- Developer - Guerilla Games
- Publisher - Sony Computer Entertainment
- Platform - PlayStation 4
- Release date - 29 November
- Price - £44.99
Killzone: Shadow Fall
I played Killzone: Shadow Fall in two sittings. After the first, I was ready to love it. After the second, well, that's when I'm writing this review.
Whereas the first half of the game comprises solid shooting and base defence on the human planet Vekta, at mission eight, of 10, you're suddenly sent to an irradiated other-world where you have to stealth your way past invincible robots and solve puzzles. It's like the switch from Black Mesa to Xen. All the mechanics you've learned and enjoyed so far are shot out the window, replaced by a joyless grind against enemies you can't kill and tricksy jumping sections.
There's this awful part where you're free-falling and have to glide-dodge your way around buildings as they try to collapse on your head. The controls are unresponsive and the only way to get past it is to keep dying and trying again, and hoping you'll get lucky.
Compared to the rest of the game, which is based on tactical approaches and slow, ploddy violence, it's a real disappointment. In its final few hours, Killzone falls apart. It leans away from its brilliant core shooting and towards CoD: Ghosts-style gimmick missions.
But still, despite these problems, I like Shadow Fall a lot.
Since the first game in 2004, Killzone has always stood out from other FPS franchises. Where console shooters like Call of Duty, Halo and Medal of Honor have gradually slid into empty spectacle, Killzone has always been more dignified. It's a slower, brainier shooting game, where weapons take a long time to reload and you're usually up against five enemies instead of 50.
The story's interesting as well. For the most part it ignores the back stories of the grunts, or any notions of how great it is that they're fighting for their country, and instead concentrates on political wranglings between the military upper echelons.
There are no clean hands. We see generals on both sides willingly sending troopers to their deaths. And in the world of first-person shooters, where the moral of the story is usually clear, I've always appreciated Killzone's muddying of the water.
So Shadow Fall feels like a Killzone game made just for me. The levels are slow, often featuring less than 20 bad guys, and the characters are sympathetic. I won't get carried away here - it's hardly Beckett - but the story's at least coherent and when the writers throw in a major twist or turn, they have have the guts to stick with it. They're not like the creators of Modern Warfare, who weren't courageous enough to leave Captain Price dead.
The set-up goes like this. 30 years after ostensible heroes the ISA destroyed the Helghan home-planet with a nuclear bomb, the few-thousand surviving Helghast have been granted refuge on one half of Vekta, a human planet and ISA stronghold. You play Luke Kellan, a "Shadow Marshall" for the ISA army who specialises in covert operations.
His mission is to find and rescue a scientist named Massar, who is developing a virus that the ISA could use to wipe out the remaining Helghans living on Vekta. However, as Kellan goes on, and meets a Helghast sniper named Echo, his loyalty to the ISA is challenged.
Echo and Kellan end up abandoning the missions given to them by their bosses and start trying to negotiate peace between their two sides. I won't spoil precisely how it all turns out - it really is worth seeing for yourself - but I will say this: I liked the ending very much. And I'm not a fan of mawkishness.
Shooting and Killing
Back to the shooting and the killing, Shadow Fall continues Killzone's tradition of deliberate, sluggish violence, the only real addition being OWL, a robotic companion that you command using the Dual-Shock 4's new touchpad. It works much better than when I tried it in previews, with the pad now responding well to purposeful inputs.
But OWL is a superficial touch. Aside from when it's necessary to hack computer terminals, you tend to forget it's there, firstly because it's shield, stun and attack commands aren't that useful and secondly because doing things yourself is typically more enjoyable than having OWL do them. It feels like OWL's been crowbarred in to show off what the Dual-Shock can do.
Same goes for Shadow Fall's visuals which often stray from impressive to masturbatory.
Not that I'm complaining, really. It's an astounding looking game, featuring the best lighting effects, textures and animation that I've ever seen. Truly, it's impressive. But it's also self-indulgent. There are a few too many shots of cities from the sky, a few too many "whoosh" moments that hold your perspective on some big event, occurring in slow-motion.
Just another shooter?
I've said that what I like about Killzone is its comparative disinterest in explosive spectacle. But Shadow Fall, since it's partly designed to flaunt the PlayStation 4, occasionally comes across a bit showy.
Otherwise, I like it a lot. The shooting is methodical and the plot is leagues above the usual FPS mouthwash.
I think you can respond to Shadow Fall in one of two ways. You can either call it "just another shooter", and a poor example of what next-gen is supposed to be, or you can say it's a great showcase for the PlayStation 4, and representative of the raw power and graphics Sony is hoping will impress consumers.
I certainly had the latter reaction. But I also think that, visual spectacle aside, Shadow Fall is still a great PS4 headliner. I've never played a first-person shooter like it before, one that's so confident it its own conceits. Apart from a few wayward moments, Shadow Fall sticks to its guns.
It's a game of low-key battles and quiet little moments. Only rarely does it devolve into a mass-market FPS.
It feels like the creators, rather than try to meet players' expectations, have done what they wanted to do, and I respect that immensely. And as a result of their confidence, Killzone: Shadow Fall is unlike any FPS I've played on the PlayStation 3, recently at least. It's different without feeling contrary; smart without sounding pretentious. Eventually, I'm sure, FPS games on next-gen will blur into the same homogeneity as FPS games on current gen. But for now at least, Killzone: Shadow Fall feels remarkably fresh. And it's not just because of the graphics.
- Gameplay: 7/10 -Those last few levels are a real slog, and the OWL feels shoehorned in. But Shadow Fall is slow and ploddy, a more intelligent to contrast to other first-person shooters.
- Graphics: 10/10 -In lieu of any other next-gen FPSs, I'm rating Shadow Fall's visuals alongside PS3 games. And against those, it looks incredible.
- Sound: 8/10 - Great voice acting, particularly from Homeland's David Harewood, and the score, pretty uniquely for an FPS, isn't just plain orchestra music. But I think the whole game, quiet and slow as it is, would work better with no music and there's no option for you to turn it off, which is a shame.
- Writing: 7/10 -I can't lather too much praise on Shadow Fall's story because, fundamentally, it's about space Nazis and nukes. But still, it's way better than other blockbuster shooters.
- Replay value: 6/10 -Certainly still interesting a second time but those final few sections make it a harder to keep loving.
- Overall: 9/10 -A smart, confident and original FPS game that, as well as injecting life into the tiredest genre on the market, proves the PS4 has more to offer than just shinier graphics.
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