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Killzone: Shadow Fall Review

An uninspired effort that's only saved by amazing looks and solid multiplayer

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What happened? It’s a question that often sends uncomfortable vibes through the conversation, regardless the topic of discussion. In the case of the PlayStation 4 launch title Killzone: Shadow Fall, this very same question is the elephant in the room. Was the development team at Guerrilla Games short on time before a major console launch? Or did they simply have too many issues during the creation of this shooter? Whatever the case may be, Killzone: Shadow Fall is a great looking, but merely decent shooter that is a step back for the franchise that was starting to thrive.

Killzone: Shadow Fall

The very beginning of Shadow Fall tells the story of the events following the conclusion of Killzone 3. After players stopped the menacing Helghast Jorhan Stahl in his attempt to destroy the Earth, Stahl's flagship was instead redirected to the Helghan home world. The planet was nearly eviscerated and no longer inhabitable. Having apparently lost their minds, the Interplanetary Strategic Alliance then allowed the surviving Helghast to settle on ISA planet Vekta, giving them half of it in the process. It’s never explained who thought that would be a good idea.

Vekta’s own population, that was unfortunate enough to live in the half given away to Helghast, quickly found themselves amidst a rushed evacuation. The enemy took no time in establishing their usual oppressive command and gunning down civilians. It’s never made clear where the ISA was during all these atrocities and what part of the deal didn’t guarantee safe exit for half of the planet about to be occupied by new tenants. The Wall separates the two civilizations from each other, but both sides continue to perform covert operations against each other.

You play as Lucas Kellen, who loses his father during the abovementioned evacuation from newly founded Helghan territory. The soldier that rescued you is named Sinclair, a Shadow Marshal that later becomes head of the Vektan Security Agency. He takes you under his wing, of course, and we get a few glimpses into your progress as a Shadow Marshal over a ten year time span. It’s after that long period that all hell suddenly breaks loose, open conflict begins on both sides of the Wall, and it’s not long before you’re trying to stop a superweapon.

Killzone: Shadow Fall

Compared to its predecessors on PlayStation 3, the Shadow Fall campaign is rather poor. The few characters you meet are one dimensional, poorly written, and with only average voice acting. Many questions, such as where are the rest of Vektan Security Agency forces and high command in this mess, are never answered. The pacing is inconsistent, never offering any particularly memorable set pieces yet having plenty of downtime where absolutely nothing happens, in a plot that never feels involving. The campaign falls flat, never managing to create any kind of tension and offering shallow mission design.

Early levels present larger areas to explore with multiple objectives to tackle in any order, but it proves to be more hassle than it’s worth. Those early open levels have plenty of pathways to approach a location, but you’ll often find yourself needlessly lost because the game gives no indication of where to go next as there are no visual guides or cues in the level design. The objective marker shows up only when it feels like regardless of how much you prompt it, and its faint orange coloring can be frustratingly difficult to see. Only when the game reverts back to the familiar, more linear pathways does it finally give players a faint sense of direction and progress.

Killzone: Shadow Fall offers plenty of variety, but is brought down by uneven AI and difficulty spikes. There are multiple infuriating sections, most involving being stuck in an area fighting waves of enemies or floating/falling in space. Frustrations arise from the poorly executed stealth mechanics as well. You’ll always carry your ISA issue rifle that offers two firing modes, along with a second weapon of your choosing that can be collected from fallen enemies. Your primary rile handles well enough in normal mode, but as a sniper it takes time to fire and doesn’t offer nearly enough zoom, thus making it a poor choice in a long distance encounter. All of the guns you can pick up as your secondary weapon display convenient stats to see if you’re getting an improvement. Ammo and grenades are plentiful throughout. Weapons have a satisfying punch to them, but it does take a few shots to take down most foes. The enemies don’t feature much variety, simply wielding different weapons. Some foes with shields (physical and electrical) and flying drones show up on occasion.

Killzone: Shadow Fall

Gone are the cool jetpacks of Killzone 3, instead you’re joined by a friendly AI drone codenamed OWL. Sadly, like many aspects of the campaign, zero time is spared introducing this robotic companion. All you get are a few tutorial messages on how to use its special abilities. Your OWL is crucial in battle (when the poor thing doesn’t get stuck) as it is able to provide a shield, attack an enemy, disrupt enemy shields, or act as a personal zip line. Selection of each ability is done by intuitive swiping on the DualShock 4 touchpad in one of four directions. The disruption ability is highly situational against a specific type of enemy that appears later in the game. Similarly, having a zip line is only useful in a couple of levels that offer descent opportunities.

Most useful abilities are the shield and attack, as you’ll need those to survive in the games’ challenging firefights. Shadow Fall is no pushover on medium difficulty, and you’ll encounter many frustrating deaths from AI that loves to rush the player head on. You’ll have to stick to cover, where the game still uses the same contextual system as before, but it is sometimes quickly destructible. Health regenerates, and can be boosted by adrenaline packs that offer a secondary function of slowing down time when you aim for a few moments. These packs must be picked up manually with a button press, unlike ammo, thus causing further frustration in the heat of battle as you spam crouch just to grab another pack, revealing yourself accidentally instead.

Alongside your OWL, you can also use your suit’s abilities, which includes a scanner that reveals enemies in surrounding environment. It acts as a minigame, as holding the scanner for too long will increase its range but might give away your position. It helps sometimes to prepare yourself for the foes in the next room, but with sporadic spawning problems and unless you scan every 10 steps, you’ll still get shot in the face more often than one would prefer.

Killzone: Shadow Fall

No cooperative campaign option is present, instead the game relies on competitive multiplayer. About 20 weapons are available at launch, with 10 multiplayer maps to choose from. The action will feel familiar to fans, as the unique brand of Killzone multiplayer still exists here. Shadow Fall offers fully customizable Warzones where players can set their own rules on just about any aspect of the match. The most popular configurations will rise to the top dynamically and be quickly available to jump into from the main menu. Disappointingly, there is no in-game voice chat, but at least the network performance seems very stable.

Up to 24 players can partake in one of eight different modes, most of these focus on objective-based gameplay instead of the tired Deathmatch variations. Rotating through these modes in a Warzone remains a highlight, and a unique selling point. The progression system tasks players with over 1000 skill based challenges that unlock specialization and customization options. All guns are unlocked and available from the outset, however.

Class based gameplay remains the core component of multiplayer, with three to choose from this time around - Assault, Tactical, and Support. Although this is fewer classes than before, they collectively feature many of the same abilities included in previous titles, falling under various categories. Players are free to customize as they see fit, with about 3 or 4 abilities per class to choose from, and being able to carry two into battle. The map selection is varied and most are quite large physically, sometimes causing a feeling of emptiness with just 24 players in a match. Smaller maps, on the other hand, often create chokepoints depending on how players setup spawn beacons and where the action is.

Killzone: Shadow Fall

The Killzone franchise has always been known to push the PlayStation platform graphically, and Shadow Fall continues the trend. The new art direction immediately stands out, as this is the most colorful and diverse game in the franchise. Color palette ranges from dark blues to bright yellows and reds, finally getting rid of the depressing brown range that has haunted the franchise for so long. And it’s all matched up by fantastic looking textures. This is likely the sharpest looking next-generation launch title this year, offering grand scenery at 30FPS and 1080p. In multiplayer, that becomes 60FPS.

On the other hand, the sound design is a bit of a shocker. Audio effects of gunfire and explosions work, but don’t exactly impress. The soundtrack is literally non-existent, at least by standard definition. You’ll most often be surrounded by robotic, lifeless clanking of instruments and metal, grating on your nerves as you wonder how anyone could call this music. Sometimes, the sound drops off completely.

After a promising outing on the PlayStation 3, the Killzone franchise has taken a step back. The campaign is among the worst you’ll play in any triple-A shooter this year. Gameplay manages to hold on, just barely, despite difficulty and AI problems trying to bring it down. Multiplayer holds its ground, and is likely the only redeeming feature of the whole package. It’s a phenomenal looking game, but sound effects sabotage the presentation. After so many entries that successfully avoided the tropes of being a tech demo, Killzone: Shadow Fall ends up feeling exactly like one.

Our ratings for Killzone: Shadow Fall on PlayStation 4 out of 100 (Ratings FAQ)
The game looks phenomenal, but the presentation is undermined by poor audio design.
The OWL is useful and gunplay feels good. Simple AI and difficulty spikes throw a wrench into the fun, however.
Single Player
A poorly told, uninvolving campaign that's fully forgettable and lazily designed.
Classic Killzone multiplayer with revamped customization and progression options.
The sound has a habit of dropping off, but otherwise runs fine.
Multiplayer is solid and technical presentation sets the bar high for PlayStation 4, but Killzone: Shadow Fall lacks any other enticing features to make it a must-have shooter.
Killzone: Shadow Fall
Killzone: Shadow Fall box art Platform:
PlayStation 4
Our Review of Killzone: Shadow Fall
The Verdict:
Game Ranking
Killzone: Shadow Fall is ranked #1143 out of 1980 total reviewed games. It is ranked #95 out of 160 games reviewed in 2013.
1142. Ni no Kuni
PlayStation 3
1143. Killzone: Shadow Fall
1144. Shadow Warrior
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Killzone: Shadow Fall
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