Killzone has always been a dependable series for its dazzling environments, awe-inspiring graphics, and adrenaline-laced shooter action. It’s also been horribly bland over the years. The Helghast may have some cool helmets, and the series lore is complex enough to give greats like Halo a run for its money. But it suffers from being bland and tiresome, a glossy veneer of polish over lackluster level design, seemingly endless winding industrial corridors, and multiple instances of confusion surrounding the ever-present question: “where should I go next?”
What’s interesting is I am hesitant to call Killzone: Shadow Fall bland because of its set design, color palette, or shootouts. It’s surprisingly competent in the aesthetic department, especially since it’s traded in the dirt browns and rust reds of past iterations for a shining, more dazzling look that’s much more appropriate for the story at hand. Linearity has also been taken away for a more open-world play style, one in which that requires adaptation to tactical shooter mechanics. So how’s it still manage to be quite boring?
Pretty easily, as it turns out. The cliche melodrama at the game’s plot exposition gets things started on the wrong foot. As Vektan Lucas Kellan, you grow up in a time where your planet has been invaded by the Helghast, with a wall dividing Vekta City from territory usurped by the malevolent alien race. Lucas sees his father killed by the Helghast army at an early age and grows up in a time of uneasy peace — when he’s old enough to fight back, he does so, and that’s where you come in. It’s a story that’s been told time and time again, and not one that’s even slightly engaging. You’ll have seen it so many times it won’t even strike a chord when Lucas’ father dies – it’s old hat by now.
From the onset of the game it seems as though you’re in for an intriguing ride, however, just from the availability of Lucas’ drone device — the OWL — and its ability to settle into several different modes. You can use the PS4 controller’s touch pad to swipe between different modes, which is fairly novel and interesting, and from the first cliff you see where you need to quickly dispatch Helghast soldiers, you might think there might be some entertaining uses for it. But the OWL quickly devolves into little more than a gimmick, being reused for the same tired purposes over and over. It can disable alarms, attack soldiers, create a shield to act as a bullet sponge, and can send out EMP pulses. It’s pretty vanilla stuff, but at least it gives you a reason to put the touchpad to good use, since it’ll likely be languishing among your fledgling PlayStation 4 collection.
There was the potential for an open world sprinkled with environmental puzzles, smart ideas for navigation, and more, and most of your time is still spend locked in shootouts where you’re forced to find cover if you want to live. When you can use the OWL’s zip line feature, more of the map is opened up, but you’re still following a cut-and-dry path that can even be hard to discern sometimes. The waypoint marker can be hard to see and doesn’t stay up as long as it could, and even though you know the objective is laid out in front of you, it can be tough to reach because it’s not easy to visualize. You’re left stuck sometimes wondering where exactly to zipline to, or which path to take to the objective. Rather than feeling like an open world, you’re left to puzzle out which way the game actually wants you to take, and that’s more frustrating than novel.
The single-player campaign is quite short, and your abundance of shootouts over the course of the game make it feel even shorter. When you’ve exhausted what you can from the single-player campaign, you’ll undoubtedly want to check out multiplayer as well. It’s a pretty basic affair with team deathmatches, classic Warzone, and a minimal class system that doesn’t inspire. You’ll likely be abandoning it for the much more richly-populated Call of Duty or Battlefield servers, though it’s competent if you’ve got a few friends you want to invite to the fold. The 1,500 challenges to complete throughout are more than enough reason to at least give it a try, if nothing else.
Killzone: Shadow Fall is lackluster, but it’s gorgeous. This will likely be one of the trifecta of games you’ll want to show off to friends who are on the fence about purchasing the console based on graphics capabilities alone. Aside from some bizarre facial expressions and a plastic feel to some of the environments, you’ll want to show it off – it looks awesome. It’s not quite at the level of Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag or Battlefield 4, but it’s still impressive in many ways.
It doesn’t reinvent the genre or even shooter conventions, and the changes made to the previously formulaic Killzone iterations are interesting, yet overall create a more confusing experience than a better one. If you’re looking for a straightforward shooter, you’ll be better served with Call of Duty: Ghosts or Battlefield 4, but if you want something a little different with a tiny bit of work for your touchpad, check out Shadow Fall instead.