Killzone: Shadow Fall takes place shortly after the events of PlayStation 3 exclusive Killzone 3, as the ISA and Helghast are forced to co-inhabit the planet Vekta. Living together in peace is not on the agenda for either faction, however, as the Helghast fight to push the humans out of their own home. This location has been the source of many battles throughout the series, but this time the two sides are determined to end the war once and for all.

The narrative is both emotional and exciting during the high points, but it largely remains vague and under-developed. Still, it’s interesting to see the story from both groups’ point of view, and the events at least move along at a solid pace. It also provides window dressing for a host of beautiful environments that offer a welcome change from previous instalments. From pushing back the Helghast while leaping from high-speed trains to watching your footing as buildings collapse around you, there is really very little repetition which results in each chapter feeling unique.

Conversely, the combat is largely what you should expect from an entry in Guerrilla Games’ popular property: heavy and brutal. The weaponry is believable, and the movements and animations suit the setting. The artificial intelligence is drastically better than previous titles, too, and can really test your abilities in certain areas. If you knock out a Helghast communications system, the orange-eyed foes will sniff out your whereabouts and increase their patrol guards in an effort to catch you out. They also have the ability to sound alarms, forcing you to either deal with endless waves of grunts or quietly hack the appropriate panels to stop the onslaught.

The only real issue with the action, then, is just how infrequently the battles actually occur. In most chapters, enemies are spaced very far apart, and that breaks the fluidity of the combat somewhat. With the firefights being so satisfying and entertaining, it would have been nice to experience a little more of them throughout the campaign.

Regardless, there are new additions to the gameplay, too. The OWL, a small robotic attack drone, can be employed by swiping the touchpad on the DualShock 4. You’ll be able to use this device to act as a shield, a stun weapon, a zip-line, and an attack decoy. Even better, if you have an adrenaline pack, the OWL can also revive you in the event that the Helghast take you down. The touchpad actually works well here, allowing you to toggle between your options extremely quickly. It’s an amazing tool that adds a decent amount of depth to the combat, and while it can be easy to forget how useful the option is at the start the game, it completely changes the tides of battle as you soldier on towards the conclusion.

At times, various puzzles present themselves, forcing you to complete certain goals like opening locked doors, starting a nuclear reactor, or disabling machinery. While at first the conundrums – involving the use of canisters and canister ports – offer an interesting change of pace, they overstay their welcome by reappearing multiple times throughout the story. Another major gripe pertains to the fact that it can often be difficult to determine what you’re supposed to be doing. Granted, a tap of the d-pad will point you in the direction of your next objective, but it’s often unclear or even misleading.

Still, the sheer gameplay variety on offer is an enormous change for the series, with stealth comprising an important aspect in many chapters. In some situations it works well, too, but it mostly feels like a poor substitute for the much more satisfying heavy combat. With the awesome guns and OWL drone, you can sometimes end up feeling a little silly trying to sneak around when you clearly have the firepower to deal with your foes. Furthermore, a couple of forced stealth segments are frustratingly difficult and unnecessarily impede the pace of the game.

Those who wish to look around and explore the amazing environments will be rewarded with a slew of collectibles. From audiotapes that play directly through the DualShock 4 controller’s speaker to a full Killzone-based comic book, there’s plenty to keep completionists busy. It makes for a great excuse to drool over the gorgeously rendered world, which is dripping with next generation textures and lighting effects.

It’s the multiplayer where the title shines the brightest, though. The maps are amazing well laid out and offer various routes and methods for you to overcome the enemy. Well choreographed teamwork is rewarded by the multiple paths, as you coordinate flanking manoeuvres in groups. The spawn killing issues of previous titles have already been countered by the placement of impenetrable barriers and extremely powerful unmanned guns in and around the area of each faction’s base.

All of the weapon and class abilities are unlocked from the start of the game, making it accessible for individuals who are intimidated or lack the time to unlock everything from the off. This means that a brand new player will not be at an equipment disadvantage to an opponent with hundreds of hours under their belt. Each firearm is well balanced and offers enough flexibility that you won’t feel forced to use a particular loadout over and over.

Even though everything is unlocked from the offset, using the same weapons and class abilities repeatedly will boost said items. For example, frequently using the shield will unlock rewards making the defensive option more potent. The best player in each faction is also included in a brief cinematic at the end of each mission allowing skilled players to show off.

Irritatingly, despite the team focus, the multiplayer mode lacks the ability to voice chat between group members. Considering the fact that the PS4 actually comes bundled with a headset, it’s an odd omission – especially when this was such a common feature on the PlayStation 3. It’s still possible to Party Chat with friends while you’re playing, but this is a workaround for a problem that really shouldn’t exist to begin with.

Of course, we couldn’t conclude without a longer look at the graphics, because this game is utterly astonishing. As previously alluded, the real-time lighting, rain, dust, and particle physics all running at a fairly flawless 60 frames-per-second in multiplayer make this one of the best looking games to date. The lens flare effects can be a little bit distracting at times, but it’s difficult to fault the visuals or audio anywhere else. The single player may half the framerate, but the experience looks absolutely phenomenal throughout.

Conclusion

Despite being beyond brilliant at times, Killzone: Shadow Fall misfires in many of the same areas as previous entries. It undoubtedly does an exceptional job of demonstrating the power of Sony’s next generation system, but the single player pacing issues and narrative flaws let it down. These issues are accentuated by the fact that the core combat and multiplayer is outstanding – even if the lack of voice chat augments an unnecessary obstacle when communicating with your team. Still, while these issues aren’t game breaking, it feels like there’s always a problem lurking in this otherwise exceptional exclusive’s shadow.