Killzone: Shadow Fall 1

It may be one of the PlayStation 4’s first big exclusives, but Killzone: Shadow Fall finds itself surrounded by heavy firepower. With both Call of Duty: Ghosts and Battlefield 4 set to accompany the release onto store shelves later this year, Guerrilla Games’ next generation excursion to the Alpha Centauri system will need more ammunition than Sony’s meek marketing muscle to succeed. Fortunately, as we attested earlier in the year, the shooter is shaping up nicely – but does its multiplayer component deserve the same high praise as its more widely publicised single player side-order?

Based on our brief hands-on, the answer’s a resounding yes. The impending exclusive is certainly not reinventing the ISA Intruder, but it is packing some interesting improvements that should bring a glimmer to the orange eyes of fans, while also warming newcomers to the franchise’s established brand of team-based action. If you’re not a fan of the first-person genre, then the Dutch developer’s latest symphony of slaughter will do little to change your mind. Deathmatch Anonymous attendees, however, may find a new addiction to fuel their Friday evening sessions.

The snazzy exclusive’s biggest hook revolves around Warzones, but these are no longer merely rigid rounds of rotating online objectives. That functionality is still present and correct, of course, but it’s hiding in a Colonel Radec-sized shadow cast by user-generated content, in-game challenges, and a post-release roadmap that stretches further than Vekta City. This is a familiar affair on the surface – but it’s boasting more modifications than a budding mechanic’s supercharged StA-X6 jetpack.

Killzone: Shadow Fall 2

For the first time in the franchise’s history, you’ll be able to create the Warzones that appeal to you. While the game will ship with a handful of pre-prepared playlists – expect Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, and the usual suspects – it will also come with all of the tools that you’ll need to construct your own custom game rules. These can range from simple tweaks – perhaps you’d like players to focus on your favourite weapon – to that rocket launcher versus IvP-18 shootout that you’ve always dreamed of. The possibilities, as the old cliché goes, are practically endless.

Naturally, the feature would be meaningless if the release didn’t have the chops as a shooter to back up its promise, though. Fortunately, the Dutch developer has put a bullet in any uncertainty by crafting a competitive component that feels more pacey than its predecessors – without losing any of the trademark heft that has set the series apart since its inception.

The map that we got to tour – an artificially illuminated, rain-slicked arena named The Wall – was a fairly condensed affair, but with a dozen more stages included out of the box – and the promise of free competitive multiplayer expansions in the future – there’ll be plenty of flavours for you to form the basis of your Warzones around. As one of the game’s smaller maps, there was little opportunity for us to test out the sequel’s improved spawn placement systems, but we’re earnestly ensured that the issues present in previous titles have been tackled once and for all.

Killzone: Shadow Fall 3

Our demo adopted a simple Warzone spanning two rounds of Search and Destroy – played from offensive and defensive stances – as well as a deciding session of Capture and Hold. For time-based purposes, the custom playlist employed low score thresholds, but these can be tweaked when you’re constructing your own matches. You can also restrict the action to a specific class, with all three of the title’s main player types – the rough and ready Assault, stealth obsessed Scout, and sociable Support – available throughout the duration of our hands-on.

We plumped up for the aforementioned Assault role, kitting out our character with a submachine gun and a shield power-up. Instantly noticeable was the heightened sense of mobility, which allows you to sprint and slide around the world with the athleticism of an Olympic champion. The sequel certainly doesn’t fully shun its weighty origins, but it definitely feels much more nimble than its current generation brethren. This may be a consequence of the title’s faster frame-rate, which adds an all-important immediacy to the controls that the series has often struggled with. Despite this, though, the firearms still feel deadly, making every chirp-affirmed kill all the more satisfying.

The launch title’s other big departure revolves around its progression system. Experience points are no longer pivotal to the experience, with over 1,500 challenges taking their place. All of the game’s weapons will be available from the outset, but you’ll need to complete specific tasks in order to unlock attachments and enhancements. These range from obtaining a certain number of kills and headshots, right through to disarming a bomb with seconds left on the clock and taking out a robust quota of beacon carriers. The number of challenges that you complete will be displayed prominently on your profile, alongside the medals that apply to your playstyle.

Killzone: Shadow Fall 4

These refinements help to give the impression that Guerrilla Games is aiming to nurture a faithful player base beyond the exclusive’s release, and it’s certainly not going to lose its visual lustre moving forwards. The title looks leagues ahead of anything on the PlayStation 3, with atmospheric lighting and high-resolution textures bringing a succulent sheen to the studio’s customary artistic flair. There’s a grimy appeal to the map that we got to try, which is underlined by the churned up mud in its underground trenches and dilapidated architecture. Driving rain connects with the camera as you sprint outdoors, while animated puddles reflect the rippled lighting of far-off spotlights. Even more impressively, despite the improvements in visual fidelity, we didn’t notice too many framerate drops, with the title sticking to its promised 60 frames-per-second surprisingly smoothly.

We pondered whether Sony was putting too much faith into the Killzone franchise earlier in the year, but after the excellent Killzone: Mercenary, we have a feeling that it might be the series’ time to shine. The brand’s inaugural multiplayer outing on next generation hardware may not be breaking much new ground, but it certainly seems like a cleverly constructed community-focused first-person affair with enough hooks to keep it feeling fresh long beyond its launch. Even more impressively, it plays great, with much tighter controls than its predecessors and a far faster flow. The shooter may have some strong competition on the PS4, but perhaps it’s its more high-profile adversaries that should be shaking in their exaggerated armour.

Are you keeping your orange eyes on Killzone: Shadow Fall? Have you already pre-ordered the launch title alongside your next generation console? Is it the single player or multiplayer component that’s got you sweating beneath your replica Helghast helmet? Let us know in the comments section below.