Killzone: Shadow Fall is the release that will make you believe in the benefits of next generation hardware. Guerrilla Games’ first-person launch title shoots down any questions regarding the PlayStation 4’s ability to impress visually, responding emphatically with elegant dappled lighting and richer textures than a mercenary’s bank balance. But while we could compose a Visari-esque soliloquy based upon the graphics alone, is there any depth beneath the exclusive’s orange eyes?
In truth, this may be the most complex entry in the futuristic franchise yet. Our eager hands-on session offered a tour of the title’s many mechanics, which may require more words than the StA-X3’s instructions manual to fully relay. Narrative was not top of the agenda during our time with the game, but for those more out of the loop than Rico without a radio, the sequel takes place around 30 years after Killzone 3, in which the ISA have been forced to coexist on the planet of Vekta with their sworn enemies, the Helghast.
Our demo takes place in a vast jungle environment, underlining a colossal change for the characteristically cold series. The bleak vistas from the previous titles appear to be a thing of the past, replaced by animated foliage and bright skies. It really does look incredibly sharp, and it’s not just the incredibly detailed art assets that underline the graphical progression. Drink in the scenery for a second and you’ll witness sunrays dancing through tree leaves, as the breeze breathes life into the nearby pine trees.
The game maintains the same sense of deliberate inertia that has defined the series over the years. In truth, the controls feel a little too sluggish at the moment, as if the game is suffering from some very minor input lag, but we trust this to be top of the Dutch developer’s fix list before the shooter ships later this year. Regardless, the gunplay is as brutal as before, our demo revolving around a single assault rifle with a more focused stream of firepower than a top of the range pump-action Super Soaker.
As previously alluded, though, there’s more to this armoured outing than popping Higs in the gasmask. At the forefront of the added mechanics is the new zipline ability, which allows you to traverse between any objects at range. Using this to sweep between two enemy lookout posts at the opening of our demo allows us to land a couple of aerial attacks, snapping the necks of two unsuspecting foes as we fall from the ziplines above them. The animations are as wince-inducing as ever, the camera lingering as the life drains from the formerly bright-eyed antagonists.
It’s important to note that you can travel pretty much wherever you want in Guerrilla Games’ latest science-fiction excursion. The title isn’t open world in the Saints Row sense, but the levels are sandboxes brimming with objectives and activities. The jungle mission that we tackle offers two major forks in the road: we can travel right to shutdown the Helghast’s radio tower, or left to rendezvous with our good-tempered comrades. Closing down the enemy’s communications isn’t compulsory, but it makes infiltrating the rundown base that houses our allies much more manageable.
And it’s not just the objectives themselves that utilise a freeform approach, as you’ll have access to a variety of tactical options, too. Pushing up on the d-pad launches a sonar radar which allows you to temporarily observe the patterns of your enemies. This enables you to adopt a prone position and sneak through the environments, offing antagonists with melee attacks. However, holding the button down for too long causes the gizmo to overheat, attracting the attention of the Helghast, and squandering your cover. As such, there is a very deliberate danger associated with assuming a muted approach.
It’s a tactic that you will need to employ, though, as the Higs are not forgiving foes. The aggressive enemies will sound alarms should you find yourself spotted, resulting in scenarios in which you’ll swiftly be overwhelmed. Your options in these instances revolve around OWL, a tactical drone augmented with a laundry list of abilities. You can cycle between these by swiping on the touchpad, or launching a radial menu with the more traditional trigger buttons.
Upon your command, the cyborg companion can deploy a fluorescent shield, allowing you to return fire in open environments without soaking up damage. It can also be employed as a makeshift turret, quickly dispatching the enemies that you ask it to. And lastly, it can release an explosive charge, temporarily shocking your foes while you rush in for the killer blow. Understanding the intricacies of these many mechanics will likely require a much more considered introduction than our demo allowed, but we have confidence that Guerrilla Games will deliver in that area.
The final ability in your already exaggerated arsenal allows you to make a last stand in dire situations. Hitting down on the d-pad temporarily slows time in a Call of Duty set piece-esque style, enabling you to carefully pop the skulls of your adversaries while you get a quick jolt of life. Considering the unforgiving nature of the Helghast, this is an exceedingly useful addition, and it certainly adds to the illusion that you’re a ruthless murdering machine.
And that is still ultimately the underlying appeal of the title, so if this generation has left you fatigued of first-person shooters, then the PS4 exclusive is unlikely to re-energise your enthusiasm. For those that still have the stomach for another action-focused affair, though, this is shaping up to be an uncharacteristically colourful and deceptively dense adventure. Whether the title can finally fulfil the franchise’s potential remains to be seen, but we have high hopes based on the brief, beautiful snippet that we’ve sampled.
Are you itching to pull the trigger on Killzone: Shadow Fall? What’s got you most excited about the first-person shooter? Deploy your thoughts in the comments section below.