It has been just over 2 years since we last delved into the Killzone universe (on a console) and boy have things changed. Killzone 3, literally, ended with a big bang when the Helghan home world was destroyed by Sev and co. I said back then the ending felt a bit rushed and I was unsure how they could really make a successful sequel without rebooting the series. Their answer was Killzone: Shadow Fall and honestly I would have preferred a full reboot than this half-assed mess. The problem is, Killzone: Shadow Fall is highly unrealistic.
You may say that criticising Killzone: Shadow Fall for being unrealistic is a bit harsh considering it is a sci-fi shooter, with inter planetary travel and a race of human offspring who have a hard on for the Nazi wardrobe, but the set up still needs to make sense. After the events of Killzone 3, the ISA and Helghast organise a deal where the ISA would give part of their world (Vekta) to the Helghast survivors. After several years a wall is built to divide the two nations who live on the brink of war (Cold War parallel here). This causes a major gameplay problem that the developers tried, admirably, to solve. With this setting you can’t have an all-out run and gun type of game because it doesn’t reflect the setting. The set up feels like a list of random “cool” suggestions with little thinking of how this would impact gameplay.
Stories have evolved in recent years; to the point where the story is as much a part of the gameplay as the controls/level design. So when I was mowing down waves of Helghast in Shadow Fall, I often thought that my actions should start a war of some kind. I was clearly ISA (evident by what the Helghast say) and I wasn’t unequipped (so it would be quite hard to deny ISA backing). What I was doing didn’t relate to the setting I was in. At one point some Helghast invade the ISA part of Vekta. The game justifies this action by saying they are terrorists and not the Helghan government but this is quite hard to accept this when they look exactly the same. There is no identifying marker saying these were the Black Hand (the Helghan terrorist group). This all just makes the game extremely hard to follow. I often found myself clueless on where I was and why I was there. The voice acting didn’t exactly help sell the story. Overall the voice acting was pretty weak with cut scenes falling flat and the dialogue feeling it was best suited for a Syfy channel film.
What is odd is, despite the plot being stupid and the voice acting being less than stellar, I really enjoyed myself when I played this game. The level design is pretty damn good. It isn’t as open ended as I would like but you do feel like the environment you explore belongs to a much larger ecosystem. It is something that is lacking from most first person shooters. It feels like the world doesn’t end past the invisible wall which is the problem with a lot of games. This is helped by the phenomenal draw distance. Not everything is fine and dandy with the level design as I did come across an instance of just pure laziness. In one level mid-way through the game I managed to enter a room that was an enemy respawn point. I shouldn’t be able to get to these points in a next generation game. This was something that was barely acceptable at the start of the 7th generation.
Killzone: Shadow Fall does get the graphics and the performance right. This is one good looking/preforming game. The developers have finally gotten rid of the brown smudge effect, which has plagued first person shooters since Call of Duty 4 was released, by adding colour (even the Helghast side of the fence has colour). The character models and environments are extremely detailed (there are some, graphical, stand out moments that will make your jaw drop) and there is little to no performance drop.
Killzone: Shadow Fall offers a new gameplay mechanic which is actually quite useful. You may think the game is playing itself but the automated robot is very useful and quite comforting to have with you on those lonely solo missions. I found two of its abilities useless except for the zip line (which is a necessity at some point during the game) and the attack mode. The attack mode is really useful and creates opportunities for you to out flank entrenched enemies. Speaking of the enemies, the AI isn’t spectacular but nor is it crap. They duck behind cover and sometimes slowly move towards you (depending of the level) but they don’t think as a unit which is a big shame. They attack as individuals which is something I was hoping that would disappear in a new generation.
Being set in a different era to Killzone 3, the weapons in Killzone: Shadow Fall have (not just changed but) evolved which keeps this game feeling fresh (a big bonus since the weapons haven’t really changed since Killzone 2). The weapons also feel varied with the same base weapon appearing but with differing attachment each time. It is a nice touch. The weapons pack a punch as well. They sound and feel extremely lethal
The multiplayer has also evolved. Like the single player mode (and past Killzone games) your character has weight to him (something I am pleased to see return) but at the same time the multiplayer feels like a totally different beast. It is everything Killzone 2 was but better. The maps are varied in size and intensity and the performance is solid. The big change is the custom mode option which means you can go all retro and have a pistol only map. It is an underrated feature that I do miss in competitive online multiplayer. Also the XP system has gone and a new challenge system takes its place which is less about getting to a certain level to unlock stuff but a more personal touch to the online experience (unlocking things by class). There are three basic types of classes to choice from (Scout, Support and Assault) which may seem limited but each class has a significant role to the warzone. I am actually having a lot of fun with the multiplayer (something I haven’t said in a long time when it comes to a FPS)
Overall this game falls short because of its story/storytelling and honestly I am not surprised. The problem is Killzone: Shadow Fall is being affect by the abysmal ending that was Killzone 3. Whipping out the Helghast home world was a monumentally bad idea. It flung this game into a situation that the developers clearly tried to fix (sadly they failed). This is a big shame as this is a visually stunning game that preforms very well both online and offline. It is still an extremely fun game to play but I must give this game a 7 out of 10 as the story/storytelling is awful and forgettable.