Killzone: Shadow Fall is Beautiful, But Empty
Last week, I gave my first impressions of Killzone: Shadow Fall, and many of those iniital feelings still hold. If you're looking for a game to really explore all that the PS4 has to offer, then this is definitely the game for you.
However, while the game has all the bells and whistles of a technical demo, it also has the soul of one. It's more than obvious how shallow the game is, in part because of its attempts to reach towards serious subject matter and because of how far it excels technically.
Killzone: Shadow Fall is the beauty queen the trailers make it out as. Whether you're looking out over luxurious forests or a futuristic city, neon sci-fi slums or a decaying metropolis, the game delivers on its visual promise.
Every second is so carefully and beautifully rendered that it's hard not to get lost in the game. The Vektan and Helghast worlds are so cleverly created that you can tell they were designed by completely different species, with completely different aesthetics, and yet they still belong in the same universe.
At first I had serious issues with levels in the dark, especially in Chapter 3. When I turned off the lights in my house, I gained a new appreciation for the subtlety in the design of the level and the overall appearance.
Character models are where this technical prowess falls apart, as the differences between your allies and your enemies is incredibly slight. During multi-player matches and fights where you have allies, this is frustrating. It might have been an intentional decision on the part of the developers to point out that the Helghast and the Vektan aren't really all that different from each other, but when it comes to practical play, a little more variation would have been helpful.
Level design was easily the most frustrating aspect of playing Killzone: Shadow Fall. The attractiveness of the levels was clearly placed over their playability. Getting lost was about as common as something breaking under your feet in Uncharted 3, and became a frustrating companion for the entirety of the game.
There was also a late game segment involving falling from the atmosphere through an array of collapsing buildings that would easily rank in the Top 10 Worst Video Game Experiences of all time. My boyfriend and I would switch off between attempting to navigate the falling debris, and it took far longer than a dramatic sequence should ever take. Controlling your falling body was complicated and the controls were slow, but what really made the scene unbearable was that there was no clear sign of where you were supposed to go. It did look fantastic, but it was virtually unplayable.
As someone who is relatively new to first person shooters, I found the combat intuitive and easy to play. There is a sequence where, if you play your cards right, you can zipline across a river and then shank someone in the back of the throat. It's viscerally exciting and appeals to the part of your brain that really wants to be an action star.
A semi-complaint would be that the melee attack is incredibly over-powered. Once you figure that out, you can breeze through most of the combat sequences without much of a care. Even shielded enemies are no match a knife in their throat. When you rely solely on the melee attack, however, it can become a bit rote since there are only so many animations Guerilla Games put in for the melee.
The OWL I would consider to be an incredibly deft addition to gameplay. By the final sequences, I used that little robot buddy probably more than my pistol, and though some of his functions (shield) I never bothered with, others were extremely helpful as I stunned and shot my way through level after level.
Another complaint I had was that the difficulty ramped up suddenly in a few of the final sections with a boss fight. The inclusion of suddenly invincible opponents was unexpected and hair-pulling, especially since they were often paired with the ankle-biter of the Killzone universe: the spider mine. There is probably nothing in Killzone I hate as much as the spider mine.
Non-combat was the weakest segment of Killzone. "Puzzle" sections that were banal and simply involved crossing the map while holding an object were bizarre and poorly designed.
I am supposedly a badass space soldier with an awesome robot companion, but in order to open this glass door I need to find this coil thing and put it in the hole? And I'll have to cross the whole level to do it? I'd really rather not.
Falling, as mentioned in the level design section, was an occasional mechanic and was difficult and unintuitive. Sections involving gravity were a good way for me to figure out how durable the PS4 controller would be when encountering drywall.
The first Zero-G experience was probably the best, and it honestly felt very spacey and appropriate.
If you're coming to a Killzone game expecting a top-notch story, then you're barking up the wrong tree. Shadow Fall seems to exist in a world solely of science fiction tropes and Cold War allusions.
Your character is pretty much a blank slate. Sure Lucas Kellan talks, but if he was a silent protagonist, I would not have noticed. He's a bland meat head who was given an attempt at a deep back story that was never touched on again. Other characters motivations are slim or confusing.
Because it's so hard to get attached to wooden characters, the drama comes across as rather silly. Two worlds are supposedly at war and the extinction of the species is imminent and the emotional connection is nonexistent.
At around 10 hours, Killzone: Shadow Fall certainly didn't over stay its welcome. With polished combat and stunning visuals, it sets itself apart in a sea of grey-brown shooters. It is the epitome of next generation technology. Unfortunately it is bogged down by an expected story, poor level design and frustrating non-combat sequences.
With all of that, if you have a PS4, I would strongly recommend purchasing Killzone: Shadow Fall. It's a great way to experience everything your Playstation has to offer.