off showcasing the events of the past, how we got to where we are now, and begins right after the events of Killzone 3. You get a small, but impactful glimpse into how Lucas came to be what he is, and why he fights for the Vektans so passionately. With some summaries and an easy-to-follow time lapse, we arrive in present time, with Lucas doing whatever is necessary to protect his squad and his homeland. Lucas has allowed himself to be captured by the Helghans, and is about to be traded for a prisoner the VSA have, when someone opens fire and all hell breaks loose. Lucas quickly dispatches his Helghan escort and attempts to make it back to his armada, when the prisoner he was to be exchanged for pins him down. However, instead of killing Lucas, the prisoner decides to leave him and run back to safety. Little does Lucas know this prisoner will play a pivotal role in the events that are to follow.

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The campaign proceeds with Lucas following orders from Sinclair – his leader in command and father figure. Multiple missions pit him against the newly developed and highly-trained Helghan army. Lucas is ordered to cover up many tasks, including one very suspicious weapons research in space. Massar, a VSA scientist in charge of discovering new technology to fight the Helghans with, has been captured and Lucas must retrieve her for the VSA. However, things take an interesting turn and Lucas begins to see what no one could have anticipated. From this point on, it is up to Lucas to save the Vektan race.

Killzone Shadow Fall does a marvelous job at continuing the war torn story of the past titles. It beautifully displays the politics and underlying actions of two nations at war, and how everything affects not just the governments, but the people living in each country as well. With a few plot twists and clever planning to ensure validity to the series, it is a solid installment in what has already been put into place.

One of the best things about Shadow Fall’s campaign is the emotional connection it attempts to make with the player. This is done by highlighting the effects the war has had on the people and allowing Lucas Kellen to talk. It may seem like a silly notion for such a small detail to make a large difference, but it truly helps you to get inside the person’s head you’re playing as and become invested into the story. With some clever, subtle and outright ties to the past games, Shadow Fall is a must play for fans of the series. While those who are new to the story may not get as much out of it, they will certainly enjoy what it has to offer.

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Gameplay: 5/5

Killzone has always been known to have a unique feel to it; an inertia that the guns would have making it more realistic. However, that is no longer a part of the game and it now feels much like every other shooter. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it is slightly disappointing to see something that was specific to the Killzone franchise omitted. Nonetheless, it has the same qualities as the past installments, with a few key differences. Instead of playing with a squad as you have in past games, you are now running solo – with a little help. You now get control over a small but powerful little robot, the OWL. The OWL acts as your companion throughout the game and is more valuable than any teammate could ever be. With a smooth and easy swipe on the PS4’s touchpad, you can assign the OWL different commands (attack/distract, stun, shield or zipline) and active it with L1. This process is very well integrated and makes for a welcomed addition into playing the campaign.

The rest of the campaign is played out as it has been in the past, relying heavily on gun fights to progress. While the cover system has lost some of its focus, it is still present and fairly fluid. An interesting addition to the game progression is the ability to choose multiple ways to deal with an objective. In many circumstances you are offered multiple paths, making progression seem less linear. In a page from Guerilla Cambridge’s earlier installment, Killzone: Mercenary, you may choose to move forward with guns blazing, or stealthily via ventilation shafts, overpasses or different routes. The amazing thing is that this theme is carried into multiplayer. Level design has never been so well done in a shooter – ever. Brutal melees make a pleasant return and even get an overhaul with new drop down melees and dual kill melees. Have two enemies within view? No problem – drop down and stab one in the back of the neck, then click R3 to throw your knife into the other enemies’ head! There’s nothing more satisfying than going on a stealth rampage, snapping necks and slitting throats.

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When you’re all done with single player you can make your way over to multiplayer, where a whole new experience is waiting for you. You will quickly learn that just about everything is automatically unlocked for you, which creates the argument of “why should I even play this then if there’s no real objective?” Well, hopefully because it’s fun; and to be honest, it is fun! You can still unlock a few weapon attachments such as flashlights, scopes and under-barrel attachments, but as far as new abilities go, what you start with is what you end with. Gameplay is largely based on teamwork, something often forgotten in the FPS world. Three distinct classes allow you to help your team how you want, though some classes feel a little forced. The scout will take care of enemies from a distance with its sniper rifles; the assault class will take care of everyone up close; and the support class will do everything else. Literally. Everything. Else. This is a large disappointment to series veterans as you are now forced to pick an ability you like and deal with whatever weapons are offered by that class. Gun variation is both large and small as different classes’ weapons vary dramatically, but within each class the guns are practically identical. Throw some terribly useless secondary weapons and some simple yet practical explosives into the mix and you’re basically just choosing an ability to run with, without much thought to anything else. Thankfully, Guerilla Games has finally appeared to balance the abilities out; giving usage and lifespan timers to everything – and finally getting spawn points right.

Nonetheless, Shadow Fall does offer a large teamwork feel but if you would like to run off on your own, you can certainly do so. As mentioned before, the level designs are impeccable, offering multiple ways to traverse through any map, largely diminishing camping and promoting strategic playing. Also, GG has seemingly done away with spawn camping. Most maps have at least 3 to 4 exit points, protective barriers and dangerously powerful turrets at each team’s spawn, meaning that if you’re getting spawn camped – it’s your fault. With a variety of game modes and a pleasant, yet underused game creation mode multiplayer, Shadow Fall is sure to stay fresh for a long time, especially considering the verification of plenty of DLC in the future.

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Graphics: 5/5

Since Killzone 2, GG has had a reputation for creating beautiful games and Shadow Fall is no exception. It certainly does help that it has always been designed for, and on the PS4, but if this is just the beginning, I cannot wait to see what lies in the wake of the next few years. Traversing through the game (in general, campaign and multiplayer are essentially equal in visual quality), you will notice rich and deep textures that continue on for as far as you can see. Detail is seemingly not lost at long distances and you will constantly be reminded of this every time you look down a scope. By far, the largest jump in graphical quality from the PS3 are the lighting effects. Flashlights intended to blind enemies are perfectly created, spotlights and small LED’s create realistic glares, and streaks in the night and the environmental effects are unprecedented. Even in multiplayer you will find yourself inhibited by the strong glow of the sun on a bright map – try not to stare at it in all of its beauty. While the rain and water effects could have been improved, this is truly a benchmark for future games on next-gen.

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Sound: 3/5

Let me get this out of the way: there is no more grenade beep. Instead, there is now a subtle and mechanical clicking noise. Never fear however, as the kill chirp and melon popping goodness from a headshot in multiplayer are still present! Though Shadow Fall has a plethora of different effects, none of them are really anything we haven’t seen or heard before. Weapons all make different sounds when firing or reloading; automata will make noises when being constructed, taken down or being activated, and the classic Helghan voice work is still present. While you will appreciate some nice petrusite effects, there isn’t much that really grabs you, with the exception of one thing: the music. Throughout the campaign, the music reflects what is going on and will help guide you to you current objective. If enemies are sounding an alarm, you’ll know from the heavy energetic music. If you’re sneaking through a corridor trying not get bombarded by Higs, the music will reflect that as well. All the while if your status changes, so will the music, making it a truly dynamic experience. While I wish I could reprimand the person responsible for passing the multiplayer objective announcer voiceovers (they are truly awful, both Higs and VSA), the rest of the game’s audio won’t blow you away. However, you will be content with what detail has been added, as it’s basically what you would expect after seeing the rest of the game’s quality.

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Overall Score: 17/20 = 8.5 out of 10

Killzone Shadow Fall offers a tremendously enjoyable experience for a launch title on the PS4, and gives justice to the past installments by continuing the war we have come to know, which is especially enjoyable to series veterans. While the multiplayer has its quirks, many things have been improved upon, making for an enjoyable, and hopefully long lasting, experience overall. The attention to graphical detail is unprecedented and even though the audio throughout the game isn’t extraordinary, it will satisfy your thirst for quality (just don’t pay attention to the multiplayer commanding voiceovers). Killzone Shadow Fall definitely sets the bar for future next-gen games and should not be ignored if you’re looking for something that plays just a little differently from other shooters.

PROS:

+ Amazing graphics

+ Continues with a well-grounded story

+ Seriously impressive level design

+ “Play how you want” MP – team/solo

CONS:

- Multiplayer mostly completed for you upon start

- Awful voice acting in multiplayer commanders

Killzone Shadow Fall was purchased by the reviewer for the PlayStation 4 system.

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