This look back fits nicely with the site’s review of Killzone: Shadow Fall, but after putting far too many hours into the game I needed to somehow make it worthwhile. I don’t come here to dig up Shadowfall and praise it; I come here to once again point out why it was buried. It’s not a unique take, but it’s mine.
It’s also worthwhile putting down my thoughts on this title due to the reaction the previous review got. Well-made complaints and genuine critiques were passed off in the comments section as fan-boy bias - somebody coming in and unfairly insulting Killzone because they hate Sony, or Killzone, or shooters or fun. Now, a few months later and outside of the excitement of launch, we no longer have to deal with raised expectations and an unstoppable desire for Shadow Fall to be good (not just good, but really good). Now I feel I can come out and safely say, with no fear of being persecuted for imaginary bias, that Killzone: Shadow Fall just isn’t a good game. Not good at all.
This being said, I admit that I’m still a tad scared of being labelled, so I think it’s important to give some context. The evidence I will submit for my lack of anti-Killzone bias is my history with the franchise.
Like many people, I started with Killzone 2. I had a friend who owned the first, I half remember watching them play it (briefly), but it didn’t look very good. It was yet another example of a mediocre console shooter that felt completely irrelevant due to the existence of Halo and excellent shooters on the PC. In spite of this, I fully got on the hype train for Killzone 2. At this point I owned a PS3 but no 360 (I later rectified this and was a proud owner of both) and that Killzone game was looking super good. There was the infamous E3 trailer, which may have been a tad misleading, but I just loved the look of it. The aesthetic was awesome and the game seemed really promising.
Many took against it, but I loved Killzone 2. Loved it. Many complained about the weighty feel but I thought it was great. In my eyes it was one of the finest shooters of the last generation. The campaign had an awful narrative with annoying characters, but it went full circle on this and became amusing in spite of itself. Yes, this isn’t a positive, but I cannot deny that I got a lot of amusement out of the one dimensional soldiers who just seemed to shout each other’s names. Also, I can still remember the names of my entire squad; I can’t say that about a lot of games (though this was probably just drilled into me by repetition). The gameplay was genuinely awesome though, I really enjoyed the level design and the atmosphere that was evoked. It felt like a dangerous place and felt alive with war. The cover system was really clever; the restricted first person view added a lovely uncertainty and rooted you in the character. The arsenal was fantastic, it had an amazing standard weapon as well as some brilliant power weapons (the flame thrower and electricity gun were exquisite!). There were also some awesome set pieces, but the greatness mostly came from just solid level design with well-crafted firefights and enemy encounters.
After this I played Killzone 3, which I liked a lot. It was very pretty and had some cool segments, but it didn’t stay with me. It was still really well put together and a lot of fun, but it felt less unique. It wasn’t as distinct feeling as Killzone 2 was originally, and it was a snappier more action heavy game. I really liked the plodding progression of 2, lengthy meaningful firefights in well designed places. The sequel was really great still, but doesn’t stand up with 2 in my eyes.
I then played Killzone Mercenary on my vita. This was another awesome Killzone game that delivered a solid (if unremarkable) campaign on a handheld that didn’t feel limited by the platform. The multiplayer was similarly nothing special, but robust. It was standard console quality multiplayer in the palm of your hand - that’s kind of a big deal.
So there you go, I’m a Killzone fan. Killzone 2 was also one of my favourite multiplayer games of the last generation, so I was (and still am) a very big fan of that game. Though saying this, my favourite shooter of the last generation was Halo 3. Some may see this as bias, but in reality it shows a taste unrestricted by platform. If you put out a great game I will like it, not matter where I play it. This works the other way also; a bad game on any platform is a bad game.
Sadly Killzone: Shadowfall falls all too neatly into this latter category - it’s a bad game. The campaign is completely lacklustre, alternating between just plain dull and actively bad, and throughout the eight to ten hours it bores consistently. So much of the game is spent just traversing linear levels with nothing to interrupt this process. You go through good looking areas but do next to nothing. Disappointingly, when the game does decide to shake things up things aren’t much better.
Firefights are mostly few and far between, with none being memorable. Encounters are too short, seem redundant or are just annoying. The majority of encounters involve you stumbling across a bunch of enemies after a long time doing nothing, the result being that this sudden change of pace (from soul crushingly dull to apparent action) usually ends up in one of two scenarios:
1) You catch the enemy by surprise and quickly dispatch them
2) You are surprised by the sudden combat, your reflexes are lazy due to boredom, and you die (only to reload a checkpoint and get through the brief encounter with ease).
Encounters are peppered around the game - with more towards the end - but they just aren’t satisfying. The enemies are never particularly fun to fight and the arsenal is super bland. You are forced to use one weapon consistently (in the majority of chapters); meaning you can only ever change one weapon slot. My problem with this was - apart from its obvious restrictiveness - that I didn’t like the standard gun. Its normal mode was an assault rifle and it didn’t feel as good as other assault rifles in the game, but its alternate fire caused the real issue. Press down on the d-pad and you get a sniper rifle – kind of. In reality you get a gun with a useless scope, that barely magnifies, and a charged shot. It was a clumsy slow weapon that I tried not to use, however later enemies almost force its use.
The charge shot cuts through shields and towards the end of the game you are attacked by a lot of shielded enemies. Taking these down with the standard weapon sucks though, the scope is too poor for decent range shooting and the charge makes up close combat awkward. The other way to get through shields is by using the OWL, a guilty spark-esque robot that follows you around. It can shock enemies (destroying shields), shoot a bit, place a stationary shield, make a zip-line and revive you. The thing is kind of pathetic though, its most useful when reviving you and it can’t do this if you are using it for other things. You send it out; it does its thing and then has a cool down. I found that repeated use of the OWL works against you, as it means that when death comes it can’t help you. It was better to just ignore it and simply let it revive you when you fell. This scenario is something that happens more than you would like due to some irritating level and encounter design.
Level design is a problem throughout. It’s thoroughly uninspired and lacking in any standout moments. So many of the environments look amazing, but that isn’t enough. There is occasionally a bit of overt variety, including zero gravity traversal segments and a section where you are falling to the ground and have to dodge obstacles. The controls for these never feel right and all these segments fall flat, they are occasionally cool ideas but always outstay their welcome. Standard levels aren’t any better. The game occasionally puts forward this idea that you can approach levels in multiple ways; you can ghost them or just shoot. This is technically true, but the constituent parts aren’t good enough to make this fun. Stealth is poor, enemy AI is bad and level layouts make little to no sense. Occasionally you will stumble across a vent and realise, I could have gone through there, but then you ask why? There’s no satisfaction in sneaking past the dull Helghast soldiers and the game isn’t really built to make stealth viable.
These moments are also rare and part of weak set piece levels. The problem is – and this is the game’s core issue – that you can never escape mundanity. Killzone: Shadowfall is just a really boring game. It’s crushingly boring infact, it kills your motivation to the extent that when a more fleshed out combat sequence comes around you are too bored to cope with it. You just don’t want to engage with this darn thing and start to resent it. The game saps your enthusiasm and energy so effectively, by way of dull levels, shallow encounters and just a lack of atmosphere.
The game feels utterly devoid of atmosphere actually, it’s just pure monotony. There is a lot of really good music in Shadow Fall, but it’s really poorly utilised. Repetitive drones accompany what could be exciting segments, sucking the energy right out. Sometimes it’s the opposite problem, the music is fantastic but what you are doing just doesn’t shape up. It is lifted up by a great soundtrack, but that can only do so much. For the most part the game just drags, not giving you anything to keep you going even on the narrative side. The story is poorly written and completely uninteresting, burdened by ridiculous lore and just never hits home. You are forced to play through poorly thought out moment after poorly thought out moment, wondering why they thought it would be fun and what happened to the people that made Killzone 2 (or even three for that matter)?
You can say positive things about the multiplayer though. I think the basic Killzone multiplayer is excellent and it appears here as you’d expect. The problem is that I think it’s a weaker offering than what was in Killzone 2. Progression isn’t as well handled, the interface is a bit of a mess and the presentation in general is weaker. That brilliant mode where objectives are linked together still exists, but it lacks the energy it did in 2. It lacks the loud declarations that greeted each round and refocused you as a player. It feels less like dramatic shifts and now more like randomly changing objectives. The map design is still stellar, but the overall multiplayer suite is somewhat underwhelming. It all feels like a slight step down and doesn’t have enough there to keep me coming back. It’s tempting to excuse this because it’s the only Killzone multiplayer you can play on PS4, but it being weaker than PS3 offerings makes this statement somewhat depressing. Also you could be playing Battlefield 4 on your PS4, which gives a much more compelling multiplayer offering. Even if Killzone is more your thing, this lesser version is a real let down.
Killzone: Shadow Fall just isn’t good, and that sucks. I was such a fan of previous titles but this game never capitalises on what made them good. It goes for something different and completely loses its strengths. It’s utterly boring and frustrating due its numerous disappointments. I would constantly question design decisions from beginning to end, loudly showing my disdain for the overall package. As a launch title its issues make a lot of sense, its lack of content and half-baked sequences scream out a game that was rushed. Its visual fidelity also indicates that what was wanted was a launch game to really show off the system – and this push seemingly came at a high cost. Ladies and gentlemen, don’t play this game.