Review: Killzone: Shadow Fall
BEAUTIFUL AND INNOVATIVE, BUT WHERE IS THE HEART?
The “Killzone” series has been a staple for Sony ever since the PlayStation 2 era. So it was no surprise the 6th installment, “Killzone: Shadow Fall”, was one of the launch titles for PlayStation 4 back in 2013. Yes, by the standards of the modern day gamer, this game is old. Yet, it still holds up in many ways and is full of surprises — some good, some bad.
As a launching title, the game was used as an introduction to the wonderful power of the system, especially in the graphics department. But compared to its predecessors, with the exception of the subpar “Killzone 3”, the game doesn’t reach the same glory and allure. It has a moderately compelling story and a variety of gameplay styles, but missing from it is an enjoyable A.I. system, a proper cover system (like there was in “Killzone 2”), a quality multiplayer for replay value and… sadly… a bigger heart.
What do I mean by that? After finishing the campaign and playing a few rounds of the sluggish multiplayer, it’s easy to see this game was meant to be, and only be, a callous demonstration of the “hot, new” system. Maybe it’s not so evident in the first few levels, where most of the crowd-pleasing, jaw-dropping moments occur, but the later levels are full of generic designs and rinse-and-repeat firefights, rendering the player into outbursts of yawning and spurts of frustration instead of joy and excitement.
It’s definitely not of the same caliber as the first two installments, nevertheless “Killzone: Shadow Fall” shouldn’t be pushed aside in the “Pre-Owned Games” bin. Despite it being used as a showcase, satisfaction and quality fun can still be found in this “old” title. It’s worth the used prices between $5-20 at GameStop and other outlets, and anyone who’s a fan of the series should give the single-player campaign a shot…
Just watch out for the soft-lock bug in Chapter 7, which forces you to restart the game and start the checkpoint from the “Chapter Select” menu. It’s fun… super fun…
GRAPHICS – 4
Because this game is a fossil from the year 2013 (sarcasm), many young gamers will take a look at the release date and the back of the box and decide against purchasing the title for the sole reason of the graphics looking “old.” The graphics are not old. Actually, they are quite well done considering the engine and technology used at the time.
Where the graphics truly shine are in the detailed environments of the game world. Strolling through the metropolitan city called Vekta and flying through space towards an abandoned space station demonstrate the power of the Decima engine and the PlayStation 4 console itself. There’s nothing like flying through Vekta on an airship and gazing around the organic city living and breathing beneath you. You’ve got to respect the attention to detail that was put into this game. Everything within the environment is polished and crisp, all the way down to the paperback book an NPC has in their hand.
The graphics are stunning, absolutely, but their glimmer falters a bit when you take a look at some of the NPCs. A lot of the citizens of Vekta and New Helghan are recycled. This is great for massive crowd scenes, but when you’re running through New Helghan and see the same NPC that got shot two minutes ago is now alive and well, it flickers the immersion factor.
It’s a very minute detail, but one that caught my eye more than a few times. I guess I’ve been spoiled by more recent games. Although, I still think some more effort could’ve been put into this department. Most of the budget went towards making the environment look excellent, and there’s no shame in that in the end.
Because, man, it looks great.
GAMEPLAY (Mechanics, Style, & Difficulties) – 2.5
I always try games on their hardest difficulty. If it becomes so difficult all the fun disappears, then, of course, it gets turned down one or two notches. Some titles, like the “Dark Souls” series, can be excruciatingly difficult, but they have an enjoyable pay off that makes the difficulty tolerable. Defeating a tough level or an impossible boss in a “Souls” game is very rewarding; refocusing all of the pain and suffering you’ve endured into triumph and boldness. Its pure entertainment in my opinion and entertainment is what I want from a game. There are people out there who love impossible difficulties and exhausting every strategy to defeat a game. All of that is fine and is a prime example as to why there’s a choice of difficulty in most titles, but it’s not for me.
“Killzone: Shadow Fall’s” hard difficulty by no means sucks ALL the fun out of the game. It can be a rather enjoyable challenge, even when some of the firefights were overly intimidating, but none of it ever reaches the satisfying or rewarding experience of taking out a “Souls” boss or hitting that perfect shot in the “Sniper” series. When it’s not a rather enjoyable challenge, it becomes irritating and discouraging. And the two biggest culprits are the A.I. system and your trustee droid companion.
What I can’t stand in a shooter title is when the A.I. enemies always have an acute sense of your location. An example: kill an unaware target from across the map with a silenced pistol. When his body is discovered, every enemy knows your location in a half second and they proceed to make near-perfect shots at your head. Perfect shots from enemies always come with the hardest difficulty, so there’s no reason to complain about that. What needs to be talked about is how frustrating it is to deal with enemies who have eyes that magnetize to your location while ALSO having pinpoint accuracy.
Because of this, parts of this game downright sucked. Yes, most of the difficult situations forced me to re-evaluate my strategy and take a different approach but doing so cheated out of an experience I wanted. However, Guerrilla Games had an answer for that with their dynamic maps/environments. Let’s say one pathway you wanted to take is flooded with enemy soldiers… no problem, you can just knock out a wall and flank them from the side. Or maybe that’s not your style and you want to flank them from the top. It can be done; take a few stairs, open a few doors, shoot out some floorboards and catch the enemy off-guard. And if none of that works for you, then try sneaking past everyone and completing the objective that way. It works!
Seriously, I’ve never seen a more accessible game world for a first-person shooter. I can open almost every single door to lead me someplace different or take SEVERAL different routes around a map to utilize a better advantage point. This is only the case during a few of the firefights, the second-to-last level, and the only boss fight, but having those options creates a competitive experience for some of today’s titles.
Being able to create your own strategy is a lot of fun and took an exuberant amount of work by the developers. Once again, the attention to detail is pretty exquisite, but it still doesn’t stop the frustrating A.I. from closing many of those accessible strategies and forcing the player to complete an objective in a lackluster way.
Luckily, your trustee droid companion, the OWL, alleviates some of the frustration… and sadly also adds on to it. The droid has four functions: Attack, Defend, Shock, and Zipline. The zip line expands the wonderful level design of the early chapters. It allows the player to choose to either scale down the mountain, allowing you to take your time and search every each of a map for collectibles, or zip line to the bottom and take a different approach. The accessibility is, once again, amazing, but does seem to disappear in the later parts of the game.
The OWL does come in handy most of the time, yet that’s if it follows your orders. I can’t tell you how many times I’d press the L1 button to send it out and it never does. Because of this, I’d find myself having to restart checkpoints multiple times because I would get killed while attempting and reattempting to send my OWL out. It’s a wonderful mechanic when it works, especially for the hardest difficulty, but it definitely added to the frustrations at several difficult moments.
There were a few times I switched over to Normal difficulty to see if the A.I. and the OWL acted the same, and all I got was an experience that was a little too easy for my taste. That could’ve been because I had been playing on hard and my skills were up to par, but I don’t think so. The game offers a difficulty mode that’s infuriating and one that feels like a run-of-the-mill, “Call of Duty” style shooter.
There’s not much of a balance, and what keeps the gameplay afloat is the diversity of its styles and the collectibles. There are stealth levels, flying levels, space levels, rail-shooter levels, action-packed levels, and an ABSOLUTELY AMAZING experience when you must use a wingsuit to fly through a city collapsing all around you. As for the collectibles, there are newspapers and dossiers to pick up, but the best are the pages of a graphic novel sprinkled throughout each level. Similar to how “Watchmen” had a story within a story, the pages piece together a wonderful story, supplying the player incentive to search for each page in order to complete it. The graphic novel is an enticing collectible and helped alleviate some of my growing frustration with the title.
The collectibles and the diversity of gameplay styles are the high-points of the game and the very reasons I suggest people to pick this one up. However, those high-points aren’t enough to overshadow the infuriating A.I. and malfunctioning mechanics, so picking the game up at a used-price is advised.
STORY – 3
Nothing stood out to me in this department. It’s a decent story with a beginning, middle and end and crowd-pleasing plot-points as its foundation, but there’s nothing special to go into depth about. Sure, there are appealing moments where the thin line between good and evil is questioned. However, I can’t help but notice all of the missed opportunities for compelling storytelling.
Take the 3rd level for example: You’re given orders to infiltrate an abandoned space station, where a scientist supposedly developed an “unknown” weapon, and redirect its autopilot to drive it into the sun. Upon boarding the station, there are dead bodies everywhere and an eerie atmosphere similar to the wonderful horror game “Dead Space.” During the first half of the level, I was anticipating a monster or alien or some kind of creature to pop out, introducing a new foe to the “Killzone” series, just like “Halo” did during the introduction of The Flood.
Then the second half of the level begins, and the disappointment sets in. There’s no monster, no alien… no creature. There is only a slew of Helghan warriors trying to halt your escape. And from then on, despite the accessibility and versatility of the levels, the rest of the game and its story feel generic, at best. Sometimes the firefights turn interesting when enemy air units are thrown into the mix, but it won’t impress a veteran player that’s seasoned in the first-person shooter genre.
The same goes for the ending. Instead of exhibiting the shock value it was intended to have, the ending misses the mark and comes across as dull. That could be because it’s difficult to develop a bond with the bland main character, and the emotional resonance the player is supposed to have with him has quite a bit to do with the ending. Therefore, the player is left feeling less than stellar as the credits start to roll.
But the start of the credits isn’t the end of the story. The final chapter actual starts shortly after the credits begin, and it allows the player to achieve a fulfilling sense of closure and leave the single-player campaign on a high note. That was nice of the developers to include, but it’s still not enough to save this story from its generic cocoon.
CHARACTERS & VOICE ACTING – 2.5
Just like the story, the characters aren’t anything special. I’m not going to say they are forgettable, but in the vast world of video games, they would be very hard to pick out of a pile. The most interesting characters are those that flirt with the thin line between good and evil — Echo, a half-Helghan half-Vektan assassin, appears to fight for the “evil” Helghan empire, but soon the player learns all she wants is peace for the universe. And then there’s Sinclair, the director of Vekta’s Shadow Marshals, who only wants to protect the citizens of Vekta, but he always has a sinister, wicked undertone, as if he has ill-intentions and is using the main character to do his dirty work.
Speaking of the main character, Lucas Kellan is boring. Honestly, there was never a moment where I legitimate cared if he lived or died. The only reason he did last until the very end is because I wanted to beat the game. There’s an attempt to build some kind of emotional connection with Lucas during the first level, during which you play him as a child and watch his father get shot, but the sympathy doesn’t last for long. By the end of the 2nd level, you forget about Lucas’ father altogether, and then there’s never another mention of him for the rest of the game. It’s another missed opportunity added to the heap.
In the case of a poorly written character like this one, usually the voice actor can save the case with a convincing performance, but that’s not true for Lucas Kellan. If there’s anything forgettable in this game, it’s Gene Farber’s performance as Lucas Kellan. Everyone else, including the NPCs, are fine and helped immerse into the world, but the performances by Jamie Gray Hyder as Echo and David Harewood as Sinclair are, in fact, two major highlights to take away from the game.
MUSIC – 2.5
While the soundtrack gets your blood pumping during the firefights, I can’t say I ever remember it sticking out at any other time. The entire soundtrack sounds completely impractical as if it was made entirely in Garage Band or some other computer program. Sure, the overall sound compliments the genre of the game, but when there isn’t a single tangible note located anywhere… no wonder it’s tough to notice the music outside the intense moments.
MULTIPLAYER – 2
Sluggish and clichéd.
That’s all that really needs to be said about the multiplayer. It’s a “Call of Duty” knock-off with one unique trait: bots accompany you on the battlefield. “Titanfall” and the old “Battlefront” series did the same, but each of those titles had multiple other unique traits that redefined the genre.
“Shadow Fall’s” multiplayer IS the genre and nonspecific. It’s fun to play if you enjoy run-of-the-mill competitive shooters. You’ll have to get past how lethargic some of the classes move, though. I’m all for the separate character classes having different movement speeds, but here it’s downright mind-numbing and not worth the time. There’s a sprint button, of course, yet the duration lasts for no more than a few seconds and then it takes longer for it to recharge.
Play it with friends, but you’re not missing anything if it’s skipped.
BUGS & GLITCHES – 2
The score I have given is based on one bug and one bug alone. When there’s a soft-lock bug in a game that’s 4 years old, it’s unacceptable in the digital age of video games. I looked it up online and this bug has, in fact, been around since the game’s release.
It occurs during the 7th chapter when the player must protect a space tram traveling to a connecting space station. Once you take out enemies and destroy other obstructions in the way, the player and the tram reach the other side. The tram then proceeds to glitch through a closed door, which remains shut for the player and blocks further progression. After that, the next objective must be completed inside the room behind the closed door. But it’s impossible for the player to do so because they are still stuck outside.
To get past this bug, you must restart the game and select your checkpoint through “Chapter Selection” in the main menu. It’s smooth sailing afterward, but that bug is absolutely atrocious and unacceptable.
ENTERTAINMENT VALUE – 3.5
There’s quite a bit of hate in this review, but that’s mainly me stating the game, as a whole, really isn’t that memorable. On paper, it looks and feels great, but playing through it is a whole different story. Most of the sections of this review have me stating “this is nothing special” or “this isn’t memorable.” That’s because all of the attention went to the graphics and demonstrating the power of the system, not towards what makes video games worth my time… not towards establishing a heart at the core.
I could care less about graphics because I’ve had true, genuine emotions bubble up inside me while playing “old-school” 32-bit games. It’s the substance, the gameplay, the immersion and captivity of the entire experience that makes a video game promising. “Killzone: Shadow Fall” performs poorly in those areas… yet…
I still had fun, which is my biggest necessity for a video game. Traversing through the organic and accessible environments, trying to find the best strategy that WOULD work, had a frustrating yet appealing charm to it. Waiting to see if a gruesome creature was going to pop out during the 2nd chapter was invigorating, even if it ended up being disappointing. Add onto that a plethora of weapons at your disposal, and it’s very tough not to be entertained during the 10-12 hours of gameplay.
If the game is fun and you can get lost in it, then who cares about the drawbacks and discrepancies of the graphics, gameplay, etc. If the game fits you and captures you, then it did its job.
Were the difficulty, acute A.I. and the functionality of OWL extremely frustrating at times? Yes, it sure the heck was, but I never forced myself to finish the campaign. I genuinely wanted to finish it because there was enough appeal to keep me enthralled. The game may be forgettable in the grand scheme of things, but don’t disregard it entirely. Pick it up for $4 and take a load off for a few hours.
REPLAY VALUE – 1
I’ve had my fill with this game, and I don’t even plan on trying the multiplayer again. Maybe I’ll give it to a friend to give them the experience, but having beaten it on the hardest difficulty will keep it on my shelf for now.
Make sure to check me out on Twitch at twitch.tv/brunhofer as I play the next game up for review!
- Gameplay (Mechanics, Style, & Difficulties)
- Characters & Voice Acting
- Bugs & Glitches
- Entertainment Value
- Replay Value
This launch title for the Playstation 4 looks great and an accessible world, which creates a competitive experience for some of today’s titles. The various gameplay styles within the 10-12 hour campaign keeps the blood pumping and the player intrigued, but beneath the accessibility and the gorgeous graphics, there isn’t much there. “Killzone: Shadow Fall” is missing a strong heart, at the end of the day. Used as a guinea pig to demonstrate the power of the latest and greatest system, the game fails to surpass the run-of-the-mill “Call of Duty” style shooters that have plagued the market for so long. Is it innovative and promising in some areas? Absolutely, but the entire experience will appear as one big missed opportunity.