The lights are on
What makes a "next-gen" experience? Is it the graphics? Creative features and gameplay? Or is it new genres being forged before your very eyes? Ideally, when a new generation begins, we get one prodigious launch title possessing a mixture of all these things — and more. Killzone: Shadow Fall promised to be just that. But promises are only half the battle, and despite Guerrilla Games’ attempt to shake up the FPS genre, Shadow Fall fails at reaching the most important step: execution.
After the events of Killzone 3, humanity allows the surviving Helghast to live side by side with them on Vekta. Well, almost side by side, because the capital city is halved in a not-so-subtle Berlin Wall style. Over the course of 20 years, tensions continue to rise as either side conducts covert operations on the enemy’s territory. This Cold War setup is an interesting premise, yet it never quite takes off. Characters are one-dimensional, making it difficult to feel engaged. Whenever some semblance of an interesting narrative arises, it is subsequently shot down by a series of dreadfully inane events. At times even the characters seem disinterested, what with the shoddy voice-acting and awkward script.
To be fair, it’s clear an attempt for a complex and morally ambiguous story was made. Several characters are on the edge of attaining some sort of depth, but that crucial step is never taken. There are no moments punctuating actions, no driving home of morals or ideals. You’ll get what they're trying to do, but you'll probably never care why.
HEY, IT'S DAVID ESTES FROM HOMELAND!
Story aside, the first thing one notices when beginning a sojourn into the world of Shadow Fall should be obvious enough. The graphics are stellar. There is no doubt the PS4 is a powerful piece of hardware, and this gives us a tasty appetizer of what is to come. Through smart usage of lighting, the player’s gaze is drawn to some beautiful vistas and scenery — processing, of course, at a crisp 1080p resolution and 60 frames per second. Every area is brimming with detail, making it quite easy to get lost in the visuals. Which I often did. Especially during the lulls in combat.
However graphics alone — no matter how gorgeous — do not automatically foster enjoyable gameplay. This is something Guerrilla seems to have forgotten. Generally speaking, each level is much more open than not only previous Killzones, but most first-person shooters. Players have the option of going about certain objectives in whatever order they like. It’s a great concept, but one that renders things rather dull. With a resounding level of frequency I found myself fighting a small number of Helghast troops, dispatching them easily, and then wandering about for more time than I spent in the heat of the action. Downtime isn’t inherently bad, but when the combat is brazenly run-of-the-mill, it’s easy to become disinterested.
This lack of direction does Shadow Fall no favors. This is not a series in which blatant hand-holding is appropriate, but there is often a lack of helpful environmental clues to guide the players towards the appropriate destination. After finally managing to solve the issue, it’s not moment of revelation. It’s more of a "really, that’s where this damn thing was" situation.
But let's get back to the combat. If you were never a fan of that "weighty" feel for which Killzone is known, fear not. Controls are tight, and far more responsive than previous installments. By no means is it Call of Duty, but it’s an improvement on the front of fluidity nonetheless. I must admit, I found it refreshing to know I wasn’t going to be the victim of any more flawed control schemes.
I would, however, become a victim of random difficulty spikes. As I mentioned, you face-off against small squads the majority of the time, which is almost always a breeze. How is this compensated for? By throwing a larger quantity of mindless enemies into the mix. Rather than a more creative solution, the Helghast appeared to have taken a page from the Japanese history books, as they consistently banzai charge the player without a single care for self-preservation. Run in guns-a-blazing and hope you don't get shot before you shoot the other dude. That’s the Helghan frame of mind.
It should also be noted that cover doesn’t provide much . . . well, cover. Most objects are roughly chest high, but your character never gets down low enough to completely prevent their head from being instantaneously riddled with bullets. Add in some incredibly frustrating freefall sections and Shadow Fall becomes a roller coaster. Bouts of snooze-fest ease coupled with head-scratchingly difficult areas.
Fortunately enough, there’s more to Shadow Fall than the campaign. By now, multiplayer is nearly standard in any FPS; Shadow Fall is no exception. Frankly, there is not a whole lot of originality to the core gameplay, but it’s certainly enjoyable. There’s a loose leveling system, and some class editing alongside your relatively standard warfare. Levels are reminiscent of earlier Call of Duty titles, but with a bit more complexity, destructibility, and verticality. The pace is slow; it fits somewhere in between COD and Battlefield. No one player can carry a game, but teamwork isn’t always required for success.
It’s a blast to go it alone in hopes of catching your enemies unaware. Anytime I’m able to string a series of melee and knife kills together it’s an exhilarating experience. Class abilities such as calling in air drones, or constructing shields gives each class merit, and provide slightly differing experiences.
There are a handful of flaws to speak of, most notably the lack of a party system and how slowly your character moves. The average pace is little more than a brisk walk, while the "sprint" is a jog at best. This makes getting away from sticky situations an exercise in futility. More often than not, it’s best to stand your ground and hope things go in your favor. Another point of harsh criticism is how spawn killing is avoided. I love the idea of setting up barriers and turrets to prevent this unfair tactic, but those who are familiarizing themselves with the maps will be caught at a disadvantage. As you poke about the area to get your bearings, you’ll most certainly run into the near insta-kill turrets. Essentially, players are punished for being inexperienced. A big no-no in my book.
Ultimately Killzone: Shadow Fall’s bane is the mishandled concepts. At one point in time, these were young, beautiful Concept Saplings. But their fate has been unfolded, and its a doomed one. If not for the enjoyable — albeit safely uncreative — multiplayer, Shadow Fall would be the PS4’s first big flop. Even so, it is by only a thread that I can half-heartedly recommended it. Between all the comparative titles releasing now and in the coming months, Shadow Fall’s value is fairly low. If by some chance you’re not a fan of Call of Duty or Battlefield but still desire a competitive online FPS, then maybe this is the game for you. Otherwise? You should steer clear.
This was originally posted on Plus10Damage.com.
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