Killzone: Shadow Fall review

The Killzone series has been important to Sony and its PlayStation line. The first arrived on PlayStation 2, almost as an answer to Microsoft and Bungie’s Halo for the original Xbox, and there have been iterations for every subsequent console, including the PSP and PS Vita. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that the next instalment, Killzone: Shadow Fall, would land as the flagship exclusive game for the launch of the PlayStation 4.

And in many respects it is the PS4's flagship game. It certainly looks the part. Unfortunately, it seems that so much effort has been put into making the game ping on every visual level possible, and something had to give. And that something was the single-player campaign. Even so, is Killzone: Shadow Fall worth your time to invest in?

Flarebrained

Shadow Fall is not broken by any means, not at all. In fact, it’s a reasonable jaunt through sumptuous landscapes and textured sci-fi surroundings. It’s just a little pedestrian in an age where first person shooters offer the spectacular and frenetic. You’ll be glad you went along for the ride, but much of the title will be instantly forgotten afterwards.

You definitely won’t be forgetting the lens flare though. It will be burned into your retinas by the end. Killzone: Shadow Fall features more lens flare throughout than all of JJ Abrams’ and Michael Bay’s films put together. Yes, we do like to see just how capable the PS4 is in a graphical sense, but it seems that every single light source features some glare effect that at times seems odd, others plain obstructive.

READ: PlayStation 4 review

An example of the former comes at the beginning of the game, when you’re just a small boy trying to escape the tyranny of the Helghast with your father. Before leaving your home, take a look at a lamp on the table in the darkened surroundings and there is a light flare as if the sun exploded. Now, don’t get us wrong, we like a bit of stylist camera work in games, but you are looking at the normal lamp with the eyes of a child. This is a first person shooter and we wouldn’t expect to see patterns dancing in front of our own eyes if we aped the scenario in real life.

Then there’s the fact that, once the main game starts, you are faced with even more flare - and often. We can accept that perhaps the main character you play is no longer looking at things with the naked eye, but any helmet or goggles being used would have failed their testing procedure surely. Being blinded in the middle of a combat situation must go down as a strike against the awarding of a space-grade kite mark.

Admittedly, we’re dwelling on this minor facet of the game too much, but it bothered us enough to be noticed. On the flip side, everything else looks simply stunning.

Truly next-gen

All the levels in Killzone: Shadow Fall look amazing, and the open air ones particularly so. Perhaps on purpose, to give you the wow factor early doors, some of the most incredible visuals occur within the first hour of playing. The first time you see daylight and the expansive vistas of Vekta your jaw genuinely drops. The draw distance for models is breathtaking. This is next-gen baby - and don’t you forget it.

It is colourful and pretty and, for a brief moment, you forget that you’re meant to shoot someone in the face. And the later levels do not disappoint either. We’re not entirely sure it’s running, as promised, at 60 frames per second at all times, but it looks smooth and crisp without fail.

We’re also fond of Killzone's plot, as the premise that the Helghast have demanded half of Vekta after the devastating conclusion of Killzone 3 and the destruction of the planet Helghan, leads to a much more subtle and layered story structure than in many of the previous titles in the franchise. It doesn’t always make sense or hold together as well as it should, but it is interesting and different for this genre. The only other recent first person shooter (FPS) to really deliver in the voice-acting stakes is Battlefield 4.

READ: Battlefield 4 review

There are some great set-pieces and a decent attempt at variety in gameplay styles too, with some attempts at stealth, some levels where you are weightless giving a different feel to the game, and some puzzle elements.

You also get an OWL robot companion to help crack codes, halt alarms and aid you in combat, which adds an additional element to your strategical approaches to certain situations. Although anyone that's played Call of Duty: Ghosts, along with its zero-gravity space scenes and assisting dog, Riley, might think some of that sounds familiar.

READ: Call of Duty: Ghosts review

But the main issue with the campaign mode is that the enemy seems sparse, at times lacking in intelligence, and others are disinterested. It might be because, in many instances, the battlefields are wide but the path through them not so. Whatever the reason it just doesn’t feel like Killzones of old.

Also, a FPS veteran - not us - would finish the single-player mode in no time at all, breezing through it. We’ve struggled a bit more, partly because we’re still getting used to the higher sensitivity of the new DualShock 4 and partly because we keep stopping to look at the scenery.

Speaking of the DualShock 4, it is far better designed for first-person-shooters and you do get the feeling that, once mastered, you will get more accuracy out of it. PC gamers have been pouring scorn on those who play FPS games using joypads, but we prefer it. More so now.

Multiplayer marvel

While the single-player campaign in Killzon: Shadow Fall doesn’t quite live up to the standards we expected when we first saw the reveal trailer back in February, the multiplayer mode is a blast.

Those wide open battlefields which at times seemingly hampered the campaign gameplay, zing when you have real people zipping all over them. Classic Warzone is a blast, offering all manner of multiplayer game styles in one long team battle. You’ll encounter capture the flag, map domination and an assault mode in all but name, and all in the one battle.

There are also Custom Warzones, which leave the options and set-ups to the players, so expect the unexpected. And that’s just it, that sums up why multiplayer shines more than the single-player: rarely in the campaign are you faced with the unexpected.

The plot has twists you might not have seen coming - and some that are broadcast louder than Heart FM on an over-60s trip to Clacton - but the gameplay seems formulaic. Add real people and their ideas to the mix and you have something more special, especially in such gorgeous surroundings.

Verdict

Killzone: Shadow Fall is not quite the game we all wanted it to be. Developer Guerrilla Games has done an awesome job with making it look the part, but we really wanted it to be the groundbreaking start of a new chapter in gaming. It isn’t.

That’s not to say it’s bad - far from it. As we’ve already said, you’ll appreciate the journey through the game, and be impressed by the story-telling and even the voice acting, but you might not remember much further down the line.

What you are more likely to remember - and this is what bolsters the score - are the madcap battles you'll have with fellow PlayStation 4 owners on the vistas of Vekta in the multiplayer. For some that will definitely be worth the cover price alone.

Killzone: Shadow Fall is PS4 eye-candy that doesn't taste quite as sweet as it looks. It's not the flawless, best-in-class FPS that it could have been, but there's still enough fun to be had.



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