With the launch of the Playstation 4, Sony first party developer Guerrilla Games launched their next benchmark shooter for the Killzone franchise in the form of Killzone Shadow Fall. This next-generation Killzone experience introduces a completely new take on the power struggle between the Helghast and now the citizens of planet Vekta. Taking place some thirty years after the events of Killzone 3 – those events concluded with the destruction of planet Helghan, leaving the planet no longer inhabitable. Once again, as the Killzone lore reminds us, the Helghast find themselves in familiar circumstances, once again looking for a new home.
As the opening sequence details, a new treaty is signed and the remaining survivors of planet Helghan are given safe passage to New Helghan on planet Vekta. This is quite ironic as the original game in the series saw the Helghast military under the leadership of the late Scolar Visari, stage an unsuccessful takeover of the planet just decades earlier. Why the Helghast are given asylum on Vekta is unknown however, we now find planet Vekta co-occupied with both Vektans and Helghans, living side-by-side, only separated by a massive wall ala the Berlin wall of the Cold War or ‘death strip’ guarded by the formidable military might of both factions.
Upon the arrival of the Helghan establishment to their new home on Vekta, the current Vektan residence which are to be given safe passage are forced to find their own way across the wall, without the assistance of the Vektan government it seems, with many Vektan citizens caught in the literal cross-hairs of this harsh new reality.
No longer part of a three to four man Alpha team, as was the occasion in previous games in the series, Guerrilla Games submerges players into the unusual, yet powerful role of Shadow Marshal Lucas Kellan. Made to endure the intense transformation of his youthful existence, Lucas is forced to quickly grow up under the watchful military eye of Sinclair, a former Shadow Marshal and a true protector of Vetka. Quickly rising through the ranks, Lucas becomes the youngest Shadow Marshal hopeful admitted to begin training for the esteemed rank. Upon completion, Lucas eventually becomes the tip of the spear for Sinclair’s lofty ambitions against the Helghast, and so this new journey begins.
Getting the obvious out of the way, Killzone Shadow Fall is easily one of the best looking games on the market to date, if not the best at the moment. Boasting a constant resolution of 1080p, while running at upwards of 60 frames per second throughout the campaign and multiplayer offering, Guerrilla has boldly made Shadow Fall the showpiece title for the powerful and uber-popular PS4 platform. The games lighting is strikingly vibrant, wonderfully manipulating each set piece, almost forcing your eyes to be conveniently distracted. Gaze a bit further and the layout to this living and breathing world presents a beautiful divide and draw distance of two prominently apportioned societies. However, all that is attractive is not so grand when you begin to look closer at the many lives which are affected by this divisional struggle at the surface.
As Lucas Kellan players are thrown behind enemy lines on multiple occasions as a lonewolf Shadow Marshal. More than capable of getting out of most situations due to his training, Kellan is accompanied by a trusty OWL attack drone which oftentimes becomes the star of the show as it offers four main on-the-fly functionalities. Consisting of modes such as attack, zipline, shield and concussion blast leaving enemies temporarily vulnerable to your attack, the OWL empowers Kellan as a sort of one-man seal team. After multiple play throughs on both the normal and hard difficulty settings, my second experience became vastly different from my initial run of the campaign. The campaign is quite challenging especially on the hardest difficulty which is due to the enhanced complexity of the enemy AI. This is where relying heavily on the OWL and melee-chain-attacks can make the combat sing. Adding to this combination, Kellan has the ability to survey any given area with his tactical echo enhancement, identifying nearby enemies through surface objects, giving him the engaging advantage. At the player’s discretion, Kellan can also go guns blazing against multiple enemies taking away their outnumbering advantage by taking a dose of adrenaline which literally slows down time from Kellan’s perspective, letting him place accurate and deadly kill shots. Be warned however, this sounds much easier than the actual application as the bullet exchange can be relentless against multiples foes on the harder difficulty.
Playing as a Shadow Marshal, players quickly become empowered as Kellan is always equipped with the hybrid LSR44 Spoor which doubles as a high rate of firing assault rifle and a chargeable and deadly sniper rifle. In addition, the LS12 Ripper sidearm handgun might get over looked as Kellan tairs through enemies leaving the battlefield littered with various assault pistols and rifles, shotguns and sniper rifles. However, I would encourage more time to be played with the deceiving LS12 Ripper, as it also offers more than one function as does other weapons. A simple down tapping of the directional pad enforces an effective three round burst function, making the LS12 Ripper come to life while quickly ending the life of your enemies (a lethal sidearm in multiplayer).
As Sinclair states: “Do what you do best” – From the outset the attitude of the engagement encourages a more stealth like approach as you methodically deactivate alarm systems before aggressively taking out enemies, gradually coming to grips with this new form of multi-layered combat style. It just feels great to command your OWL to lay down a shield as you unload a barrage of bullets into the enemy through your shield, just before turning around knowing that your back is shielded from incoming fire, to perform a vicious melee attack on a nearby enemy trying to get the drop on your position from behind.
Consisting of ten campaign chapters, Shadow Fall doesn’t feel the need of filling in the blanks with concern of the whereabouts to the key members of the ISA forces such as Sevchenko, Rico, Captain Narville or Jammer, with relation to the aftermath of Killzone 3. Shadow Fall is presented as its own slice of Killzone pie to the story arch. At the same time, the story is presented from the position of a follow up, and here lies the most contrasting and controversial expression of the experience.
Going about your duties thwarting as many threats as possible while becoming a headache for the known terrorist group, the Black Hand which is a Helghast extremist group led by the psychotic Vladko Tyran, hellbent on terrorizing the citizens of Vekta and its establishment, the deeper Kellan understands the true reality of the Helghan people, he begins to question his motives and true purpose. ‘Are all Helghans bad people’, he begins to ponder. On the Helghast side of the coin you are introduced to Maya ‘Echo’ Visari, the female Helghan Shadow Marshal or Lucas Kellan equivalent who wants nothing more than fairness and peace for her people, while trying to rationalize her mother Lady Hera Visari and her motives. For the first time in the series Guerrilla Games allows players to see the non-cold military side of the Helghan society as the Helghan people seem to function and operate just as normal as the humans of Vekta however, many of the Helghan citizens are victims themselves forced to live a bleak existence within New Helghan. Fans of the series looking the take in as much as possible from story are encouraged to find audio files throughout the campaign which shed light on prior events from the games respective locations which play through the speaker of the Dualshock 4 controller with great clarity.
Briefly focusing our attention on Vladko Tyran and Dr. Hillary Massar, two of the games key nut cases and high profile antagonists, I enjoyed the idea of these unstable characters while desiring more of an emotional tug of war in how I engage them. Tyran, the ruthless puppet of a larger agenda while his bark was far more intimidating than his bite, his exploits within the game could have used more acts of monstrosity and depravity upon the people of Vekta from an uncontrolled far less predictable manner. Some of this is done with the epic explosion of the VSA headquarters building. But you’re not convinced this guy would actually throw random citizens of Vekta from the tops of buildings, poison the Vektan water supply causing insurmountable deaths or perform gruesome acts of dismembering captured VSA soldiers. Dr. Hillary Massar on the other hand is another story. A far more dangerous threat on a more global scale, Massar’s work is well noted upon entering the Cassandra, giving her actions and potential future efforts greater concern. The use of these two characters as vice grips to raise the games tension for Kellan and the VSA forces with the understanding that the loss of life would be inevitable could have giving these character more significance.
The story is presented quite well with convincing resolve, yet at the same time, the gameplay or the maintaining of a lasting fun factor does have a tendency of getting lost in the translation of the story. It is clear Guerilla Games wanted to immerse players more than ever into the dichotomy of these warring factions, and by all accounts Shadow Fall does just that. However some sections of the game can feel like missions for the sake of just being a mission bridging sub-sections of a given chapter without being memorable. What does add extraordinary appeal to the experience is found in the flexibility of the combat as a Shadow Marshal, the bold attempts of navigating Kellan in zero-gravity environments and sequences of free falling as a fearless badass, in addition to the intrigue of learning more about Echo and her background, the underlining narrative hints spoken by Lady Hera Visari when she tell Echo never to call her mother as well as the paramount statement in which she states to Kellan: “How curious to think we were once the same race. And now you’re the enemy.” Fans closely attached to the lore of Killzone will demand more of an explanation. Unfortunately many questions are left unanswered in Shadow Fall, centering most of its attention on Kellan’s journey.
Unlike previous games in the series namely Killzone 2 and Killzone 3 which offered more of a passionate non-stop thrill-ride of intense gunplay with less in the story department, Shadow Fall offers more narrative substance while abandoning the high-octane approach in comparison. Sure there are sequences within the campaign of Shadow Fall which are sure to excite shooter fans. However the big story picture was much larger than one Shadow Marshal. If within the campaign players were sometimes able to be taken out of Kellan’s shoes and placed in the trenches as maybe a new member of team Alpha on Vekta, experiencing the conflict from the angle of the troops engaging the Black Hand, working alongside Kellan with story ties closing the gap with important members of Killzone 3, this could have made for a more balanced approach to the narrative and gamplay relationship.
The games voice acting delivers well despite some dialogue dips that could have been better reinforced with the assistance of more tension added through relevant musical score suggestions. Cut-scenes reveal menacing Helghast soldiers expressing their disdain as their pride and honor has been humiliated, believing it is a shameful alternative having to live on an enemy planet. Players might also discover interesting dialogue between the Helghast troops if they manage to position themselves close enough to hear the chatter before inevitably taking them out. This chatter adds a pleasing layer of humanity to the Helghast war machine, exposing regular soldiers with lives outside the guardrails of war, no different than the VSA soldiers taking orders with no questions asked.
As it remains, the Killzone Shadow Fall campaign brings a fresh new combat approach to the series with many interesting questions to be answered, leaving Killzone fans reminiscing about working alongside their squad mates from times past. For newcomers this could be a mixed bag.
Moving on to the Killzone Shadow Fall multiplayer experience and Guerrilla Games has most certainly outdone themselves. Exceptionally customizable, the competitive multiplayer component has quickly become an addictive and progressive outing of gunplay that makes you earn every kill. Each of the ten intricately laid out maps offer intelligent multiplayer route details, forcing rouge players to stay on the move while reinforcing aggressive teamwork standoffs in an attempt to push the enemy team back into the corner taking away their strengths. Assuming you’re safe in one place as you pick off enemy players and from across a map such as ‘The Remains’ a Scout can quickly end your day dreaming session with one trigger pull of the LS70 Fors.
Offering currently ten maps with up to 24 player matches consisting of Team Deathmatch, various Warzone style matches, open weekend competitions and fully customizable warzones which users are allowed to create themselves with many becoming featured warzones and there is almost too much for a user to engage in. As promised Guerrilla Games fully empowers players to jump right into multiplayer battles enabled to use any weapon in the game just as long as the weapon is designated to be used by the specific class.
Unlike previous Killzone titles which offered a variety of classes, Shadow Fall offers only three character classes however, how these classes engage and manipulate the battlefield adds far more balance and tactical involvement to each encounter over its predecessors. From the Support class, Scout class and the Assault class, multiple attributes have been assigned to each class. It is clear Guerrilla listened to their fans following the release of Killzone 3. For example, while there are still no respawn grenades which were popular in KZ2, the Support class can deploy respawn beacons anywhere on the map and of course these beacons can also be destroyed or deactivated by the enemy. Ammo crates are no longer map placements waiting to be repaired. Instead the Support class can at anytime throw out ammo crates for his or her teammates. No need for the Medic class as the revive ability has also been given to the Support Class. The Support class also has the ability to place turrent on the map as well as deploy nagging Air Support drones.
The Scout class has been toned downed a bit, no longer with the ability to carry two primary weapons or the ability to cloak while firing a weapon, a relief for many players, this class within the confines of the experience is sexier than ever. Go cloak and the Scout is now primarily in melee mode only, yet still quite dangerous. Just like in the campaign, melee deaths can come from above in multiplayer if you’re able to get a beat on an enemy. Like Kellan, Scouts in multiplayer can also use their Tactical Echo ability to scan environments for nearby enemies. The Scout can also perform an eye-pleasing teleport maneuver swiftly teleporting them from one location of the map to the next when they find themselves in danger.
The Assault class brings both aggression and a tactical flair to every battle as they can utilize a Nano Shield. Again, as with Kellan from the campaign, the Assault class can shoot enemies through the shield while being protected from incoming fire, however shields can be destroyed so don’t get too comfortable. Assaults can also speed dash, deploy a buddy drone for an extra pair of killing eyes in addition to implementing a stun blast on enemies which works exactly like a stun grenade disorienting enemies for a limit time.
Abilities are upgraded as player complete challenges. The more challenges you complete the more you unlock. This applies to weapon attachments as well. Depending on the success a player has in completing challenges could actually make or break players who are not used to playing a shooter with absolutely no aim assist. This multiplayer experience is truly skill based. Upon entering a multiplayer match where teams are aggressively trying to impose their will on the each other and you can seriously walk into an insanely brutal exchange of controlled chaos. For those who may be having a hard time landing kills you may want to consider lowering or raising the controller sensitivity in the option section under the controller option. Upon lowering my controller sensitivity immediate success was experienced opening up a wealth of completed challenges making it hard for me to put down the controller.
More than ever for a Killzone multiplayer weapons are plentiful with increased tactical enhancements making you a better Assault, Scout or Support player . Assault rifles and sidearms make the cut with LS21 Valk, StA25 Vlug, StA409 Keyzer, StA4 Stova, Sta19 Reigner, M6 Punt. The powerful VC30 Sickle shotgun is a nasty crowd pleaser in close-quarters situations and sniper rifles like the StA61 Vultur, LS70 Fors or the StA101 Kameraad are semi-auto powered and bolt-action when only one bullet is you needed. My personal favorite weapon is the all-purpose M55 Rumbler assault rifle with the ACOG attachment mixed with the LS12 Ripper semi-automatic pistol with the three round burst. A nasty combination for the Assault class.
Players can now take advantage of the Color Blind option which gives players the option to color coordinate their specific teammates, enemies and party chat buddies in three dividing colors schemes. This most certainly comes in handy when you need to locate your specific clan buddies in your chat party from your other allies. Unfortunately at the moment the game doesn’t offer clan support which is desperately needed as the game breeds competition and tactical gameplay in the most brutal and intimate fashion. Players have been promised free multiplayer maps as they are released as to not fragment the experience which is a great move by Guerrilla. In addition, a cooperative multiplayer component has also been announced. At the moment Guerrilla seems to be allowing the multiplayer experience to be this sort of organically always improving environment heavily dictated by the players.
Head over to the games official site and the ‘Feedback’ category opens up to a Killzone Player Voice community allowing players to voice concerns, give feedback and offer creative ideas assisting in making the multiplayer even better. The best ideas are voted for by the community as a strong indicator of what immediate changes are needed. Back at the games multiplayer UI under the ‘Personalization’ section and you find a variety of ready-made skins for your bots, drones and turrents, etc, with some revealed but not all yet released. Voice packs have also been added to this section. Revealing the upcoming battle chatter for your multiplayer characters ranging from voices such as the sinister Radec and Rico from Killzone 2 fame and interestingly there is also a female VSA and Helghast voice chatter option. Could this be the obvious indicator that female character types will be making their way to the warzone in more than voice form?
To be fair, there is so much under the multiplayer hood of Shadow Fall only a hands on commitment to discovering all it has to offer would suffice a clear understanding of how polished and gratifying the experience is.
Ultimately, Killzone Shadow Fall is a great shooter. Guerrilla Games has managed to deliver the most sought after and recognizable next-generation console exclusive as we close out 2013. With a powerful soundtrack impressively moving the story along, undeniable visuals and sophisticated gunplay, shooter fans who own the PS4 cannot pass on Killzone Shadow Fall. The campaign is a drastic change from prior games in the series and in some cases for the better, leaving some questions unanswered while desiring some gameplay influences of the past. At the moment you will be hard pressed to find any other multiplayer shooter on market with as much tactical gratification and aggression along with customizable gameplay options as Killzone Shadow Fall, and it only continues to get better.