REVIEW: Killzone Shadowfall – the bold and the beautiful of next-gen gaming

KILLZONE Shadowfall represents a bold yet beautiful u-turn for one of Sony’s most important IPs.

At the risk of alienating the action-hungry Killzone faithful, Guerilla Games has created a launch title that demonstrates the PlayStation 4’s (PS4) graphical prowess while notably redefining how the series plays.

I’m not sure what impressed me more: the stunning vistas that, at glorious 1080p seemingly bring Vekta to life, or the new control scheme that feels fast, responsive, and a great technical demonstration of the DualShock 4’s capabilites.

Image of KiIllzone Shadowfall
Lighting plays an important role in Killzone’s visuals

Among the long list of improvements and additions to the series’ gameplay are:

– Gameplay is less linear;
– There are elements of stealth gameplay;
– Guerilla Games has revamped the controls to that of a tightly-controlled shooter;
– Visually, they’ve also introduced a variety of colours; and
– Importantly, Guerilla has utilised the DualShock 4’s touchpad to allow you to control the OWL – your personal combat drone.

Whereas Battlefield 4, Assassin’s Creed 4 and other cross-generational games look like upscaled and slightly more detailed titles on next-gen consoles, Killzone Shadowfall looks like a game made specifically for Sony’s powerful platform.

From the vast cities that dominate the horizon, to the finer details like the way lights cast the tiniest shadows against bumps on people’s faces, the game will have you stopping to inspect the detail of the textures, levels and general environment many times throughout the campaign.

The increased resolution – 1080p – means every pixel on your HDTV is utilised. I couldn’t spot a jagged edge while playing, suggesting that anti-aliaising is also in effect to a certain degree.

Coupled with the visual feast is an aural experience second to none. Pumping through my surround sound, Killzone Shadowfall became truly immersive. Sounds seemed realistic and dependent on environmental variables – gunfire, in particular, was most noticeable here.

On the gameplay front, the two biggest innovations focus on the DualShock 4.

Guerilla Games has revamped the controls from the heavy, hard-to-aim effort they were in previous titles to a snappy, responsive and therefore unobtrusive formula.

As a result, you’ll no longer die in frustration because you missed an enemy while trying to compensate for slow reticule movement.

The other major control innovation is the touchpad and its implementation as a tool to control your OWL.

Swiping up, down, left or right selects which function you’d like the OWL to perform. Then you aim at your target and press L1 to make it fly towards its target, deploy a shield in front of you, grapple to a lower platform, or expel an EMP blast in a chosen location.

It took the first level to adapt to using the touchpad, and I can understand why some people might not enjoy it, because in a similar vein to motion controls you might question whether the touchpad’s inclusion is necessary or simply novel.

But the touchpad allows the D-pad to be used for weapon selection, and allows you to use your left thumb to aim and press L1 as you switch OWL modes on the fly.

I also noticed that you can swipe anywhere on the touchpad for the control to register, meaning you don’t have to take your hand too far from the buttons once you master the OWL.

On that note, the attack mode for your drone was too easy to use throughout the game without having to rely on any other feature. It’d be great to see Guerilla craft a sequel whereby all OWL purposes must be employed regularly.

Because of the more open nature of the level design, the game’s enemies present a bigger threat.

They’re no longer part of a script, but rather they’re present and in large numbers. Therefore, you’ll need to be smarter about how you handle things.

This is where Killzone Shadowfall enters a strange new territory whereby the player – of a series that has relied previously on over-the-top action – must sneak around taking down enemies using melee kills before engaging with harder to reach Helghan infantry.

Late in the game there’s a sequence where this stealth aspect is taken to a whole new level, and the results are fantastic – perhaps a nod to Guerilla’s intentions for single player DLC or perhaps the next Killzone game.

Image of Killzone Shadowfall
Stunning vistas are the backdrop to the action taking place in Vekta city.

I must also note that the Helghan infantry is not comprised of the smartest Helghan minds. Rarely do enemies work together to flank you, showing that Guerilla Games has some work to go refining enemy AI for its next title.

Multiplayer is back with a vengeance, and it’s a welcome retreat from the bog-standard Call of Duty and Battlefield formulas.

Although I love the latter, it’s great fun running around Killzone’s lush levels at 60fps dropping shields, healing team mates and surprising enemies, especially with Killzone Shadowfall’s tight new controls.

The downside is that Shadowfall is not the premier online shooter at launch, and so at times I noticed that only 600 or so people were playing its multiplayer mode.

Given the game can be customised – Guerilla Games calls these ‘Warzones’ – it would have been nice to see some objective based gameplay or unique twists on standard team deathmatch.

But, alas, it was not to be, and without stronger support I’m worried that Killzone Shadowfall’s multiplayer will die-out very quickly.

For an extra $29 I was able to purchase a season pass which promises a new four-player cooperative mode. I simply can’t wait to see what Guerilla Games does with co-op in Shadowfall.

I also have the strong urge to replay the campaign on a tougher difficulty. I want to experience Shadowfall again, and take notice of details I perhaps missed or overlooked the first time around.

In conclusion, Shadowfall is the best-looking next-gen game at launch for either console and its improved controls and single player campaign should give it a broader appeal.

However, it will be scrutinised harder than previous titles for its launch-title status, and while it’s not necessarily a system seller, it comes dangerously close.

What its legacy should be, though, is a symbol of Guerilla Games’ willingness to boldly u-turn and take an important IP in an exciting new direction. Other developers could learn from this, and as gamers we should embrace it.


KZSF gold

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