In the zone.
Killzone has always had a message hidden in the battles and bloodshed on other worlds, shining a light on our own struggles and the futility of war. The developers at Guerrilla Games have drawn from world wars, past and present, to fuel the fires of conflict between Vektan and Helghan forces, but my favorite lessons are the ones less obviously on display. That Killzone can teach us something about the Palestinian and Israeli conflict speaks volumes about the breadth this series has reached, whether or not every game has been worth your time.
Killzone: Shadow Fall continues this motif, beating the player over the head with themes drawn from the Cold War and further horrors of battle. In Shadow Fall, players assume the role of Lucas, an orphan whose father was killed by soldiers while he was escaping New Helghan on the other side of the wall separating Helghan and Vektan populations on the Vektan home planet. This premise feels forced and many objectives remain unintuitive, but Killzone's hefty multiplayer mode makes up for the single-player campaign's deficiencies.
If you haven't played any previous games in the series, Shadow Fall will recap how Vektans ended the war with Helghast by triggering a chemical fire that consumed the Helghan planet and countless lives. When the remaining Helghan people show up on Vekta's doorstep, an uneasy truce is struck, a wall is erected, and orphan Lucas joins the Vektan elite Shadow Marshal unit. Players have to help Lucas endure delicate operations in the hopes that a 30-year-old powder keg doesn't erupt to consume Vekta as well.
This proves an interesting, if uneven, premise that allows Lucas to travel around both sides of the wall and into space, but more than a few sequences feel forced and overwrought. Helghan civilians frequently cower in fear but not without eventually offering Lucas help. Here's this guy who just mowed down countless, countless soldiers, but let's give him a key card to move on anyway. He's controlled by the player, so he can't be all bad.
Copious amounds of confusion and misdirection worsen Shadow Fall's heavy-handed script. Players can hit up on the Dualshock 4's D-pad to highlight the objective on their HUD, but this never provides enough information to make players comfortable with their direction. Lucas can even use Tactical Echo to highlight enemies by their heat signature through walls, but thanks to some unintuitive map design, this might become a crutch that actually hurts your progress. One sequence relatively late in the game puts Lucas in the vacuum of space where he must protect a container from attacking Helghast drones. The game never told me I could pull the right trigger to fire an explosive weapon and fend off these drones, so I watched game over screen after game over screen until I finally pushed every button on the controller in frustration.
I appreciate Guerrilla's attempts to iterate and dig deep into first-person shooter design, but it doesn't take much playtime to spot Killzone's strengths. The game looks and sounds incredible and future-facing design create some truly breathtaking landscapes. On a massive TV, with a controller in your hand, and with surround-sound headphones over your ears, it's hard not to get engrossed by Shadow Fall's display of PS4 power. It doesn't make up for the design missteps in the campaign, but it numbs any pain you might feel while in single-player confusion. Killzone's suite of multiplayer offerings also means you won't regret your launch day purchase.
The franchise's signature Warzones multiplayer fills a map with players and then rotates objectives until a decisive winner secures victory. One moment you might be attaching a bomb to an objective, and the next you might be capturing and holding points throughout the map. Each battlefield provides interesting flow from point to point and the experience holds up on the new PlayStation hardware. Occasionally, with a lot of players and graphical effects flying everywhere, the framerate will drop or you might notice bodies clipping through the game world, but for a launch-day title there's plenty of replayability.
That's aided by Sony's promise to add multiplayer maps for free. The entire Killzone community will be able to enjoy new competitive maps together regardless of DLC ownership, even though a co-op mode and more will be added later as paid content. With scores of unlocks and a standard game mode focused on variety, there's plenty to love in next-gen Killzone multiplayer, but that's not all.
Players can also create custom Warzones with any rules they like, ranging from knives-only to objective-based gameplay with only sniper rifles. A demolition or capture-the-point game mode can be made viciously difficult depending on what parameters you set, but the best part of Custom Warzones in Shadow Fall is watching a handmade mode get popular with the greater population of gamers online. There's strength in all the variety Killzone fans will find online.
Shadow Fall's measure of success feels shallower than past games in the franchise, but all told it's a complete package for launch or Holiday 2013 PS4 owners. The system definitely has its catalogue of shooters, meaning stiff competition for the repetitive and unintuitive campaign in Shadow Fall, but Sony fans don't have to look far for a flag to wave in console-brand loyalty. Killzone has never looked this good.
Copy provided by publisher. PS4 exclusive.