IF the Playstation 4 was ever in need of a champion to tout its processing might, Killzone: Shadow Fall performs the task with relish.
Killzone: Shadow Fall (PS4)
Score: 8.0 / 10
After an expository opening chapter establishing a Cold War-era style narrative where the ISA and Helghast endure a fraught co-existence, it wastes no time in grandstanding. Entering a dense woodland in Vekta to stealthily dispose of a cluster of patrolling enemies, ambient light ekes through the gaps in the treeline, flickering and dancing as you stalk forwards through the undergrowth. If a flagship launch title’s remit is to dazzle, the elegance of the visuals do not disappoint.
The game is an unashamed exhibition of technical prowess, the highlight of which is a new real time dynamic lighting and reflections system. Luminosity can probe and pierce, yet veil and obscure. Beams cast by dropship spotlights emit a glowing fug, while the laser sights of Helghast rifles send out scything, solid shards of red. Lens flare, meanwhile, is indiscriminately employed, reactive to even the smallest source, such as the illuminated power pack on the back of an NPC ally. It is an often arbitrary feature, but the sheer beauty of the effects means its gratuity is forgivable. For a series that has at times struggled to define itself against other FPS behemoths such as Halo and Call of Duty, the aesthetic liberates Killzone from its brown and grey past, and serves as a tangible and intoxicating introduction to the capabilities of Sony’s new console.
Guerilla Games, though, have grander intentions for the franchise. The same forest-set chapter eschews the genre’s conventional narrow corridors, allowing you to traverse it however you please. Utilising the OWL - a drone sidekick controlled cleverly using the Dualshock 4’s touchpad - you are able to zipline between trees, dispose of sentries and hack alarms, all the while stumbling across optional tasks in the undergrowth. The muscular gunplay is still intact, but as all these features merge, it is clear Shadow Fall has an unlikely emphasis on tactics and, whisper it, stealth.
It is a notable deviation for the series and one that should be encouraged. Regrettably, it feels as if Guerilla Games themselves are not entirely convinced by the concept, offering only a tantalising suggestion of Killzone’s evolution rather than a blueprint for the future. There are sections of the game with commendable level design and dynamic verticality, but the magnitude and freedom of the second chapter is never emulated. In fact, as the game progresses, the action increasingly takes place in dank, linear industrial passageways, where the OWL’s myriad capabilities have little use.
Even when the world does opens up, it is poorly served by a navigation system that borders on the non-existent. There is no permanent mini-map or radar, rendering combat a frustrating experience, given the cunning and strategic intelligence of the enemy AI and a lack of cover. Objective markers are as inconspicuous as they are transient, requiring a constant prod of the D-pad to remind you where to go. Shadow Fall wants you to fly the nest, but there are times you will beg it to hold your hand and lead the way.
The experimentation is more successful elsewhere, notably in multiplayer. The customisation on offer is staggering and the time-honoured XP tier system is replaced with an innovative ranking mechanic that asks players to meet certain challenges in order to unlock classes and weapons. Crucially, this discourages campers from resorting to type and allied to Warzone - a constantly changing suite of gameplay modes contained a single session - the action is brisk and invigorating.
Shadow Fall is a game looking to break away from the conventions of the series, albeit only in fits and bursts. It is a thoughtful and explorative title, aided by some astounding visuals but ultimately undermined by frustrating design elements. It may not quite rejuvenate Killzone in the way Guerilla Games intended, but at a time when other FPS titles are content to run over the same old ground, it is an admirable and attractive statement.