Killzone: Shadow Fall PS4 Review: Setting a Low Bar for Next-Gen Shooters

The future is here, and it's a lot like the past, except prettier... and less fun.

Preview by Jeremy Parish, .

I feel like I really ought to enjoy Killzone: Shadow Fall. It has many of the qualities I enjoy in a first-person shooter: A strong emphasis on story in its single-player mode, an elaborate futuristic world, varied level design, and a willingness to stray from the corridor shooter style so common to the modern FPS. Yet somehow, I detest it.

You see, along with all these sterling qualities, Shadow Fall includes a slate of poor choices, all brought together in a stitched-together hodgepodge of ideas plucked from every million-selling shooter of the past decade. Usually the worst ideas. You love escort missions, right? First-person jumping challenges? Scripted sequences with unclear, constantly changing directives that can only be cleared by scrupulous memorization via trial and error? Sudden, arbitrary mechanical changes in sections featuring skills you never knew your character had?

Killzone includes all of these things, and they're every bit as terrible here as they were in the other games where you hated them the first time around. Unlike those other games, though, Killzone lacks a real personality to call its own. It's more like a soulless run-through of a "bad FPS design cliché" checklist. Don't get me wrong -- I honestly do believe developer Guerrilla Games has invested a tremendous amount of care and effort into crafting the series' universe. I just don't feel like they hit the mark. The world of Killzone features two races of humanoids who hate each other a lot and treat one another with equal awfulness as they each plot their rival race's total extinction. Having slogged through the miserable fruits of their rivalry, I feel like the universe would be better without either faction and regret the fact that the linear narrative doesn't offer you the option to just blow up the planet they share so unhappily.

Brought to you by that one bit in Half-Life 2.

Shadow Fall's is a story defined by its deeply unlikable characters, all framed by empty posturing against war and racism even as the player is forced to occupy the jackboots of a special agent who grimly proclaims his determination to find "justice" (read: Shoot everyone) as his commander spouts jingoistic homilies. Its narrative feels stiff and disjointed, with awkward transitions and unbearable, canned dialogue. You're often forced to undertake actions that make no sense. Several times your character watches helplessly as villains decide not to kill him but rather to spout exposition at him, in the tradition of ham-fisted fiction everywhere. There's no sense of urgency to the story; it just sort of rumbles from one nonsense plot point to the next without ever offering a real sense of stakes, let alone a sympathetic hook into the narrative.

But who plays shooters for their plots, right? Unfortunately, I felt just as disconnected from Killzone's gameplay as I did its narrative. Its guns have no heft, aiming feels slippery, and combat is an utter chore. There's no joy in playing Killzone, either single- or multi-player, and its tendency to switch around player capabilities seemingly on a whim further mutes the enjoyment. The game delights in changing the rules of what your protagonist is capable of, and it further erodes the experience -- especially on the unfortunate occasions when the game enters its absolutely execrable freefall mode.

The bad guys, the Helghast, manage to be the least interesting enemies I've ever shot by the truckload in an FPS. They're an entire army of identical-looking men who use the same basic tactics with trivial differences; there's Guy Who Shoots At You, Guy Who Shoots At You With a Sniper Rifle, Guy Who Shoots At You While Rushing You As He's Protected By A Riot Shield, and late in the game the toughest variant, Guy Who Has A Regenerating Energy Shield Just Like The Elites From Halo, appears in droves. This limited set of masked men comprise your foes from beginning to end, and the more of them you fight at once, the more boring they become.

Rather than build challenge by giving the Helghast interesting tactics, the designers just relied on that old standby of sending them out in large numbers and making them unreasonably aware of the player's position. You can duck behind cover and they'll track you as you're out of sight; you can pop up from hiding when their backs are turned and the instant you expose a pixel of your protagonist's hit box, they'll instinctively know you're vulnerable and turn to gun you down. No matter what other threat hems in the Helghast on the battlefield, their first priority is to take aim at you... even as, say, a high-powered gunship blasts them to pieces.

The bad guys, the Helghast, comprise your foes from beginning to end, and the more of them you fight at once, the more boring they become.

While Killzone remains a first-person shooter through and through, the game style changes from level to level. The first feels like Crysis with its semi-open setting and bright jungle environs in searing daylight, while the second stage is more akin to Dead Space: Players navigate the cramped, dimly lit corridors of an abandoned space station. And then it's on to a shootout in a populated futuristic city taken straight from Halo: Reach. And so on, and so forth. You've played most of Shadow Fall before, but in better games.

In its defense, Shadow Falls tries to do some interesting things. The lunkheaded hero has the useful ability to "scan" the environment and track enemies, even through obstacles. This makes it possible to keep tabs on lots of foes at once, which is especially handy when tracking a squad on a floor above or below the hero. However, it falls flat when the game spawns a group of enemies after you hit certain checkpoints; you can scan for Helghast before reaching a door, find nothing, open the door, and suddenly face a small army of foes that didn't register mere seconds before. Enemy markers also tend to be infuriatingly inconsistent in duration; sometimes the highlighted indicators will remain active for several minutes, while at others they'll fade almost immediately.

The player's second major supplemental boon is a remote drone called an OWL, which alternates between remote gun, shield emplacement, and zipline. It's an invaluable tool, and it adds an interesting new element to combat. The downside? It's so good at gunning down bad guys you'll often be tempted to hang back and let it clear out rooms for you while you stand around and watch highlighted enemy markers flicker out one by one.

Another generic death.

And while you'll find it difficult not to hate just about every single wretched character Shadow Fall throws your way, including the utterly unsympathetic protagonist, the new Killzone does offer one breakout character: A half-blooded free agent code-named Echo. You can tell she's important because she's the first person (of many) to inexplicably decide not to kill the protagonist when she has him helplessly at gunpoint. This happens in the lengthy opening cutscene, presumably to make it clear from the outset that Shadow Fall intends to wallow in clichés; after all, you know when she doesn't shoot you that she'll end up being either your protagonist's ally, his lover, or both. Despite that, she's a decent character (and remarkably well designed in her red-hooded techno-ninja garb), and it's to the game's detriment that she's not a more central figure in the plot.

And if nothing else, Shadow Fall certainly is pretty. Granted, the animation is canned and awkward, feeling like something out of 2005, but the lighting, detail, and color of the visuals are among the best yet seen on a home console. Graphics only go so far, of course, and it's destined to be exceeded by later PS4 games as developers come to terms with the hardware. For now, though, Shadow Fall's greatest success is its effectiveness at showing off the PS4's capabilities.

For all of Shadow Fall's failings, I think what bugs me most about it is that it's yet another first-person shooter that gives players no agency or choice but nevertheless subjects them to moralistic harangues about how they're such mindless sheep to blindly obey the orders handed to them. Its writers clearly think they're making a deep, important statement -- never mind that every BioShock-come-lately has retread this exact same point numerous times over the past few years -- by attempting to make the player feel guilty about the slaughter they've partaken of. Never mind that Shadow Fall doesn't offer any other approaches to its mandatory narrative, or even a non-lethal way to take on enemies. That's fine. After all, there is an alternative: You can simply not play the game.

Jaz Rignall Multiplayer Perspective

I experienced Killzone: Shadow Fall’s multiplayer gameplay at a recent review event. After playing the single-player game for a few hours, I was glad to have the chance to change things up. Killzone’s follow-the-waypoint gameplay isn’t the best FPS action I’ve ever experienced, and frankly I was becoming a little bored of gunning down endless droves of NPCs using the kinds of tricks I haven’t been able to employ effectively since the turn of the century.

So fighting actual people was a nice change of pace, and definitely showed this game in a better light. The environments we played were nicely executed on the whole, but – and let’s face it, with FPS games the devil is in the detail – they just didn’t quite feel as finessed as the arenas in other games. They look good and are varied, from tight indoor environments to more open spaces. But I found some were a little cluttered, and got snagged on stuff like furniutre and plants more than a few times. I’m sure I’ll get used to it, but initially, Killzone just made me feel a little clumsy when it came to navigating the environment smoothly.

But while I felt movement was occasionally a little touch-and-go, I had no problem getting on with the business of dispatching people. The silky-smooth framerate combined with the Dualshock 4 resulted in pinpoint accuracy – something that a camping sniper type like me particularly appreciates.

Ultimately, Killzone: Shadow Fall’s multiplayer is solid, enjoyable and packs some entertaining modes to keep the action interesting. If you have the game, it’ll help extend its playtime long after you’ve completed the single-player mode. It’s not as deep and finessed as COD: Ghosts, and it doesn’t offer the sheer variety and mayhem of Battlefield 4, but it’s a lot of fun – and will be most appreciated by those who love the franchise.

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Comments 25

  • Avatar for gold163 #1 gold163 4 years ago
    Guys, you really should be talking more about the game itself. All you do is complain about the plot while also insisting that it's not good enough to be important. What about multiplayer? Features? Replay value?

    Your RPG reviews are nice because they actually discuss things players are interested in. This review tells me next to nothing valuable as a consumer.
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  • Avatar for Blackcompany #2 Blackcompany 4 years ago
    You often feel disconnected from the gameplay as well as the narrative. Guns have no heft. Aiming feels slippery. Enemies types are few, boring and repetitive. Mechanics often are introduced or changed on the fly without warning.

    From this review I not only gathered that this narrative driven experience has a narrative that sucks, and game play that's just as bad as the narrative. Much like most video games from so-called AAA publishers today.

    How could you NOT know everything you need to know about this game after reading this review?
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  • Avatar for jeremy.parish #3 jeremy.parish 4 years ago
    @gold163 The entire second half of the review is a lengthy complaint about the game design and mechanics.
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  • Avatar for Feanor #4 Feanor 4 years ago
    Is there a reason why this review contains no actual information about the multiplayer?

    USGamer's review of Battlefield 4 doesn't completely ignore the multiplayer component of the game, so why does this review do that?Edited November 2013 by Feanor
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  • Avatar for Scimarad #5 Scimarad 4 years ago
    Considering I've liked all the Killzone games I've played so far (2,3 and Mercenary) I'm pretty confident I'll enjoy this.
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  • Avatar for nickn #6 nickn 4 years ago
    This is pretty much what I expected from Killzone. Resogun it is.
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  • Avatar for rocksteady13 #7 rocksteady13 4 years ago
    @gold163 Totally agree. Sounds more like the reviewer had an issue with the franchise more than this game. Some of the things he listed as negative other reviewers listed as a positive. Even Colin Moriarty who typically doesn't like shooters gave this game an 8. I wasn't really expecting anything revolutionary in gameplay because most launch titles aren't. Anyone remember Perfect Dark Zero on 360? That game had the graphics of an xbox original. At least KZ has stunning visuals. That is really all I ask for in a launch title since the real innovation comes later in the lifecycles.
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  • Avatar for rocksteady13 #8 rocksteady13 4 years ago
    @Feanor I believe multiplayer isn't fully functional yet. Which could be a sign of bad things to come tomorrow.
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  • Avatar for Thusian #9 Thusian 4 years ago
    @rocksteady13 Well this reviewer asks more. I don't think the issues raised have anything to do with a franchise attitude. He spoke to the mechanics, their execution and his lack of satisfaction with them. Grow up your rationalized dismissal of the review ignores the content. Grow up.
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  • Avatar for Thusian #10 Thusian 4 years ago
    @rocksteady13 Well this reviewer asks more. I don't think the issues raised have anything to do with a franchise attitude. He spoke to the mechanics, their execution and his lack of satisfaction with them. Grow up your rationalized dismissal of the review ignores the content. Grow up.
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  • Avatar for rocksteady13 #11 rocksteady13 4 years ago
    @Thusian No need for personal attacks. The whole first portion of the review was about how the author didn't have an option to blow up the planet because he didn't like the narrative of the 2 factions at war. I would define that as a franchise issue. The rest of the review I did not have a problem with because it spoke to the game directly. I just felt the author had his hopes set really high when traditionally launch titles rarely do anything innovative. Titanfall is really the only game that is different and technically it isn't a launch title.
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  • Avatar for gold163 #12 gold163 4 years ago
    @Blackcompany The review is most useful if you are already intimately familiar with the mechanics and conventions of modern shooters and already either love or hate them. I just feel as if it lacks detail and it just resorts to, "you've played this game before" sorts of cynicism that paints the entire genre.
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  • Avatar for gold163 #13 gold163 4 years ago
    @jeremy.parish I noticed, and I'm appreciative of it, but the review raises more questions about how the game plays than it answers. Eurogamer's review went into explicit detail about examples in the game. To your credit, you cover a lot of bases -- the enemies lacking variety and being boring to shoot, the OWL being broken, and the AI being omniscient. But as much as you talk about player capabilities and mechanics switching on a whim, I have no clear idea of what this means without examples. You mention escort missions and scripted sequences but I unless I already have an idea of the game plays I wouldn't know how these conventions really harm the game itself. The review makes the assumption that these sorts of mechanics are just inherently bad without explaining why. And I know your mileage may vary, but an estimation of campaign length and a detailed rundown of the game's features would have been nice. For example, does it feature co-op? I would assume it doesn't, but Killzone 3 did, so I don't know.

    As a side note, I didn't know that multi-player wasn't available at the time of the review (or so other media outlets seem to be saying), so I retract my statement on that point.Edited November 2013 by gold163
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  • Avatar for unclemonkey #14 unclemonkey 4 years ago
    I don't know, I'll wait and make my own mind up.
    I hated Halo 4 for a lot of the same reasons as stated in this review but as I am aware people love that game so I guess it's all down to personal taste.
    I'm sure this will be frowned upon but I'm looking forward to revelling in the game world provided by the high end graphics. I'm not a pc gamer so this will be one of my first experiences of high spec true high deff graphics and I for one will at least enjoy that aspect
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  • Avatar for touchofkiel #15 touchofkiel 4 years ago
    I bought the Killzone Trilogy a while back, and even at $30 I regretted it. Parish is right on the money (even when applied to different games): this series is full of everything wrong with shooters. The villains are bland nazi-likes, while the "heroes" are the worst kind of hoo-rah pastiches who get off on swearing and making homophobic jokes. Enemies are dull and dumb, and what Parish either forgot/didn't know is that: the problems described here are the exact same problems of the entire franchise.

    I thought this one might be a little different - it looks gorgeous and is full of great color - but a common review complaint is that it actually makes it hard to see enemies (in a bad way).

    And the guns feel weak or whatever? The only thing that has ever set this series apart, for me, is the weight of the guns and the characters. So that's disappointing.

    Nice review, though. Don't see why others are complaining - except that they need validation - but I didn't see any problem with the actual content of the review. Such is the internet.
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  • Avatar for scuffpuppies #16 scuffpuppies 4 years ago
    I agree that Perfect Dark was a bad 360 launch title, but it did have its moments. Notably the bridge mission (can't remember the exact name).

    Fighting across that bridge against a number of enemies I'd never seen on a console (12 at any one time, if I remember correctly) was pretty awesome for its day.
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  • Avatar for Thusian #17 Thusian 4 years ago
    @rocksteady13 So launch games should get a pass on bad story telling (which is not a franchise issue its a story issue)? If the story sucks, the story sucks it does not matter if it has always sucked in this franchise. I really don't like the idea that because something is a launch game, thus something that people have hung their rationale for a $400 spend on, it should not be judged against similar games in the same genre which exist on old hardware. Its an especially silly notion this time around where x86 is the hardware base, what is there for devs to wrap their heads around?
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  • Avatar for Feanor #18 Feanor 4 years ago
    @rocksteady13 Then they should have waited to publish the review.
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  • Avatar for rocksteady13 #19 rocksteady13 4 years ago
    @Feanor, I agree they probably should have waited on the review until KZ's actual multiplayer was up and running but then there would be people complaining about waiting :)@Thusian That is the problem I don't feel the review judged it based on pre-existing titles but it seemed like the author had his bar set really high for innovation which is something no day 1 launch game has ever been good at. How does BF 4 and Ghosts get a pass for lack of innovation yet KZ's review gets hammered for it? Especially given the fact that KZ's graphics are superior to both those titles. Stuff like that I feel should have been explained better. That was my main complaint with the review.Edited November 2013 by rocksteady13
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  • Avatar for Thusian #20 Thusian 4 years ago
    @rocksteady13 Well Mr. Parish did not review either of those games so I'm not sure how you can ask for an internal consistency across multiple people. Say what you want about editorial voice, the reviewer is the reviewer and they can only speak to their own experience not anyone else.
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  • Avatar for riseer #21 riseer 4 years ago
    This whole review felt disjointed,it's a Killzone game not halo or BF,COD.Seems like you Mr Parish had the hype meter to a maximum .There are a lot of reviews that gave SF a good score.If you are not a KZ fan then you have no business doing a review on it,it's that simple.Edited November 2013 by riseer
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  • Avatar for tombriggs21 #22 tombriggs21 4 years ago
    @riseer Then I guess no one should review a new IP ever, since they aren't "fans" of it. While RPG's and handheld games seem to be his specialty, I don't think any reviewer out there is more honest than Jeremy Parish.
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  • Avatar for Bla1ne #23 Bla1ne 4 years ago
    I just finished single player portion of the game, and it is definitely NOT a 2/5. While a few segments weren't the greatest decisions on the developer's part (insta-death skydiving sequences, for example) it was overall a very enjoyable game. It adds just enough mechanics on top of basic shooting to be fresh (the OWL and the Sonar), and the shooting itself is tight and smooth. My only complaint with gameplay is that you can't turn off aim-assist...

    Anyways, to anyone who has a PS4 already and who likes FPSs, I definitely recommend Killzone.
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  • Avatar for DopeBoy3010 #24 DopeBoy3010 4 years ago
    You give call of duty 4!!!!!! and yet you give this game 2?!!!!!! i played both and i gotta say it's way better than a game which is the copycat of the previous version.
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  • Avatar for fullyillustrated #25 fullyillustrated 4 years ago
    Well, I was avoiding the reviews, but I wish I hadn't. I was convinced that the reviews were being too harsh, but sadly to say, they were actually being too kind.

    I LOVE this series with a passion. Killzone 2 is still up there as a personal favourite FPS, but within 1hr of switching Killzone 4 on, it was being switched off again. I've not been this irritated by an FPS for as long as I can remember. I'm no FPS master, not by a long haul, but equally, I can finish most reasonably easily. Killzone 4 is unplayably hard. I must have died 20+ on the first level before I gave in. As most reviewers have pointed out, visually identifying the enemies within the environment is damn near impossible, so you end up getting owned by a cluster of enemies that you didn't even know were there. Add into this the fact that if you sit on your ass for 5 seconds to plan an attack, they just air drop a load more enemies on you. How nice.

    I'm K2, you could stealthily creep up on enemies, take cover, pick them off and have a controlled battle, making you feel as though you had even a modicum of skill. But in K4, single player feels more like a free for all multiplayer match.

    Badly designed IMO.

    PS4 is now up for sale on eBay. I'll re-buy when the line-up looks more attractive and stick with my XBOX One.
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