Killzone: Shadow Fall Review
I’d seen the screenshots (speaking of screenshots, click ours, we have a new lightbox!), watched the videos online, but nothing I’d previously seen had quite prepared me for the visual extravaganza that was about to transpire. Dutch developer Guerrilla Games has been a staple as a Sony first party studio since the PS2 days. Their Killzone franchise is typically a graphical benchmark as far as PlayStation software goes. With Killzone: Shadow Fall the studio wanted to showcase the raw horsepower behind the PlayStation 4 console. But there’s so much more to making a great game than visuals.
Being a launch title usually comes with its share of ups and downs; mostly downs. But Guerrilla wanted to give console gamers an experience they’ve never quite had on PlayStation before. Another goal was to reinvent the series with a dose of true science fiction aesthetic. Having played Killzone 2 and 3, I can honestly say Shadow Fall was a complete departure from the rest of the series; and that’s not a bad thing. The muddy, comatose color palette of the past installments is still present in-part, but it’s now juxtaposed against some of the best sci-fi inspired concepts in gaming. Guerrilla Games has executed a hard refresh on the series in its PlayStation 4 debut.
What Shadow Fall manages to retain impeccably well is the definitive Killzone FPS experience. I’ve always really enjoyed the cover and lean system that Killzone employs. The series has always featured highly detailed hit-boxes that accurately react to where damage is taken. And it seems Shadow Fall has managed to positively elaborate on the already stellar reactionary character animations. Firearms have a certain weight to them that makes them feel all the more realistic. Each weapon’s gunfire is violently percussive and visceral in its own way. Melee kills are animalistic and gratifying. Variation seems to be the key to the combat. Some weapons, like your (Lucas Kellen) primary assault rifle, feature two distinct firing modes. The default being fully automatic, and the secondary a devastating long-range rail gun. The addition of the OWL drone companion creates a new dynamic to combat, giving Shadow Fall a bit more of a sandbox-y feeling. The OWL has several functions that include outright attacking, stunning, producing a drop-shield, and hacking consoles. Commands are issued to the OWL via the DualShock 4’s track pad. Swiping different directions will result in different orders.
Online gameplay offers class-based character customization with Assault, Support and Scout classes available. Each class focuses on different armaments and perks like deploying a drop-shield during firefights, automated turrets, support teleport (teleport directly to an injured teammate in need of assistance), stun drones, and speed dashes. Each class has its own set of applicable abilities, primary & secondary weapons, attachments, and explosives giving players the freedom to specialize their character to their play style. The multiplayer suite is all presented in 60fps and I found that the frame rate holds well unless there’s a particularly insane amount of players, gunfire, explosions, and secondary characters like tons fo drones present. There’s also a semi-robust amount of game modes offered including the tried and true Warzone, a beginners (new recruit) mode, and tactical options. There’s eight online modes in all. For all its strengths Shadow Fall’s multiplayer just doesnt’ stack up to the big dogs like Call of Duty and Battlefield. It’s not quite as fluid as CoD and there aren’t massive battles featuring a variety vehicles like Battlefield. Most importantly Shadow Fall doesn’t meaningfully distinguish itself from other military shooter offerings.
Now let’s talk about the beautiful, gigantic pink elephant in the room; the graphics. Killzone: Shadow Fall sets a truly next-gen graphical standard from the very beginning. Everything you were hoping for is present. From stunning environments, gorgeous character models, and expansive sci-fi cityscapes to extremely well executed lighting effects that will literally impair your vision if they hit your right. What’s really beautiful about Shadow Fall is Guerrilla’s ability to offer exquisite visuals on both sides of Vekta’s dividing wall. The ISA side is straight out of your wildest utopian dreams, and the Helghast portion is reminiscent of Blade Runner, or even Total Recall. The campaign will take you to both sides of the wall and into a large sampling of very distinct environments and aesthetically remarkable locales. The character models I was so impressed with in screenshot-form lost little to no detail while the game is running. Explosions, barrel flash, blood splatter and even the futuristic rail gun are presented extremely well. From a graphical standpoint alone, Killzone: Shadow Fall is absolutely everything we’ve been waiting for.
The visuals may be outstanding, but Shadow Fall suffers from an awkwardly paced and uninspired narrative. The back story to the main plot offers little to no character attachment, and where there’s opportunity to develop some semblance of rapport with the characters, Guerrilla chose glaze over segments rather than capitalizing on them. The plot is simply used as an alternator of sorts, powering the continual movement of the story rather than making any kind of meaningful contribution. On the other hand, one primary character is handled rather well, and that gives me hope for Killzone’s future.
In the end Killzone: Shadow Fall is a brilliant display of what next-gen has in store for gamers. The games aesthetic is a revelation for console gaming as a whole and the combat mechanics continue to sharpen with age. Shadow Fall’s online component has enough under the hood to keep dedicated Killzone multiplayer gamers coming back for sometime, but it’s just not quite the universal experience that we’re used to with Battlefield or Call of Duty. The narrative shambles, staggers, and even outright falls off a cliff at times, but who cares when shooting shit is this beautiful? Guerrilla Games has provided us a truly beautiful universe to obliterate.
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