in Review

Killzone: Shadow Fall

A little while ago I wrote about how Fuse was maybe the most OK game I’d ever played, since it managed to be good at just about everything, but exceptional at nothing. I think the new Killzone game might be a challenger for that throne, since it is a game that manages to have an equal and opposite problem for everything that it does right. It’s gorgeous, but dull. Ambitious, but under-qualified. The best PS4-exclusive FPS, but also the only one.

The only Killzone that didn’t have undue pressure heaped upon it, Killzone 3, was actually pretty great. The first was crushed under it’s unfair perception as Sony’s answer to Halo, which hid the reality of a linear, story-based shooter until it was too late. The second Killzone was meant to be the flagship PS3 game, what with it’s extraordinary and exciting debut trailer. Of course the real game never lived up to that, and ended up being basically brushed aside as a disappointment. But that third game was pretty cool, with jetpacks, mechs, and a gritty story with a surprisingly terrifying ending. It looked like Guerrilla Games had finally found the franchise’s footing.

I’m sure it’s not easy developing for a console’s launch. You’re probably dealing with constantly changing hardware difficulties and an extremely compressed timeframe, so maybe it’s not a surprise for most people that Killzone: Shadow Fall is an emphatically conservative in its design – a simple, straightforward campaign and a multiplayer suite. Of course, that’s how most FPS games come these days, but this is the next gen we’re talking about here. If I had any delusions about life being really different on the PS4, Shadow Fall was an excellent dose of reality.

Shadow Fall‘s story is absolutely terrible, much worse than anything in the series so far. I’d say it’s even more glaringly misguided than Call of Duty campaigns, since it clearly aspires to be more than macho bullshit. After the destruction of Helghan, the remaining Helghast were invited to live on Vekta, the planet the heroes from the previous games are from. But, because of prejudice, the Vektans decided to erect a massive wall across the entire planet, dividing it into Helghast and Vektan halves. Yeah. As you might guess, this idea doesn’t work out so well, and eventually hostilities ignite between both sides.

This seems so obnoxious because the game is simply not equipped to tell the kind of story it wants to. It tries to show us that maybe the people living on the Helghast side are just people, except their leaders and soldiers are portrayed as cartoonishly villainous. You spend the whole game mowing down Helghan, and the only one who helps you is actually only half-Helghan. The previous games put you in the role of grunt soldiers fighting a massive war, here it’s just melodramatic black ops bullshit. The disturbing ending of Killzone 3 could have led to interesting storytelling possibilities, but this game is more frustrating than anything else, story-wise.

At least the game take you to a bunch of different locales. As much as this game feels like a modern military shooter, it is still a sci fi adventure, complete with a solar system’s worth of settings. You’ll fight on both sides of the wall, other planets, and most memorably, in space. An early mission has you infiltrating a malfunctioning space station, which means you get to float around in some rooms. It’s neat! And so pretty. What a gorgeous game this is, a great showcase for this new console. On the surface level, it’s hard to complain about this game’s campaign. But when you actually play it, especially in a somewhat compressed timeframe, you’ll start to see the cracks.

For one, the game seems to be obsessed with plugging things into ports. It asks you to do it all the time. It’s weird and not fun and way to common an activity in Shadow Fall. This is especially bad in the game’s stealth sections, which are passable, but shouldn’t be there. In a game like this, where all of the interactions you are capable of center around being able to shoot things, stealth should not be a common activity. Also, there’s a boss fight near the end that felt less like a test of everything I’ve learned and more like some bizarre punishment.

The shooting feels good though, especially on the new DualShock 4. You get one gun (that you always have to carry for some reason) that can switch between being an assault rifle and something of a rail gun, which is pretty cool. You also get a robot buddy, called an OWL, who can shoot stuff, hack stuff, create a zip line, throw up a shield, blow up shields, and revive you when you’re down. It’s basically all the stuff your squad could do in the previous games (and more) but you can directly control it. All that stuff is really great, but the rest of the game’s armaments are extremely run-of-the-mill. Basic pistols, assault rifles, SMGs, shotguns, and snipers will take up your second weapon slot, and while they feel good, they don’t feel special.

I had planned on spending a bunch of time with Shadow Fall, but when I finished the campaign, I played a quick multiplayer match and shipped it back to GameFly. I was done. Really, really done. And that’s the trick of launch titles. They seem awesome, they seem like must-owns, until you get them. And then you realize maybe you spent $400 a little prematurely. Will people come back to this game a year or two from now, when the PS4 has a bigger library? I doubt it. But if you’ve jumped on the bandwagon early, here’s at least a good weekend for you. Just don’t expect it to feel like the future you might have thought it would be.