Reviews
Killzone Shadow Fall

By Seán O'Sullivan - January 5th, 2014

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Killzone Shadow Fall is only available on PS4, which makes it a special kind of launch title. This exclusivity serves to demonstrate the power of the new hardware without inviting “so what” comparisons to the granular upgrades over current gen versions, or snobbery from PC gamers who can run multiplatform titles with more effects on. If this is what you desire from a launch title, Killzone Shadow Fall can be easily recommended, but if you want something fun to play, you’d best look elsewhere.

I haven’t played through any of the previous Killzone games, but this numberless sequel seemed like an inviting title to jump in on. At first, I was worried that the story made no sense because of its expectation that I’d be familiar with the world and its characters, but after a while I realized the story made no sense because of is cack-handled exposition and inane attempts to tie set-pieces together.

A worthless story would be fine if the gameplay was worthwhile, but here Killzone falls even harder. It’s a standard Halo/Call of Duty hybrid, in which the player navigates through combat bowls and corridors, slaying enemies and activating the next objective wotsit in service of the voice squawking in the hero’s ear. The player is accompanied by a drone that can attack enemies, hack electronics, provide a shield, and fire zip-lines, which sounds great in principle, but falls short of being interesting in practice.

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The gorgeous world of Killzone seems to lack physical substance.

Part of the trouble is that the game does a remarkably bad job of explaining the rules of the world. The tutorial sequence sets up the basic movement and shooting controls, but fails to lay a foundation to prepare the player for the game proper. It feels as though it was put together separately from the rest of the game, and this is reinforced by the different levels. There’s a total lack of visual design to cue the player into what can be interacted with and what can’t. The first major combat bowl is surrounded by cliffs, and determining what can be mantled onto requires pressing the protagonist’s nose against each surface until a button prompt appears. There’s no hint whatsoever; some games use climbable vines, or provide a gentleman’s agreement that shoulder-height walls can clambered on – Killzone demands that you feel your way around like a blind man in a new hotel room. Some sections require that you open doors, which require a button press to open, but figuring out which doors can be interfaced involves grinding up against them until you’re satisfied that a button prompt isn’t coming.

This utterly incompetent design blights every single level. It’s easy to get lost in the “samey” corridors, or hit a brick wall to progress because you didn’t run your crosshair over the hotspot in the room and press a button to unlock the next sorry slice of next-gen entertainment. Don’t mistake this for “old school” design – I have played through the likes of Doom and Quake, and while these classics often featured obtuse logic in level design, they weren’t as blithely opaque as the rubbish on offer in Killzone Shadow Fall.

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“Excuse me. Can you please point me in the direction of the fun? Thanks!”

If you’re going to have a game with such staccato pacing, you’d at least hope that the environments that you will be poking around in are interesting; but sadly, that’s not the case here. Half Life 2 set the bar for world-building back in 2004, and Guerilla’s attempt to capture a similar sci-fi dystopia comes across as a crude forgery of its City 17. The desperate inhabitants are wonky Chuck-E-Cheese automatons who activate in your presence, spout their woesome lines, then awkwardly return to their robotic idle animations. You’ll meet mission-critical personnel in the field who talk to you, but won’t necessarily look at you while they do if you’re not in the exact spot that the game designers hoped that you’d stay on. They’ll awkwardly hand you things, remaining at full-arm extension in perpetuity while they wait for you to claim your Terribly Important Macguffin. The combat environments are similarly uninteresting, with a paucity of physics objects to exert force on or items to shatter, robbing the world of a feeling of physicality. When enemies die they flop over as if their batteries suddenly expired, rather than selling the violence being enacted on their bodies.

Are you getting the picture yet? This game is not worth your time. Mosey outside of the confines of the game world and it’s instant demise. It doesn’t matter if that drop is only 3 feet and you’re used to dropping 15 at a time – the punishment for taking an interest in somewhere you’re not supposed to go is instant death. It doesn’t matter if the supremely restrictive zip-line allows you to connect to geometry outside of the invisible allowed zone – if you dare pass the arbitrary line, it’s death for you, with added repetition of tedious sections. And speaking of tedium, Killzone positively wallows in it: one section simulates in vivid detail a futuristic TSA line. Airport security is not fun in real life, but when your entertainment time is given over to simulate it, it’s excruciating.

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I felt like doing this more than once while playing this game.

Killzone Shadow Fall may look stunning at times, but more often than not it will exhaust your patience and disrespect your time. It’s heartbreaking to consider the multitudes of people who pumped years of effort into this game for launch (and some set-pieces reek of high-production budgets), but it feels as though barely any consideration was given to ensuring that the faithful players would have good time.

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