It’s crazy to think about how far the Killzone franchise has come. The original game, released on PS2 back in 2004, was touted as a “Halo killer,” meaning it was essentially Sony’s answer to Microsoft’s monolithic series. There was very little in common between the two, yet Sony pushed it that way and, for the most part, it succeeded. The original game was far from perfect, yet it led to two brilliant sequels. The launch of Sony’s next big console brings the release of the fourth Killzone, subtitled Shadow Fall. It may not impress as much as Killzone 2 did on the PS3, but it demonstrates a lot of potential.
Killzone: Shadow Fall takes places 30 years after the events of the previous game, which results in the destruction of Helghan, the home planet of the series’ main antagonists, the Helghast. The Vektans, our heroes, and the Helghast live side by side now, divided by a wall that is a constant source of tension between both sides. You play as Lucas, a Vektan agent known as a Shadow Marshal, attempting to stop a potential war between the two races and discovering the hidden agendas of both sides along the way. I’ll never claim this tale takes any remarkably unexpected turns, but it manages to show both good and bad of both sides in this conflict and leads to a smart, albeit sudden, end. You won’t remember much about it, yet it rarely bores you.
The campaign itself is relatively short, yet it remains satisfying throughout. The biggest change from the last Killzone titles and Shadow Fall is how open the environments are. While it never feels necessary in missions with large areas and sparse enemy encounters, there are plenty of excellent moments throughout that utilize the larger battlefields wisely. These sections have enemies coming from all over, which forces you to fall back and find strategic positions in order to take them out. Even if it’s not the best use of the bigger maps, the larger-scale moments make the update worthwhile in the end.
The downside is the AI, which is a huge downgrade from the previous games. Enemies will sometimes run out in front of you while you’re firing or simply not take cover when it seems like they should. The more open environments mask these issues at times, but when in less spacious areas the flaws become obvious quickly.
There are also a number of moments throughout the campaign that tend to frustrate more than anything. One particular mission near the end begins with a annoying free-falling segment with some unfortunate control issues, and proceeds to have you navigate a ruined cityscape all while attempting to destroy large weapons in the most tedious way imaginable. There are other moments like that scattered throughout the campaign, but that one mission in particular is packed full of them. It’s not enough to ruin the single-player experience, but it’s frustrating regardless.
The other big addition is your little robot friend known as OWL. You can use it to send after groups of enemies to attack them or stun them, which is especially handy in the later levels, or use as a shield when there is no nearby cover. You use the DualShock 4’s touchpad to switch between OWL’s different modes, which is surprisingly intuitive, and then activate it with the press of a button. It adds a small measure of strategy to otherwise-standard gunfights, allowing you to approach large groups of enemies in different ways.
Shadow Fall’s campaign still feels traditional despite being more open-ended, both in terms of the level design and different tactical approaches you can take to certain scenarios. The familiarity of the gameplay is still ever-present, leaving you with a sense of déjà-vu as you mow down waves of Helghast troopers. The controls are fantastic, the weapons all feel great and the game is still undeniably enjoyable if you like the Killzone formula. It just never recaptures the same feelings I had playing Killzone 2 (or even 3) like I was hoping it would. I still enjoyed it despite its faults, yet there was plenty of lost potential.
Shadow Fall multiplayer does very little to differentiate itself from previous games as well. The main mode is Warzone, a Killzone classic, which pits two teams against each other in a series of five different games modes which are randomized. Each mode is fun enough to stand on its own, yet the blend of different game types, including capturing control points, destroying targets and your basic team deathmatch, is as addictive as ever.
If the Killzone brand of multiplayer is your thing, you’ll continue to love it here. The new maps are all excellent and fit the Warzone mode perfectly while also accommodating for other, newer modes, none of which manage to stand out. It’s good that the foundation is as fantastic as it is because it, even more so than the single-player, feels like it’s continuing to play it safe. The formula it maintains remains excellent and differentiates itself from other, similar shooters, yet it makes you wonder how much better it could have been if more was improved upon.
Visually speaking, Shadow Fall is a small, yet noticeable, step up for the series. The environments are more colorful and varied than the previous entries, and it really benefits from the upgrade in power from Sony’s new console. It won’t astound you, but it manages to impress in some subtle ways. If anything, it leads me to believe that whatever Guerrilla works on next could be an even better showcase of the system’s power.
While it may not be worth buying a whole new console for on its own, Killzone: Shadow Fall is a solid addition to the franchise. It doesn’t move the series forward in any remarkable ways, but the foundation stands strong, and hopefully represents a positive glimpse at Killzone’s future.
Pros: Solid solo campaign, multiplayer remains addictive, strong presentation
Cons: Not much added to the formula, poor AI, frustrating campaign moments