Killzone is an odd series. For Sony, it’s a pretty big deal – it’s their First-Person Shooter; probably the franchise in their roster with the most mainstream, cross-over appeal. But for many fans of First-Person Shooters, it’s seen as an awkward outsider. Conversations about it never last long, falling quickly into debates about other shooters, like Halo or Call of Duty, rather than about Killzone itself. Guerrilla Games’ Killzone: Shadow Fall, the sixth entry in the series; goes some way to explain why that might be, a game we can sum up in just two words: Unfocused. Potential.
For early adopters, this may be your very first experience of the PlayStation 4, and in those first moments, you’ll likely be impressed. Killzone: Shadow Fall is stunning to behold. It really is a symphony of light and colour, highlighting environment and character design worthy of the most expensive sci-fi blockbuster. No other next-gen launch title looks this good, and that’s not because of particles or polygons, numerous though they may be, it’s down to artistry and vision. The world is soaked in atmosphere, which makes it all the more disappointing when you discover how hollow it all is.
Despite the confident visuals, Shadow Fall The Game can’t decide what it wants to be. Sometimes it behaves like the thinking man’s shooter; a Half-Life or a Bioshock – full of political agendas, audio-logs and scripted moments of violence and oppression. Then something will explode and you’ll be running along a noisy, linear roller coaster in the Call of Duty mould. But most often of all, you’ll be wondering around large, open levels; wondering where the hell you need to go and what exactly you need to do.
It’s not that the game is badly way-pointed – it’s just a game that embraces linear exploration – not too dissimilar from early First-Person Shooters like Duke Nukem and Doom. Multiple objectives, backtracking, hidden weapons… When it works, it’s downright refreshing; but the game never commits to this style, introducing ideas it strips away or abandons almost immediately, never developing or finding an identity of its own. The mindless action and thoughtful world-building are failures too – neither establishing proper stakes; nor escalating as events roll on.
It’s really disappointing, because taken in isolation, so much of what makes up Killzone: Shadow Fall is really cool. For example, you are, sometimes, accompanied by your OWL, a flying robot drone you can command with the left bumper and quick swipes of the PS4’s touch pad. There’s a lot going on with this thing – it can attack enemies, stun them, shield you, hack systems, revive you when you’ve been knocked down and fire a zip line for traversal. But cases where you need these features – or better yet, can choose to use them dynamically, are very few and far between. It’s almost as if the controls and levels were designed without each other in mind, then bound to a set of enemies and goals that are mind-numbingly routine.
In the end, Killzone Shadow Fall is a game at war with itself. On the surface, it’s a jaw dropping next-gen masterpiece, but underneath, it feels over a decade old. For some, it will be a reminder of what shooters used to be – a gallery of dumb targets roaming around inside a maze – and in its best moments; that’s a good thing. But Guerrilla have no conviction in this classic design – their levels have no mystery – and they fail to evolve the basic structure in any meaningful or satisfying way. Promoted as the must-have exclusive on the PlayStation 4, it’s bound to turn a few heads, but for now, Killzone remains the definition of Unfocused Potential.