Killzone Shadow Fall PS4 review – A new war for a new generation
I can’t mention the PS4′s controller without saying how good it is to use in a shooter. It’s one thing to rattle around on a few demos for an hour and another thing entirely to play through a 12-hour campaign with it. The sticks are beautiful to aim with and the touchpad swiping used to select OWL modes works brilliantly. Going back to Battlefield 4 on a PS3 pad afterwards felt a bit like a modern surgeon being handed a hacksaw and a piece of wood with teeth marks in it.
While Shadow Fall remains a consistently impressive spectacle, the second half loses some of what makes the opening such a robustly enjoyable shooter. The story is discontinuous initially, jumping between apparently unconnected sections and in doing so enabling its more creative ideas. As the plot tightens it reveals a more focused story arc but reigns in the freedom as a result. You can still pick and choose modes and tactics, but more and more the open layouts are shuttered into wide corridors and boxy rooms where the options lean more towards left and right.
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The AI is aggressive and sharp. Early on it’s rewarding to carefully plan and successfully execute an attack because bad guys will chew up the rash or poorly prepared. The rush that comes from beating them through strategy and improvisation relies on having the space to move – to use the environment to press an advantage or reconfigure your strategies. Later this very thing can become frustrating, as the more confined layouts provide less room to play with. That enemy, so reactive to engage initially, can become a ruthless force channeled into your face like a hosepipe full of angry. It leaves later stages feeling more like the old-fashioned corridor shooter Shadow Fall’s opening does so well to dispel.
The AI is aggressive & sharp. It’s rewarding
to carefully plan & successfully execute
an attack because bad guys will chew up
the rash or poorly prepared
There are also couple of bits that just don’t work. Like a wingsuit flying set piece that lacks the snappy controls you need to react, managing to slam me into the side of a building 29 times (according to the stats) until I memorised the route [Update: a new Killzone Shadow Fall patch has addressed this issue]. There’s also a ‘Mobile Scanning Unit’ that’s not fun to take on once, let alone the other couple of times it pops up. Plus one of the climactic battles veers noticeably into ball ache territory. These moments are transitory at least and no worse than most other game hiccups. The varied tone, more pleasurable surprises and high standards set elsewhere also help balance things out.
There are a few bugs – nothing huge, but surprising given the scale of the budget evident elsewhere. They’re mainly minor things, such as the occasional floating gun, and the Tactical Echo button (left on the D-pad) triggering the objective screen (up on the D-pad). A random event I never seemed to be able to trigger by pressing the left pad up on purpose. At one point, I was also stopped in my tracks by an elevator that failed to spawn (needing a level restart) and a scenery glitch requiring me to face right and wiggle a bit to get through the only path forwards. Not ruinous and hopefully things that should be patched out at launch but frustrating to see in a game that otherwise impresses everywhere else.
Which brings us on to the multiplayer. As before, this has a far more realistic sense of weight and pace compared to COD’s ice rink speed and twitchy deaths. Continuing what seems to be Killzone’s pursuit of the purest gameplay, this has stripped the classes down to just three: assault, support (mixing engineer and medic abilities) and a stealthy scout/sniper option. While that might seem limited there’s a surprising amount of breadth in the options. Loadouts can mix a range of choices and I’ve yet to find a favourite combination since there’s always a new blend of OWLs (separated here into single abilities), gear, weapons and so on. You can blend together shields, healing, cloaking, turrets, drones, guns and so on to create almost any class archetype you can think of.
Most enjoyable is the fact that you can actually have battles: prolonged trades of gunfire with a to and fro, rather than the fastest trigger finger deciding the winner. The maps are just as impressive as the main game with some amazing locations, both to play and to look at. What will be interesting is the amount of user customisation possible. You can set a range of specifics, varying weapons, abilities and rules to create a wealth of match types. One I tried involved a cloak, a knife, a sniper rifle and one hit kills called, rather aptly, Paranoia In The Park. While another territory mode used semi-auto shotguns and reduced health for fast arcade blasting. Guerrilla will be curating the best and posting them on the main online page which should be an interesting way of keeping things fresh.
It all adds up to form an impressive launch shooter. A mix of familiar gunplay and just enough new ideas, gorgeous looks and sheer technical wow to make you feel like you’re stepping into a shiny new future. If it could have sustained the initial open gameplay promise all the way through then it could have easily snagged another point. But even the later stages, with their slightly more limited options and pressured action are still impressive. Most importantly, of all the launch shooters on PS4, this is the only one to try and do something different and vary its formula. Something it also does with visibly new tech rather than shored up current-gen code. It’s a combination that makes Killzone Shadow Fall a great experience and strong start to PS4.