Killzone’s PS4 debut casts long shadow over FPS genre

Jon Mercer
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Killzone: Shadow Fall
PS4

It’s been a long road for Sony and Guerrilla Games’ “Killzone” franchise; as long and ragged as the blasted terrain of Helghan itself.

A screenshot from the new game “Killzone: Shadow Fall.” — Submitted image

Following an underappreciated debut on the PlayStation 2, the series delivered a one-two punch of gritty sci-fi excellence with “Killzone 2” and 3 on the PS3 that was still met with unavoidable comparisons to Microsoft’s equally impressive yet tonally different “Halo” franchise.

As a result, there’s an inescapable sense of freedom and freshness at play in “Killzone: Shadow Fall,” the series debut for the brand new PlayStation 4 console. Freedom, because as a launch title it is far removed from comparisons to established contemporaries. Freshness, because Guerrilla Games has taken Killzone back to formula, and crafted a fresh product that holds its predecessors in reverence, but also rockets forwards with grand ambition.

Carved in half

Jumping ahead 30 years after the events of “Killzone 3,” “Shadow Fall” brings gamers to a new Cold War between the ISA and the Helghast. The planet Vekta has been carved in half, divided by a massive wall of steel, glass and concrete. As tensions mount in areas bordering on the wall, Players step into the boots of Shadow Marshal Lucas Kellan, an ISA agent carrying out black-bag operations on both sides of the wall.

I won’t get into the storyline, as it is a real joy to experience, and hopefully will lead to bigger and better things for “Killzone.” The setting is wondrously deep, and takes players further than they’ve ever been, on both sides of the ISA/Helghast conflict.

Built with more cautious play in mind than most shooters in the post “Modern Warfare” world, “Killzone: Shadow Fall” shocks with the open design of its levels. But it’s not a playground in the same sense as fare from Crytek; here, players are encouraged to divide and conquer, to separate clusters of Helghast and try not to engage enemy groups larger than what can be eliminated in the span of a few breaths.

Games have been advertising this sort of freedom of choice for almost a decade, but “Killzone: Shadow Fall” indoctrinates players in the world of stealth. Moreover, it makes it fun without relying on obvious set pieces such as striking from air ducts (though plenty of these Batman-inspired antics do exist).

Kellan sneaks across enemy lines, eliminates targets both singular and plural, and uses a remote drone called OWL to perform a handful of support tasks such as surveillance, suppression fire, jam enemy shields, etc. These are all performed with directional swipes of the Dualshock 4’s touch pad, which proves that it can and should be used to present new control ideas for game design that couldn’t have been possible a year ago.

The OWL Drone is combined with Kellan’s other abilities, such as a pulse scan that can reveal enemy locations (but if used too heavily will send out feedback that does the same to Kellan), or an adrenaline shot that not only temporarily restores health, but slows down time to allow for a quick escape, or an odds reversal in a tight spot. They all let the gamer feel empowered in a game that boasts some beastly difficulty.

The main campaign in “Killzone: Shadow Fall” is great — even in the wake of the total blast I had with “CoD Ghosts” last week.

It throws everything from aforementioned assassination missions to all out skirmish with Helghast Platoons, and even features a couple of spine-tingling encounters with building-sized war machines that made our jaws drop in “Killzone 3.”

I didn’t get to spend much time with the multiplayer, as I won’t own a PS4 myself until the early months of 2014 (hopefully), but Wargames mode seemed impressive, adding in a series of extra challenges in between deathmatch skirmishes, adding ranks as objectives are accomplished.

Another mode pits groups of snipers against one another with one life, one gun, and no radar. Again, a cool addition, but I want to dive deeper before I advise the game strictly for multiplayer fun.

I was concerned, heading into the PS4/Xbox One era, that we weren’t going to be seeing a large advancement in visuals. I say that every time a new console launches, and every time there is one game that reaches out of the screen and slaps me in the face with how good looking it is.

“Killzone: Shadow Fall” is a visual monster, with 1080p resolution, concrete frame rate, and no shortage of graphical tricks to make the new toy in the house an instant favourite.

It’s got pretty much everything an FPS fan could want, and is a must have for PS4 owners above the age of 17.

“Killzone’s” big PS4 debut casts a very long shadow over the entire FPS genre.

Platform: PlayStation 4

Developer: Guerrilla Games

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

Release Date: Nov. 15, 2013

Rated: M for Mature.

Walking through the wastes of the digital frontier, Jon Mercer fights a lonely war against the nefarious agents of boredom and mediocrity. If you seek his help, or wish to join his cause, send a communiqué

via thejonmercer@gmail.com.

Organizations: PlayStation 2, Microsoft

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  • Timothy Taylor
    November 20, 2013 - 09:00

    Sounds like a game to look for when I eventually get a PS4. Thanks for the review!