Killzone: Shadow Fall review: half-bred

Ultimately, Killzone: Shadow Fall once again falls short of the lofty expectations placed upon it.

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The Killzone franchise has always been caught in a struggle against early expectations. First billed as a "Halo killer" in the PS2 era, then needing to live up to a pre-rendered lofty "visual target" in the PS3 era--Shadow Fall now has the burden of being Sony's biggest exclusive launch game for PlayStation 4. And while this is Guerrilla's fourth step at bat, it appears they've not learned the lessons from their previous efforts, making the same missteps of Killzone 3.

With Shadow Fall, Guerrilla has once again upped the ante in all the ways you'd expect: the graphics are even more colorful than before, with enough lens flares to blind J.J. Abrams. From sweeping vistas of a futuristic city, to scenes with dozens of dazzling light sources, Shadow Fall is designed as a visual feast, meant to celebrate the arrival of a new generation of consoles--and it largely succeeds. As a technical showcase, Shadow Fall makes good to showcase all of PS4's fancy new tech, including the sometimes-gimmmicky new features thrown into DualShock 4 (your controller will turn red when low on health, and you'll swipe the touchpad for additional commands).

Killzone became a very different game with 3, shifting from a "military shooter that happens to be in space" to something more akin to Call of Duty. Shadow Fall manages to find a balance between the deliberate weight of Killzone 2 and the everything-is-running-in-fast-forward design of Killzone 3. You have a good sense of self as you play, sometimes being able to see your limbs and oftentimes being able to see your own shadow. There's a good sense of weight as you dive into cover, and the weapons feel equally hefty. Whereas the weapons of Killzone 3 were all interchangeable, the introduction of very-different firing modes makes each weapon finally stand out.

Perhaps the biggest addition to Shadow Fall's gameplay is the OWL, a tactical robot that can be summoned at whim. It has four abilities: provide suppressing fire, create a temporary shield to hide behind, destroy enemy shields, and deploy a grappling hook. The latter is the most interesting, as it introduces new ways of traversing the game's larger environments. Some of the earlier stages almost feel like an open world, with players given a massive map to explore and objectives to complete as-they-see-fit. It's a nice contrast to the linear setpiece-to-setpiece design the genre has devolved into.

Unfortunately, Shadow Fall doesn't take long to fall into the same traps of the modern FPS. Every brilliant idea is countered by another moment of frustration, anger, or boredom. The second half of the campaign is especially frustrating, as the gameplay (once again) devolves into a mindless shooting gallery. As the game transforms into corridor shooter, the incentive to use OWL disappears, relegating its purpose to "make this door open" instead of opening up new tactical approaches. That really cool grappling hook? Prepare to pretty much never use it again.

The game's excessive reliance on arena-style "shoot everything you see" segments quickly outstays its welcome, especially when Shadow Fall's lackluster checkpoint system rears its head. Oftentimes, your save kicks in while you're in a gunfight, meaning there's no real way to change your approach to a conflict.

At the very least, Killzone 3 offered a playground of new toys and new enemies that dared to take the series somewhere new. You were fighting the Predator and dodging a fire-breathing dragon-robot-thing in one level, while liquifying soldiers shooting electricity in a low-grav space station. Oh, and let's not forget the jetpacks. Unfortunately, Shadow Fall does away with all of that. Instead, the few moments where the game tries to break away from the mold end up being some of the worst moments in the campaign. One level has you skydiving, but the controls are so atrocious that I nearly snapped the DualShock 4 in half.

Guerrilla takes the same heavy-handed approach with the story as they did in Killzone 3. Once again, there's a feature length film's worth of cutscene tucked away onto the Blu-ray disc. However, Shadow Fall's story is definitely better than the storytelling. I found the portrayal of the Helghast interesting, and the addition of a new half-breed character has interesting ramifications. However, the performances are difficult to sit through, especially when listening to the main character. It would've been nice if the cutscenes were shorter or skippable in some way, but I suppose Guerrilla really wants you to see their new facial animation tech.

The stylized HDR lighting, the overabundance of color, and the sheer variety of locations really make the game a treat for the eyes. As with previous Killzone games, the most compelling reason to soldier through the campaign may be just to see where the game takes you next. For gamers that need to justify their PS4 purchase, the visuals make a compelling argument. It's too bad that the best-in-class visuals are wasted on what's possibly the worst of Killzone's campaigns yet.

Like other high-profile shooters this year, the campaign is simply a way to get into the real meat of the experience: multiplayer. Once again, there are three classes: scouts, assault, and support. However, unlike most shooters, pretty much everything is unlocked from the get-go, making it a rather intimidating experience to jump into. Guerrilla eases players into online by offering their own "beginner's playlist," which restricts the kind of equipment you can use and what maps you'll play on.

The way that warzones can be customized is one of Shadow Fall's biggest strengths, letting players customize a map rotation, allowing specific weapons and abilities to be used, and tweaking other match features: number of lives, bots, objectives. Cycling through the games being played on servers right now, it's clear that people are coming up with exciting new ways to play.

Perhaps the biggest downside of this open-ended nature to warzones is that you simply won't have the appropriate loadouts for custom games. When you attempt to play a warzone with equipment that isn't allowed, you'll just find yourself launching with a gimped loadout. It can be difficult to discern what can and can't be used, especially when the warning message is so vague.

Combat feels especially great in Shadow Fall's online, mostly due to the faster framerate that multiplayer employs. While the campaign may make for better screenshots, one could argue that the multiplayer feels more impressive--especially as it retains many of the campaign's visual tricks (lighting, especially). Like in the campaign, the weight of the weapons seems to be in between Killzone 2 and 3, with players feeling not-as-nimble as in 3, but still having to deal with the heavy recoil of certain weapons.

I applaud a lot of the decisions Guerrilla has made for Shadow Fall's multiplayer. Getting rid of the XP system and replacing it with "challenges" makes sense. I like how they're grouped together, effectively becoming an ongoing tutorial for the various aspects of the online offering. Being able to incorporate bots is also a nice touch which is too often ignored in shooters nowadays. Finally, Guerrilla promises that future maps will be released for free--a refreshing change of pace from the $60 Season Passes that seem to be the norm nowadays.

But beyond a clever mission mechanic, Shadow Fall struggles with not really having an identity of its own. The shifting objective-based Warzone has been Killzone's staple since 2, and it hasn't really changed much. In some ways, Shadow Fall's offering feels like a step back from 3, which offered mechs and jetpacks to change things up. Perhaps most frustratingly, people are still not using headsets to communicate--odd given that one is included with PS4.

Ultimately, Killzone: Shadow Fall once again falls short of the lofty expectations placed upon it. In spite of its gorgeous visuals, Shadow Fall is not the "system seller" Sony would like it to be. Multiplayer may be fun, but it plays too safe to overcome the genuinely disappointing single-player campaign. [6]


This review is based on early retail PlayStation 4 code provided by the publisher. Killzone: Shadow Fall is now available on PS4 at retail and as a downloadable title on PlayStation Network for $59.99. The game is rated M.

From The Chatty
  • reply
    November 18, 2013 10:00 AM

    Andrew Yoon posted a new article, Killzone: Shadow Fall review: half-bred.

    Ultimately, Killzone: Shadow Fall once again falls short of the lofty expectations placed upon it.

    • reply
      November 18, 2013 12:36 PM

      I for one am thoroughly enjoying Killzone. Something about an FPS that doesn't take place in the middle east or a war torn 3rd world country is a nice change of pace. You travel alone during the campaign saving you from dude bro partners and their lovely commentary. I love the tactical OWL features and the game play feels better than any KS before it. MP is a blast from what I've played, and I just don't understand why Killzone is held to this higher standard of judgement when it comes to all the other whitewashed FPS's that have been hitting the shelves the last 5 years. That being said I'm only half way through and Andrew suggests it beings to go down hill from there. I'm hoping not, but if you're on the fence I' really think it's worth a shot.

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        November 18, 2013 1:03 PM

        And the multiplayer is super-solid. But yeah, the campaign definitely starts off stronger than where it ends up.

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      November 18, 2013 12:42 PM

      No surprise here - Killzone games have always looked nice, but the gameplay has always been really really really generic, bland, and boring.

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        November 18, 2013 1:02 PM

        Yeah. Really sad considering how impressive the game looks, but the same amount of work definitely didn't go into crafting compelling gameplay.

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          November 18, 2013 3:24 PM

          I don't know whats up with those guys. Seems like an Eastern European game. Janky and super rough around the edges.

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      November 18, 2013 2:50 PM

      I'm really enjoying KZ, it's a nice change of pace from the same ol' modern day shooters that are cut/paste every year like Madden.

      The thing I like about it so far, is how there's multiple ways to approach most scenarios (stealth/silent assassinations vs rambo style). Although I have to agree with the sky-diving part, took me forever and a lot of luck to get through it, the main issue I found was that the Y-Axis was reversed during that part, which I haaate that control scheme.

      As for the Owl, I've used it quite a bit, but it may be because I use him as a distraction/"tank" while I take out the mech walkers or shielded troopers for a melee kill.

      Otherwise, I haven't had a chance to dive into the multiplayer just yet, I prefer to finish single player before I do other modes.

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      November 18, 2013 3:17 PM

      3 was far better!

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        November 18, 2013 3:31 PM

        I would say 2 > 3 > Shadow Fall

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          November 18, 2013 4:15 PM

          The mechanics were better in 2, I especially enjoyed the duck and cover system, however I really enjoyed the sp story. Perhaps we are asking too much to have a semi unique FPS with good graphical quality and an intensely engaging campaign.

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            November 18, 2013 4:43 PM

            KZ2 was like a bunch of copy and paste encounters with whack a mole enemies. Also with all the guns the game had, the original default rifle was too good to bother using any of the others, made the two weapon system rather pointless since you couldn't mix and match weapons.

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            November 18, 2013 7:55 PM

            No, these guys just don't get it.

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      November 18, 2013 3:30 PM

      Are the graphics on party with the ps3 prerendered demo shown in 2006?

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        November 18, 2013 4:38 PM

        Other then the prerender smoke i though the ps3 version was kind of close too that trailer.

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        November 18, 2013 4:53 PM

        I'd say, other than the animation, it looks better

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      November 18, 2013 5:59 PM

      Hmmm, not sure why he's so hard on this game. I hated the first 20 min or so that it took to actually start playing the game... And the 'escape' level dragged on for far too long. But other than that, the single player was actually pretty fun. And they told a far better story than most AAA shooters. The campaign was far better than COD or Battlefield, but not on par with Far Cry... To me, that's saying a lot.

      The online portion of the game is phenomenal. I bought 5 games with the PS4 (not including Resogun and Contrast w/ my PS+ sub)... other than about 2 hours of Resogun, I haven't been able to play anything other than Killzone's online game. The maps are beautiful and designed well for the game modes. The gameplay is fast and fluid. And the challenges add a new level of addictiveness to the online formula... I don't even care so much about unlocking the weapon upgrades, I want to complete the challenges just after seeing which ones I'm progressing on!

      I bought AC4, Need for Speed Rivals, and NBA 2K14 just because I figured I would not invest much time in Killzone or Knack... and I haven't even been able to move past Killzone yet!!! I easily and thoroughly recommend it to anyone that has been a fan of shooters in the last gen. It's still a transitional game, it doesn't do much to revolutionize the genre (although the inclusion of the OWL is kind of awesome), but damn it if it isn't a blast to play! For anyone that enjoyed Resistance or PDZ for the last generation launch... this is easily a better launch day FPS experience than either of those was.

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      November 18, 2013 6:41 PM

      "First billed as a "Halo killer" in the PS2 era"

      Sony never ever said that, Media and fanboy been saying this all these years.
      Not even the dev ever mentioned that.

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        November 18, 2013 6:50 PM

        Sony very clearly positioned Killzone and Resistance as their showpiece FPS franchises to compete with Halo and Gears which were hugely popular on the Xbox and driving a lot of US sales. Just because they didn't explicitly call out Halo doesn't change that.

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          November 18, 2013 8:29 PM

          Yeah I remember this, too. I remember the Killzone gameplay videos looking incredible.

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        November 18, 2013 7:27 PM

        i was reasonably sure sony was quoted as it was a halo killer

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          November 18, 2013 7:51 PM

          I distinctly recall the OPM having "Halo Killer" and on its cover years back on its issue with exclusive details.

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      November 18, 2013 8:23 PM

      I like the game a lot more than I expected. I think the single player campaign is solid and much better than killzone 2. I never played 3.

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      November 18, 2013 9:50 PM

      I've only done the first 3 chapters but I've been enjoying it as well. I feel like it's a more unique and engaging than the typical run of the mill military shooter. I think this is going to be one of those games that has a much better user reception than media reception. Everyone I've spoken too about it is having a good time. Knack on the other hand...lol

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      November 19, 2013 8:47 AM

      I find the story telling and voice acting is really good this time around. Tell me you don't think it's at least better than KZ2 or 3's.

      This is the first Killzone I'm actually really enjoying. The first one I probably won't be trading in.

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