Moneyzone: Franchise Hopeful
I've always seen Killzone as some kind of ass-backwards answer to Halo, Call of Duty, or whatever shooting game currently has a lock on the twiddly thumbs that wait idly to maim and murder in online deathmatches around the world. Maybe it was multi-mascot syndrome that had me confused. Being a Ninten-dork all my life, Sony always appeared to be playing catch-up, and Killzone was no different. With three mainline entries in the series and a few stray portable offerings, maybe it's time I start taking Killzone more seriously.
Historically, the franchise has always been billed as a Halo-killer, the one shooter Sony fans could tout as the answer to Master Chief's enviable exploits on Xbox. Thankfully, that doesn't seem to be the focus at Guerrilla Games. Instead, Killzone: Shadow Fall's stellar production values, more open-ended map design, and fluid and varied online multiplayer make it a tentpole release for PlayStation 4 and a drool-worthy launch game for your new next-gen console. But that doesn't mean there aren't a few dumb ideas to bemoan.
At the end of Killzone 3, the Helghast home planet is blown to smithereens and with it a great number of the Helghan people. What refugees remain then get invited to live on the Vektan home planet for an extended stay in peace for 30 years—but peace is no fun, so Guerrilla says screw that and starts mixing up all kinds of nefarious terrorist cells and nationalist military outfits as soon as you pick up the controller. The idea that two cultures who have been warring against each other (harder than even Sony and Microsoft) would shake hands and live together forever left me dumb.
I can't say that you'll want to read too deeply into this new campaign, but I was certainly more engaged by Shadow Fall's eagerness to give me a wide-open map to explore from level to level. Multiple pathways and hidden passages allow you to chose a guns-loud option or a more subtle, silent approach. This was evident in nearly every level I got hands-on with at Sony's event, and it's refreshing to see a developer try to tackle the mostly linear structure of modern first-person shooters. More importantly, you'll have the tools to fully utilize these spaces thanks to a multi-function Owl hover-bot and Tactical Echo, which basically lets you see key items, objectives, and enemies through walls for a short period of time.
In the prologue level, I could see through thin walls and take out enemies with a silenced weapon before anyone knew my squad of Vektan soldiers was even there. Meanwhile, other players around me went guns-blazing and faced greater opposition for it. In another level, Tactical Echo let me find ammo caches and stock up, but of the two new tools on offer in this preview build, the Owl provided a lot more variety. The Owl itself can defend a position, hack a terminal, or revive you (if you have enough healing gel), but more importantly, it'll allow you to grapple around levels. These uses are all contextual and require nothing more than a tap of the L1 button. The Owl's icon changes to reflect which actions will take place depending on where you're standing and where your character is pointing.
Hacking a terminal to complete an objective became a lot easier when I could send the Owl to do it while I fended off incoming enemies. Likewise, a powerful sniper rifle got a lot more useful when I grappled up to a better vantage point. These tools are fun to use and made me feel like a successful soldier of Vekta, protecting the homeland against would-be terrorist cells deep in the Helghan refugee camps. It's probably too soon to say how well Guerrilla have achieved their goals in making Killzone more open-ended and more driven by player-choice, but Shadow Fall looks like a step in the right direction from this far out.
Just as I finished the single-player demo, it was time to hop into the real star of any first-person shooter: multiplayer. Shadow Fall returns Killzone to Warzones, a rotating objective game type that challenges teams to attack targets, hold points, or detonate bombs on key enemy equipment. The opposite is true too. A single Classic Warzone match will give each team several different objectives, but more importantly Killzone players can create their own wildly custom game types in Custom Warzones.
Believe it or not, Slappers-Only style play could make a return with Killzone, and Guerrilla Games has said that they'll be watching the community closely to promote popular custom game types for everyone to enjoy. We didn't get to play around with these custom tools, but with 24-player matches, it could get hectic fast depending on what weapons you allow. All told, custom multiplayer matches inch Shadow Fall closer still to a feature-complete AAA launch game diehard Sony fans can rally behind.