From The Shadows...
First things first - if you only buy one game to show off your new PlayStation 4, make it Killzone Shadow Fall. The latest in Guerrilla Games' series of science-fiction shooters is a graphical wonder that really has the next-gen difference, and from a technical point of view it's head and shoulders above the other PS4 launch games.
Its futuristic world is realised in staggering detail, filled with atmospheric lighting effects that you can scarcely believe, and pushed out by the PS4 at an eye-watering 1080p resolution and a very steady frame rate. It's a big step up, and Guerrilla's artists make the most of it, creating a sci-fi universe with a realistic tinge that you feel like you can reach out and touch.
That world, to begin with anyway, is Vekta, home planet of the ISA, the series' good guys. Or are they? The themes and tone of this latest Killzone are quite different from the previous games, which were straight wartime adventures that pitted you against a race of evil space Nazis, the Helghan. But in Shadow Fall, 30 years later, planet Helghan has been destroyed by the ISA and the Helghans and Vektans live side by side in Vekta City, which is divided into two by a giant wall - like a futuristic version of Berlin during the Cold War.
So the mood is more spy games and intrigue than all-out war, and the game takes pains to show that it's not a black-and-white situation. The Vektans are up to some dirty tricks too, while the Helghans' suffering is real.
Into this complex set-up arrives our hero, Lucas Kellen, an ISA Shadow Marshal - a sort of secret black ops soldier. Playing as Lucas, you start out running search-and-rescue and clean-up missions, but you soon get dragged into a conspiracy involving a Helghan terrorist group called the Black Hand and a secret ISA research project. The story's not quite as clever as it thinks it is, but it keeps things moving, and it's nice to see a game like this attempt some shades of grey rather than the usual good-versus-evil stuff.
Vekta City is amazingly well realised too, with its two distinct looks and moods. So it's a shame that the game seems to be in a hurry to leave on various trips into space and to other planets, especially in its second half. Still, one of these - no spoilers - is so spectacular a location that it's hard to complain.
Most importantly though, Killzone's gameplay has improved for the better in this latest instalment. It still has that meaty, slow-paced feel, and the aggressive enemy AI, but the levels are larger and more open, giving you some genuine tactical options about how you approach combat. You're helped out there by your OWL drone, a flying support robot that you can command to attack, shield you, stun enemies or run a zipline to lower areas - a fun way to get around and sneak up on your foes.
While some later levels become a bit more of a Call of Duty-style corridor, it's still solid and entertaining stuff and overall the campaign mode is a better, more substantial offering than you get on most shooters these days.
Thank You For Your Custom
On the multiplayer side, Shadow Fall introduces Custom Warzones, a new, super-flexible approach that allows you to design and share your own game types. This is still shaking out, but the potential is definitely there for the Killzone community to throw up some classics the game designers would never have thought of.
The basics are sound, too - the three classes, with their OWL-inspired support turrets and special abilities, are well distinguished from each other and fun to play, while XP grinding is sidelined a bit, with most of the cool toys unlocked from the start. The maps are well designed and of course, you also get Classic Warzone, the quintessential Killzone mode with its changing objectives, and it's still brilliant. You could wish for more varied guns, perhaps, but it all handles beautifully on the excellent Dualshock 4 pad, and at a sharp 60 frames per second in multiplayer too.
Killzone Shadow Fall isn't going to redefine your idea of what a first-person shooter can be on a new generation of consoles - it's not that good. It's a lot like other games on the market, only prettier. But it's a spectacular, enjoyable and supremely solid game - just the start PS4 needs!
GAME's Verdict: 8/10
- A true next-gen graphical showcase that will have you gasping in wonder
- Strong, substantial campaign mode with huge levels and tactical depth
- Solid and highly customisable multiplayer
- Doesn't quite deliver on the promise of its early levels
- Storyline is quite dour and not as smart as it seems to think it is
- Some turret and sky-diving set-pieces are frustrating and badly designed