Sony’s “Killzone: Shadow Fall” is one of the most internally divisive games I’ve ever played. It’s beautiful – the single-player campaign that best illustrates the potential of this amazing, next-gen machine. And yet I also hated a lot of the time I spent trying to progress through its beauty.
While “Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag,” “Call of Duty: Ghosts,” and “Battlefield 4” straddle the line between systems, serving as the gateway drugs for the PS4, “Killzone” is exclusive. You can’t get it on PS3. You can’t get it on Xbox One. And so I wanted it to make a statement for the machine that I admire and adore. If it makes a statement, the statement is that all of the graphical capabilities in the world won’t matter if the gameplay frustrates you. And, oh my, does the gameplay frustrate here. The fact is that developers for the PS4 generation will fall into many of the same traps as those of the PS3 and even the PS2 eras. Maybe they’ll look at “Shadow Fall” as a cautionary tale.
- Publisher: Sony
- Developer: Guerilla Games
- ESRB Rating: M (Mature)
- Genre: First-Person Shooter
- Pros: Gorgeous Graphics, Neat Use of Dualshock 4, Smooth Gameplay
- Cons: Lackluster Narrative, Frustrating Difficulty Spikes, Horrendous Checkpoints
The end of the great “Killzone 3” (still the best game in this series) saw the destruction of the Helghast planet of Helghan and the humans in this sci-fi future victorious. Well, not all of the Helghast were killed and those that survived were given refuge on a planet called Vekta. One of the biggest cities on the planet was divided by a giant wall, separating the former enemies from the people who lived there in peace. Of course, these kinds of fragile truces never last. You play Lucas Kellan, a high-ranking official in the Shadow Marshall force, a group who has worked covert operations across the wall and could now be the only one to stop another interstellar conflict.
Some of the chapters of “Shadow Fall” require a degree of stealth and strategy but this is a standard first-person shooter through and through. You’ll cycle through futuristic weapons and play with combat technology, new and old. In the former department, you have an OWL combat drone through most of the game, which you’ll need to use for a variety of tasks. The OWL can hack consoles, shoot out zip lines, engage in combat, and even inject you with life-saving adrenalin when you die. Players use the touchpad on the new Dualshock 4 to choose the OWL action needed, creating a bit of next-gen excitement in terms of gameplay.
Other than the OWL gameplay, “Killzone: Shadow Fall” will be remarkably familiar. Too much so. While the game looks amazing (which I’ll get to more below), it echoes better titles in terms of narrative and gameplay at every turn. With frustrating difficulty spikes (there’s a boss battle near the end that made me want to give up gaming for good due to how low on ammo I was when my checkpoint saved, leaving me to try and scramble over and over again), awkward combat, and a narrative that gets less and less engaging as it goes along, “Shadow Fall” is a disappointment of storytelling. I want PS4 games that are going to push the envelope not just in terms of what games can do technically but in every other way as well. “Shadow Fall” feels like a mediocre game upgraded to a fantastic system. Instead of pushing gameplay forward, it kept reminding me of mediocre games I played on the PS3.
“Shadow Fall” is disappointing when it comes to multiplayer action as well. While I remember spending days in the Warzones of “Killzone 3,” every time I dove into a match in this “Killzone,” I found myself just wishing I was playing “Ghosts” or “BF4” instead. The map design, such a crucial key to the success of these shooters, is mediocre at best and often worse than that. The maps are clunky in structure. They look good but they don’t “play” like you want them to. The variety of gameplay and depth of customization in the multiplayer portion of “Shadow Fall” is strong but that’s starting to become the norm. Just because a game has a lot of modes, doesn’t elevate it. Especially when you could be playing “Battlefield 4” instead.