Killzone: Shadow Fall review: through the eyes of a newcomer
Prior to the release of Killzone: Shadow Fall on PlayStation 4, Guerilla Games' Steven Ter Heide, game director, called it a great entry point to the franchise. For gamers new to PlayStation family, this game was supposed to present a "fresh start" for the franchise as most of the characters and story arcs have "passed into history," according to Ter Heide. Well-versed in first-person shooters, but new to the Killzone universe, I was eager to experience Shadow Fall.
A brief cinematic opening explains the overall setup of the game: following events presumably from the end of Killzone 3, the two factions of warring humans -- the Vektans and the Helghast -- are forced to live side-by-side together on the same planet, with just a large single wall dividing them. While Shadow Fall's intro does a decent job of setting up the current plot, it doesn't do enough to welcome in a newcomer to the series. Why do these two factions hate each other? What makes them different? What was the exact events in Killzone 3 that led to this? While Killzone vets likely know the answers, it would be nice for some more background before being thrown into the strange universe.
Aside from the questions I had regarding Killzone's origins, the plot of the actual game is fairly straightforward. You play as Shadow Marshal Lucas Kellen, an orphan raised in the Shadow Marshal academy (particularly by a man named Sinclair) following his father's death in an attempted escape to the safety of the Vektan side of the wall. Again, the game offers little backstory as to what is happening at the time. You know you are attempting to escape the side of the wall you are on, but there's no explanation as to why.
From there, Killzone: Shadow Fall plays out as just about every other sci-fi first-person shooter we've seen. You are given a mission and go out and perform that mission, usually on a strictly linear map that guides you by waypoints. There are giant exploding set pieces, typical missions where you man some heavy vehicle weaponry, and seemingly never-ending waves of enemies. We've seen it all before. The current-generation (Xbox 360 and PS3) defined this genre, so it's somewhat disappointing that the staple title for PlayStation 4 is just more of the same, but with a prettier face.
Graphically, Killzone: Shadow Fall might be the best looking game of the PS4 launch bunch. Each level is beautiful and unique, offering a drastically different feel. The gameplay attempts to adapt to the environment, with some levels requiring you to float in zero-gravity while others attempt to have you sneak around. At its core though, Killzone: Shadow Fall is a shooter -- and a fairly solid one at that. I don't fault Guerilla Games for attempting to mix in some alternate gameplay mechanics, but in a game that's primarily action-oriented, it felt a bit odd to attempt to sneak around.
Along the way, you get acquire some neat weapons, but none surpass the usefulness of your OWL, a robotic companion that does just about everything for you. Whether you need to hack an electronic, shut off an alarm, and zipline over a giant gap, the OWL is an intriguing tool that can also aid you in combat. The OWL is meant to inject some strategy into combat, but it's many uses -- including the ability to revive you -- often allow you to cheap your way through certain parts of a level.
Clocking in at over 10 hours, Killzone: Shadow Fall's campaign does get a little tedious. Guerilla Games attempts to throw some plot twists into the campaign, but it's not enough to make up for the repetition of gameplay. We all complain that the campaigns of Call of Duty and Battlefield are too short, but Shadow Fall is an example that it can sometimes be too long as well. It's a combination of bland storyline with repetitive gameplay that can make Shadow Fall seem to drag on at times.
I can't speak for veteran Killzone players, but as a series newcomer I expected more from Shadow Fall. The PlayStation 4 represents the new generation of gaming, but it seems Guerilla Games may have been stuck in the past with Shadow Fall. There just aren't enough "next-gen" moments worthy of being the poster child for the PS4.