Killzone: Shadow Fall Review: Beauty in Stagnated Form
The Killzone franchise has never been known for resounding innovation, deeply rooted multiplayer experiences or intriguing plot-lines. As a matter of fact, Killzone is almost solely known for two things: it’s impressive visuals and PlayStation exclusivity. Killzone: Shadow Fall continues this trend, offering up a startling next-gen graphical showcase and little else. Refusing to propose anything more than subtle changes, Shadow Fall defines the Killzone series for what it is; a drudgingly uninspired shooter.
Exclusive games will always generate a substantial amount of buzz; it’s one of the reasons you buy a specified console. With the launch of the PlayStation 4 closing in, Killzone understandably achieved a 100 on the ultra hype-o-meter readings and next-gen adopters couldn’t have been more excited. However, as I argued in a featured post, Killzone’s storied history all but materialized an effigy engulfed in flame that basically shouted that Shadow Fall, ambitious as it appeared, would fall short of the mark.
Upon starting Shadow Fall, you’re presented with a brief video overview of what happened at the last game’s conclusion. Essentially the Vektans committed something called ‘terracide’ which really means they destroyed the Helghast homeworld, Helghan. Upon understanding the magnitude of what they had done, the empathetic Vektans invited the disgruntled Helghan survivors to live on their home planet with them. Baffling and detestable as that sounds, the Vektans then decided to erect a wall which would divide the nations, offering a East-West Berlin style conflict. This, my fellow gamers, is the basis of Shadow Fall’s narrative.
While the premise of a Cold War style approach is intriguing to a game of Killzone’s panache, any hope of the story amounting to something substantial is rendered moot at the game’s onset; it’s some of the worst story-telling imaginable. Look at it this way, you’ve basically carried out genocide on a group who was hellbent on doing the same to you. Now that the job is done you’ve become remorseful and decided to carry the fanatical and undoubtedly vindictive survivors back to your homeworld. To add a more tense atmosphere, we’ll throw up a wall to keep them out, allowing the once fierce enemy of the people to do their own thing. Does this seem like a bad idea to anyone else?
Suffice it to say, once again Killzone fails to make any meaningful narrative impact with its campaign. New characters, such as protagonist Lucas Kellan, are just as abhorrent providing absolutely nothing to meaningfully sympathize with or become excited for. Guerrilla Games tries to go for a more emotional grip with Shadow Fall’s opening scenes as they begin with Kellan as a child (clearly inspired by The Last of Us). Fleeing from the Helghast with his father leading the way, he turns to you after every dialogue event, allowing you to see the beaded raindrops falling from his loving face. Without saying anymore than that, you already know what happens five minutes from now and when it still happens, you can’t help but knowingly roll your eyes. Yes, this is still Killzone.
Perhaps that’s Shadow Fall’s biggest disappointment: playing it far too safe. Besides being the requisite wargame for the PS4’s launch, Shadow Fall brings nothing compellingly new to the picture. A personal drone, known as the OWL, utilizes the DualShock 4’s new touchpad on the controller to switch between attack modes, which is cool but that’s about as fancy as it gets. Alarmingly, you can only truly carry around one weapon in the game at a time as the main Vektan transforming rifle will, at all times, be nestled within your grip. However, once you realize that most weapons in the Killzone universe blend together, you’ll continuously grab that same weapon and never think about changing it up again.
Shooting, which you’ll do a lot of, feels pretty good in Shadow Fall. Weapons have some real weight behind them, recoil in a satisfying fashion and sound like you’d think they would. Unfortunately, the people and things you’ll be targeting with these weapons aren’t nearly as good. To be terse, the AI in Shadow Fall is laughable. Heavily outnumbered? Not a problem! All you need to do is find a solid corner to hide around and simply wait as every single enemy will trickle in, one by one, as you break, slit, punch, or otherwise viciously maim the heads and throats of your enemies. Even soldiers with riot shields and impenetrable Armadillo shields can be taken out with one or two swipes of your chaos knife of reckoning. When actually gunfighting though, enemies do hide but they don’t even do that well. Very rarely did I ever feel like I was truly in danger when faced against insurmountable odds. Honestly it’s hard to be, especially when enemies kill their own dudes with poorly thrown grenades.
As you’d expect, the visuals in Shadow Fall are astounding. Beautiful, sweeping shots of the landscape are seemingly omnipresent, showing great draw distance and detail not possible on last-gen systems. Dust flutters, scraps of paper fly and sunbeams dot the interiors of the desolate world of Shadow Fall, making it a thrill to look at. Of all the issues this series has had, at least there’s one consistency; it’s aesthetic design.
I’d like to make a point that as a next-gen game, you’d expect last-gen’s requisite cooperative experience to find its way into something like Shadow Fall. While there’s nothing innately wrong with a single-player driven campaign, we’re in an age where shooters live off of the multiplayer experience – that includes cooperative modes. Call of Duty: Ghosts still contains a single-player campaign but even it has various cooperative modes; Shadow Fall has none. Guerrilla Games has announced a horde-esque mode for the game at a future time, but as of this writing the only thing available in Shadow Fall is competitive multiplayer. After your six or so hours of campaign blasting have soured your taste for the game, you’ll undoubtedly be led to the main focus of Shadow Fall.
Online multiplayer is nothing special. Back when Killzone 2 introduced objectives into competitive multiplayer, it was something to talk excitedly about. Now with the fourth mainline version in our systems, there’s still nothing mind-blowing about the competitive experience. Generally nodding in Call of Duty’s direction, classes, perks and weapon level ups have taken over the scene. With Classic Warzone and 24-Player battles as the only real options to play online, Shadow Fall’s multiplayer isn’t exactly robust with options. More than likely, you’ll play it for a few hours, sigh in mild satisfaction and then remember there’s other, better competitive shooters available to play right now.
Killzone is a franchise founded in the shadow of greatness. Labeled as the ‘Halo Killer’ back when Killzone strived to be the king on top of the mountain, the series has since stagnated, limiting itself to be solely recognized for its gorgeous visuals and over the top animations. Shadow Fall presented a potential rebirth of the series, but instead it simply continued the insipid narrative that’s plagued the series from the start. With unimaginative gameplay and derivative design elements adorning every square-inch of this package, there’s little reason to expect anything being worth your time.