Sony’s flagship first person shooter, Killzone, makes a bold return onto the amazing PS4.
Killzone: Shadow Fall is the sixth instalment of the Killzone series (if you include both PSP and PS Vita spin offs) and is set 30 years after the events of Killzone 3. The Vektans and the Helghast have been at war for years and in Killzone 3 you bring the Helghast army to its knees, effectively destroying their planet in the process. The planet, which is borderline lifeless, has to be evacuated and, as part of the peace treaty, the Vektans agree to relocate the survivors on their home planet. Now instead of integrating them symbiotically into the Vektan society both parties agree to build a big wall and divide the main city up into two sections. The Vektan’s are forced from their homes as the Helghast begin to stake a claim in their new city, brutally killing anyone who isn’t a Helghan. Thus New Helghan is born.
Whilst no one in their right mind would allow the vengeful Helghast to have such liberties, I’m prepared to go on a little faith and assume this will create some delightful tension between the two armies. Creating what could be one of the most amazing wars to have ever happened in a video game.
I am still waiting for that tension.
The game starts with you playing the role of a young boy named Lucas Kellan. You and your father are attempting to flee to Vekta by escaping the patrols of the Helghan army. On your travels you encounter a Shadow Marshall known as Sinclair who also attempts to help you. SPOILER ALERT. Predictably, your father dies and Sinclair takes you under his wing. Minus a Rocky montage, we end up with Lucas being promoted to a Shadow Marshall and your quest to bring down the Helghast once more is underway.
But instead of the war everyone believes is coming, Killzone is transformed into a FPS stealth game. I say stealth game, Killzone: Shadow Fall picks its moments to be stealthy and the rest is replaced by linear corridor FPS action. Whilst this may not be a problem to fans of first person shooters, for fans of Killzone it’s a big problem.
Previous Killzone games are intense, crazy and relentless. Imagine Battlefield’s multiplayer being imported to a campaign and you’ll get the idea. Killzone 2 and 3 created a unique and challenging experience. A real sense of brotherhood existed between you and your squad. Every moment or scenario, as mentally draining as it could be, made you want more. Your squad could have been kicked in the ribs a thousand times over but still you soldiered on, determined to over throw the hordes of Helghan’s. Killzone: Shadow Fall has none of that.
The characters are wooden, the plot arcs two dimensional. Kellan’s father’s death seems to mean nothing. The antagonists on both sides are pushing for a war, a war that doesn’t happen. Hence the limp vengeance story. Not one of these characters is likeable, interesting or provocative. Killzone feels like someone set up the pillars for the game but forgot to put the carpets down and bring in the furniture in an attempt to turn this game from a house into a home. There are moments of dialogue between the characters that have long, drawn-out pauses that make you question what is going on. Is this meant to be some inner turmoil or a moment of tension? No it’s just drab. The lack of invention is equally met by the lack of ambition.
I admire Guerrilla for trying to bring something new to the series, rather than relying on what has made Killzone a critically acclaimed game in the past. But this just doesn’t work. The AI is ludicrous. Enemies often break from cover or sit at the wrong side of a barricade enabling you to dispatch them easily. Also considering this is partly stealth based, it is impossible to determine when a troop will spot you. There were often times when I walked right past a troop undetected yet at other times I was spotted from the other side of the map. Even stealth kills seem to draw attention. Did nobody see this when testing the game?
Killzone, which is renowned for its intense and difficult skirmishes, very rarely delivers such moments. However, when these rare ‘intense’ skirmishes do take place they are enjoyable. Especially when you take on the large attack drones or if you have to hold a position against the waves of angry Helghan. A particular, yet frustrating, treat is when you have to protect Dr Massar in ‘The Last Stand’ mission. A heavy mixture of armed Helghan troops are advancing on your position and holding them off feels like an impossible task as tons of shielded troops edge closer. What is interesting, upon reflection, is that you can select which chapter you wish to replay and this will tell you have many times you have died on a particular mission. What this highlighted for me was how easy Killzone is. I’m awful at FPS games, yet there are entire levels were I didn’t die. Although on the previous mentioned ‘Last Stand’ mission I bought the dust a total of 22 times.
Killzone has some nice touches too. Collectible audio logs are voiced through the speaker on the PS4 controller itself. The touchpad on the Dualshock 4 actives a portable flying drone, which you can send to attack, zip-line or hack a terminal.
The main character’s action and movement also feels relatively smooth. The switch from stealth kills to weaponry feels seamless. But what is undeniable about Killzone is the graphics. Even though we are still in the PS4’s infancy, you certainly feel that next-gen has landed. The textures, environments and lighting are something to be admired. The cityscapes are awe inspiring. They stir up feelings of when you first see the city from Bladerunner or Akira. Sony’s in house studios always seem to deliver the visual goods when prompted.
Killzone has some merits and some memorable moments but this game feels incomplete. A shell if you will. Style is certainly prevailing over substance in the case of Killzone: Shadow Fall. My biggest concern is how others will perceive, what has been up to now, a great series. This is Sony’s leading launch title that will leave a bitter taste in the mouth when it should be rising above all launch titles. Unless you are a long time Killzone fan, would you be willing to return to the series knowing that Shadow Fall fell well short of expectation?