Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Reviewed by: Jamaal Ryan

Never before have I had such a polarizing change in attitude toward a game than with Killlzone Shadow Fall. More so than the failings we've seen in the two big name shooters released in the holiday quarter, Killzone Shadow Fall's campaign doesn’t quite dip down to the atrocities that Aliens Colonial Marines and The Walking Dead: The Video Game commit, however nearly every idea Shadow Fall attempts rots with poor execution that fair far worse than the shooters it takes inspiration from. However sticking around and moving from single player to multiplayer can cause a pleasantly shocking mental whiplash and a positive justification for your investment.
Guerilla’s world building of the never-ending conflict between the Helghast and the ISA has always gone only as far as to present an interesting concept. But the micro-narrative and the way in which these stories are told do little to serve the lore justice. Killzone Shadow Fall’s new saga ultimately fails to change this unintended tradition.
30 years after Killzone 3’s near genocidal ending, the Helghast have been forced to live on the same planet as the ISA on planet Vekta, separated by a mere wall that will prove futile in keeping the peace. As a Shadow Marshall special unit, you’ll slowly slip into the grey area separating the Helghan’s and Vektan’s black and white opposition and attempt to prevent a full scale war. But the clich├ęd plot device as peacekeeper is far from Shadow Fall’s more pertinent narrative problems. Characters that command the screen with unnecessary grandiosity carry little substance, deflecting any chance of inviting me to invest anything more than passive attention. The story closes with a surprisingly satisfying ending leading to an inevitable sequel; but given that Shadow Fall’s narration is so weak, I have little interest of seeing what happens next.
Guerilla seems to look towards Battlefield, Crysis, and Far Cry to lay the ground work for Shadow Fall’s campaign design. Stealth, highlighted enemy location, and a wider level design are all pillars of Shadow Fall’s formula, however none of it works nearly as well as it should, creating a frustrating and occasionally mind numbing experience.
Shadow Fall’s biggest offender is how polluted its encounter design is. Killzone widens the real estate to offer more a complex and dynamic approach to combat, but misses almost all opportunities to lead players in a proper “canyon” approach. Typically shooters with bulkier level design allow players to survey the area to draw a mental graph illustrating their methods of approach. Shadow Fall drops the ball on this several times, either narrowing the players options to an awkward linear path, or constantly placing you in a dis-advantageous position in relation to your enemies.

Window dressing for terrible level design
You’d think that the Shadow Marshall’s ability to highlight foes within a radius will empower you to effectively devise an attack plan, however this ability is pulled off by tediously holding down right on the D-Pad to carefully expand the radar ping only up to a limited radius, which then forces you to plan your attack within a certain proximity. And you’ll have to do this several times in combat as the already hard to see golden highlights of enemy soldiers (bear in mind, gold, and variations of yellow and orange, is Killzone’s favorite environmental color as well), will disappear from your HUD after a short time.
Taking your enemies head on is best aided by the OWL, an airborne companion droid that has six different functionalities, the fifth being more contextualized to hack computer interfaces, and the sixth which can be used to revive yourself in battle provided that you have enough Adrenaline Packs. The OWL can be an effective diversion by either stunning or firing upon your enemies for a less direct approach. The OWL can also tether a zip-line at a distance, however the level design barely allows much opportunity to truly take advantage of it. What’s most useful is the deployable shield that you’ll have to use much too often given the AI’s overly offensive behavior. 
The moniker “Shadow Marshall” implies a trained covert operative, however it's difficult to understand why Shadow Fall's stealth mechanics are so sloppy when the game proves it can actually fair better. You’ll feel less like a skilled assassin and more like Santa Claus noisily making his way in and out of your house with Killzone’s (now improved, but still present) weighty controls and a puzzling lack of silenced weaponry. Only two chapters in Killzone's campaign use stealth more intelligently, one in which empowers you, and the other requires you, to progress without engaging in direct confrontation. It’s a shame that sequences that involve the least shooting are the best parts on this first person shooter. Too bad that these pace changers don't punctuate Shadow Fall's campaign nearly as much as its awful Zero-G sequences.

There’s tedium in simply moving the story forward as well. Objective markers often stubbornly appear on nebulous locations in your HUD, and rarely inform you on how to get there. Far too often I found myself running around in circles with little idea as to how I will make it to my next objective.

This guy's probably lost

And your mission is often definitively linear, regardless what Guerilla has stated before. The developer may claim to offer large areas with multiple objectives that can be completed at the player's discretion. That really only applies in Shadow Fall's first chapter however. The rest of the campaign funnels down to a more one dimensional design – though not nearly at the extent as Killzone 3 – with middling optional objectives that are no more pedestrian than your average shooter.

The fact that the weapons feel quite satisfying to shoot -- especially the signature Shadow Marshall rifle's charge shot -- and that Shadow Fall is the first PS4 title to show off the system's impressive visual prowess, doesn't even come close to remedying Killzone's crippling problems.

Thank goodness the multiplayer doesn't suck.

Killzones 2&3 have represented the franchise’s attempts in establishing its multiplayer formula from Killzone 2’s surprisingly well executed first offering early in the Playstation 3’s era to Killzone 3’s expansion on the ideas of its predecessor. Killzone Shadow Fall stands as a bold refinement of the franchise’s multiplayer systems, trimming much of the fat while emphasizing what works to the fullest degree, and giving players a rare form of community generated content tools.
Gone are the daunting number of classes from Killzone 3; Shadow Fall smartly consolidates the available roles to a distinct three. The Scout (formerly known as the Marksman) remains largely the same as in previous installments, armed with mostly long distance fire power whose abilities favors near invisibility and, instead of scrambling the enemy’s radar, enables enemy locating reconnaissance much like the Shadow Marshall’s radar. The Assault benefits from increased mobility, however it’s most important contribution is the Nano Shield taken from what’s seen in the campaign. Lastly, the Support class pulls from the Tactician, Engineer, and Field Medic from Killzone 3 and stands as the most important class in Shadow Fall. They can plant team spawn beacons, bring in turrets and air support drones, and theoretically revive allies an infinite number of times from absurd distances so long as they aren’t completely dead. These class distinctions enables Shadow Fall’s multiplayer to communicate explicit collaborative roles on the battlefield thus making team based play easy to read and fun to engage.
Shadow Fall’s multiplayer feels less mobile than your average shooter as it plays to its team based strengths. You’ll see teams engage in a more distinct “attack and defend combat” even in team deathmatch than what’s seen in most shooters. With intelligent use of tools such as explosives and unmanned weaponry along with the Assault class's stationary shield, the Scout's maximum effectiveness from staying perfectly still, and the Support class's impactful team oriented contributions, Killzone Shadow Fall can easily slip into a game of standing your own ground than anything else.

Teamwork in action

Shadow Fall’s progression system is also refreshing. It manages this by “solving the Call of Duty problem” by gifting players with a complete arsenal of weapons and abilities. Though this concept might worry longtime fans of incentivized level progression, Shadow Fall quells those concerns with Challenges. Challenges give skilled players multiplayer objectives to strive for in order to unlock additional parts for their weapons. Grenade launchers, shotguns, and anti-drone&shield missiles are significant additions to your combat repertoire, so those looking for a form of progression in multiplayer won’t feel cheated out.

Shadow Fall’s team deathmatch and tried and true classic dynamic Warzone variants are more than enough to keep players embroiled in combat, but custom Warzones invite the realm of countless possibilities. Rule tweakings aren’t anything new in shooters, however the intricate level of customization options can change Killzone’s style of play drastically. Dictated classes, weapons, modes, and even bots can spur unusual results. In one custom Warzone, not a single gun was allowed. Scouts armed with knives and only the ability to cloak made up the strict rules of the game. It was silly, entertaining fun running objectives while chasing one another with blades. Another was an unforgiving survival mode pitting me and my teammates against bots with one life alternating teams armed with pistols or knives only. Killzone doesn’t have the spontaneous physics based advantage that Halo does, however there’s enough that can be messed with in Shadow Fall that result in some interesting if not brilliant ways to play.

Killzone Shadow Fall’s multiplayer is a success, but one with imperfect design. The feeling of carrying 100 lbs of gear is exacerbated once strafing around and escaping from human players, and Shadow Fall’s shooting is less sticky than what we see in other shooters that factor in aim assists. The level design delivers with mixed success, with The Penthouse and the return of Bilgarsk Boulevard now named The Remains offering good multiplayer stages, and others such as The Wall which I avoid as much as possible.

Issues persist with the map’s assigned faction spawning areas which allow opposing teams who’ve studied the levels enough to know where to spawn camp. Guerilla does its best to pave alternate routes for players to avoid getting jumped, and Warzones keeps the flow of battle moving more so than TDM, but it’s difficult to rebound from getting check mated inside your own base. However much of this fades into acclimation behind multiplayer’s excellent team based gameplay and robust custom Warzone system.

The Bottom Line 

Killzone Shadow Fall is a bad single player experience. Poor enemy encounters and janky level design get the better part of the experience that Guerilla obviously tried so hard to craft. However its refined multiplayer is a pleasant surprise to say the least. The simplified class system brings teammates together without the prerequisite of explicit voice chat collaboration, which allows working together far easier than most shooters. And outside of Killzone’s Warzone staple, the level of customization in UGC produce truly interesting and well worthy alternate ways to play Killzone. In spite the single player’s failings, Killzone Shadow Fall’s multiplayer alone makes this next gen shooter a must buy.
+ Digestible class system
+ Incentivized teamwork
+ Custom Warzones
+ Stunning display of visuals
- Unequivocally bad campaign from top to bottom

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