Killzone: Shadow Fall Review

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The Killzone franchise had a rough start on the PlayStation 2 but the developers really hit the mark with the sequels for PlayStation 3. With fun and satisfying gameplay and stunning visuals for their time, Killzone 2 and 3 are easily two of the best shooters for the system. The series would continue with the release of Killzone: Mercenary for the Vita and Killzone: Shadow Fall for PlayStation 4, both released in 2013. Shadow Fall proved to be another financially successful entry and is also one of the best selling games for the system. Developed by Guerrilla Games and published by Sony Computer Entertainment, Killzone: Shadow Fall was released as a launch title for PlayStation 4 in November, 2013.

The PS4 was an interesting launch for me because the two launch titles I got ended up landing on opposite sides of the spectrum. Shadow Fall was one and the other was Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. I was very disappointed with Shadow Fall and thought Black Flag was the best game since Assassin’s Creed 2. After I beat Shadow Fall’s story, I never went back to it and forgot almost everything about the campaign. Since it’s been a while, I was a little eager to jump back in to see if it’s really as bad as I remember.

After the events of Killzone 3, the ISA allows Helgast survivors to colonize half of the planet Vekta and that half is known as New Helghan. A wall is constructed to separate the two civilizations due to their resentment of each other. Years later, with the assistance of a Shadow Marshal named Sinclair, Michael Kellan and his son Lucas (who is also the game’s protagonist) sneak through New Helghan to reach The Wall. After Michael is killed by the Helghast, Sinclair looks after Lucas and he ends up becoming a Shadow Marshal, himself.

After an explosion kills several soldiers and civilians in VSA Headquarters, Lucas is sent on a mission to locate the leader of the “The Black Hand” terrorist group who claims responsibility for the attack. He ends up allying himself with a half-Vektan, half-Helgast woman named Echo to prevent another war and to stop Jorhan Stahl, who survived the events of Killzone 3, from using a bio-weapon that would kill both Vektans and half-breeds alike. The story, tone, and atmosphere all feel very different than what was on display in the previous games and I do think it’s refreshing. The plot of Shadow Fall definitely feels more intimate, like a post war scenario, but most of the characters failed to interest me.

Right off the bat, I’m going to say I’m not a fan Shadow Fall. After about an hour of playing, I started to remember why I thought it was disappointing. On the surface, there’s really nothing wrong with the game. In my experience, it controls well, movement feels good, the gunplay is satisfying, and the action is fun when it gets going. The problem lies with some general design issues and the fact that this is supposed to be a Killzone game. And the latter is what disappointed me the most.

I think your enjoyment of the campaign may come down to your answer to one question. What do you expect from a Killzone game? If you expecting a lot of run and gun action, explosive set pieces and intense combat, Shadow Fall may disappoint. Shadow Fall focuses more on options and stealth. You have the option engage enemies all-guns-blazing or sneak around. I respect the developers taking the franchise in a different direction instead of doing the same old thing again but I don’t think this was the way to go.

I’ll start by talking about some of the positives. The environments in Shadow Fall are linear but much more open-ended than any of the locations in the previous games. You’re basically always given a choice of how you want to proceed and that doesn’t just mean in terms of engagement. Whether you sneak around and perform stealth kills or shoot your way through areas, there’s typically multiple ways to reach destinations. When the action does get going, it is a lot of fun. The guns feels great to fire and melee and stealth kills often look and feel brutal. Lucas can use a tactical echo to see where nearby enemies are located and inject himself with adrenaline to replenish health which also enables him to enter slow motion for a brief time.

One of the bigger elements of the campaign is the hovering attack drone called the O.W.L. Lucas can deploy it to attack and stun foes and deploy a shield and zip line. It can also hack terminals, alarms and revive Lucas if he falls as long as he has adrenaline on him. The O.W.L. does prove to come in quite handy during combat. It will distract foes, allowing you to flank and get the jump on them and the stun attack can disable an enemy’s energy shield, making them vulnerable.

Unfortunately, the negative aspects overshadow the positive ones. For one thing, the pacing is inconsistent. There are periods of downtime that go on for a little too long in my opinion like when you’re forced to slowly walk through an area or ride something. The set pieces that are present aren’t all exciting and some encounters are tedious or frustrating. There’s a section later in the game that requires you to disable mobile scan units which can unleash projectiles at you if you’re spotted. So you’ll want to evade them and look for canisters to insert into the generators so you can blow them up to destroy the units. That may mean shooting the drones that fly by, forcing them to drop the canisters they’re carrying. I don’t find any of this to be enjoyable and the big Walking Attack Drones that patrol some of these areas make the already tedious task more frustrating.

Shadow Fall doesn’t offer a lot of large-scale battles like its predecessors. There’s a major battle in the beginning that’s pretty cool and some defense objectives that will involve a lot of shooting but, for the most part, encounters feel smaller in scale. They get a little bigger towards the end of the game but I can’t say any encounter ever reached the same highs as those in Killzone 2 or 3. It’s obvious you’re encouraged to sneak around. But firefights do look and feel great which, at this point, is not unexpected for a Killzone game. You’ll spend a majority of your time alone and in enemy territory so don’t expect to see and hear a lot of distant gunfire and explosions, tons of shouting and general chaos.

There are several sections in the game that are simply boring. There’s a chapter early in the campaign that has you running around a space ship looking for canisters to insert into generators so you can progress. Another chapter includes a segment that has you being guided through a prison. You’re told when to avoid enemies and exactly where to go. It’s not very exciting. Then there’s the set pieces, many of which are just underwhelming. You’ll hang from a rope attached to an aircraft and kill a couple of enemies, you’ll freefall and have to avoid obstacles like structures and buildings, and one of the more exciting ones has you floating around space protecting a shuttle.

The campaign will take you to many areas around the planet Vekta including sections of Vekta City and New Helghan. The more open-ended environments allow for different approaches and it can be easy to wander off in the wrong direction. Luckily, you can bring up an objective marker on your HUD so you know where to go. Most encounters take place in big spaces and/or with plenty of routes to take and objects and structures around to use as cover. The environments are diverse and detailed and the numerous collectibles scattered around are the incentive to explore.

Shadow Fall does come with a multiplayer component and I actually found some games but not many players so I can’t really comment on the experience. It also comes with Botzone so you can play against bots. The game did receive DLC including a big expansion called Intercept which centers on cooperative play. You and up to three other players must secure and defend uplinks and can rack up points. It seems pretty cool but I didn’t find any players online so I can’t really comment on this either.

Visually, Shadow Fall looks great and I still think the presentation holds up rather well. It looks slick and clean and you’ll get to see some beautiful backdrops and vistas. Despite the overall tone and atmosphere feeling different than those of the previous games, some of the gritty style is carried over which helps make it feel connected if that makes sense. The gameplay is backed up by what sounds like techno-influenced tunes and electronic beats that actually work really well in terms of heightening the tension. I should mention I did play this on a PlayStation 5 and cannot say I encountered many issues with the performance. In fact, once I disabled the 30 FPS Lock, it ran silky smooth. I turned the setting on initially because I thought it would result in a more stable framerate but I found it to be quite choppy so it wasn’t long before I turned it off and I’m glad I did. The only major issue I encountered was a crash when loading a save. Other than that, no problems.

I don’t know what the general consensus on Shadow Fall is but, personally, I think it’s disappointing. By the time I reached the half-way point in the campaign, I was ready for it to be over. And that’s a shame because it’s really not a terrible game but it’s not great, either. My issue is that it not only doesn’t match the excellence of Killzone 2 and 3, it doesn’t even come close. I can’t knock the developers for trying something new to keep things from becoming stale but this is just underwhelming. The O.W.L. is a cool addition but it definitely doesn’t carry the experience. If you strip away Shadow Fall’s connection to the Killzone franchise, I think this would be an average or above average game at best. The gunplay, open-ended environments, and stealth are all enjoyable. These things make for a decent game. But this is a Killzone title and Killzone 2 and 3 are certainly better than decent. I want charge into war zones and blow shit up, shoot a ton of baddies with friendlies by my side, and fly around with a jetpack and mow down foes from the skies. Most of that stuff is gone. I don’t even mind the bigger focus on stealth but there’s a lack of adrenaline here, not to be confused with the in-game pickup. There’s a lack of rush, a lack of excitement, a lack of high octane action that helps define the series.

I would only recommend Killzone: Shadow Fall if you can find a cheap copy but I have a hard time recommending it to fans of the franchise. I want to be clear and say it’s not a horrible game. It has problems but there are far worse games out there. As a Killzone title, it’s just very disappointing and underwhelming. It’s a follow-up to two examples of excellence and even Killzone: Mercenary, which came out for the Vita a couple of months prior, is a better game in my opinion. Shadow Fall is not on par nor does it even come close to what made the previous games so good. It has the potential but it never hits the mark.

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