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Killzone: Shadow Fall
Score: 75%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Developer: Guerrilla Games
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1; 2 - 24 (Online)
Genre: First Person Shooter/ Online

Graphics & Sound:
These days, it's kind of unreasonable to expect a killer app to release alongside next-generation hardware. It just doesn't happen anymore. What you usually end up with is a handful of quick and dirty ports of titles that have already been out for a while. However, most of them end up with a first party exclusive or two. And Killzone: Shadow Fall definitely fits the bill on that count. While it's definitely a technical and artistic feat, it's not the best in the series. Shockingly, it's not even second best. Shadow Fall rests comfortably in the purgatory between Killzone 3 and Killzone: Mercenary. Despite its undeniable strengths with online multiplayer, its shockingly dull campaign effectively neuters the package.

I distinctly remember the last console generation not impressing me from the start. The technical gap just didn't feel wide enough to merit the hundreds of dollars I'd spent. Of course, as time went by, developers became more comfortable and proficient with the new hardware, and before long, we started seeing some truly amazing things. Killzone: Shadow Fall confidently bucks this trend; it's a fine-looking game that not only looks wonderful from a technical standpoint, but also an artistic one. The relocation of the game's action back to ISA home planet Vekta forces Guerrilla Games to come up with new ways of making our jaws smash against the ground. They accomplish this by making Vekta the anti-Helghan; a gorgeous series of architectural marvels that stand in exquisite contrast to the borderline-uninhabitable wastelands of Helghan. Naturally, you get to see much of this beauty reduced to ruins, and once you cross into the deathscapes of Helghan, the disparity is night and day. As far as the action goes, it's still a satisfying vision of the future; the modernity of some of the weapons may seem primitive when you look at the world around you, but not everything has to go "pew pew pew."

Killzone: Shadow Fall features a rather bizarre soundtrack that mashes up traditional action cues with orchestral fare that sounds almost out of place at times. But oddly enough, it all works just fine. Of course, you'll get your fair share of Hans Zimmer "BWAAAAH"s to pepper the insane on-screen activity. The voice acting is competent, though the script doesn't do the actors any favors. Gunplay sounds don't stack up to Battlefield 4, but perhaps that's an unfair comparison. Each gun sounds unique, and all sound equally lethal, from the deep shocking reports of your standard light machine gun to your default weapon, which sounds kind of like an automatic nail gun.


Gameplay:
Three decades have passed since the end of Killzone 3. The world of Helghan has been all but destroyed by the series of Petrusite explosions that ravaged the planet's surface. This event, known as the Terracide, has left countless Helghast dead and even more without a home planet. So the powers that be in Vekta, in all their wisdom, grant the Helghast half of their own planet as reparations and construct a giant security wall to try and keep the peace. Smart idea: give the psychotic space Nazis who try time and again to exterminate your race an entire hemisphere. Neville Chamberlain would be proud. Of course, not only do the Helghast believe that Vekta already belonged to them in the first place, but they're a little miffed that the Vektans kind of destroyed their planet. Naturally, war breaks out again.

You play as Lucas Kellan, a man orphaned as a child during the mass exodus of Vektans to the other side of the world and taken under the wing of Elliott Sinclair, a Shadow Marshal. The story deals with Kellan's efforts to stop the Helghast from using a superweapon to wipe out the Vektans and claiming the entire planet for themselves. It also deals with the complicated relationship he shares with an idealistic Helghast sniper named Echo. It's a little preachy at times; certain moments in your journey are supposed to make you consider how the innocent people of Helghan are caught in the crossfire. Since this series has taken five games to even attempt humanizing the Helghast (Mercenary being perhaps the best example), I had a very hard time reconciling the handful of seemingly decent civilians with the brutish murderers I'd been fighting since the beginning of the series. Maybe I'm just heartless or something.

So why is Killzone: Shadow Fall's campaign such a letdown? For starters, there's a distinct lack of large-scale conflicts that you actually participate in. When you actually stumble on something huge happening, it's generally from the bay of an aircraft as you leave the mission. Secondly, most of the game is spent simply traversing the environment with no enemies to fight. This can be fine in certain games, but in a series that prides itself on its intense shooting action, it's not really forgivable. It's terribly paced; just when things look like they're about to get good, the mission ends and you're shuttled off to some more relatively boring fare. However, it isn't always like that; there are a handful of memorable watercooler moments; one an exciting chase aboard a fast-moving suspended train, and another an atrocious freefall sequence through the crumbling wastes of Helghan.

Multiplayer is a marked improvement over the Campaign, though it didn't really need much over Killzone 3's to accomplish this. The action makes a remarkably smooth transition to the online space, and the classic game modes all make an appearance. Warzone remains the best of the bunch; constantly shifting objectives makes the game much, much more exciting than any traditional Deathmatch.


Difficulty:
Killzone: Shadow Fall is generally fair when it comes to difficulty, though there are a handful of particularly frustrating encounters. Most of these deal with the protection of certain areas in the environment, and they feature enemies that can show up nearly anywhere on the map. Once you realize that you've got Helghast in front of you and behind you, you might want to restart a checkpoint. Of course, there's always the option of simply hanging back and taking potshots, but where's the fun in that?

In some parts, this game is only as difficult as you choose to make it; due to the more open nature of Shadow Fall's environments, you'll have stealth options more often than not, and firefights will only start when you slip up or choose to unload on your enemies. The tools at Kellan's disposal are fun to use, though you will certainly use some more than others.


Game Mechanics:
Killzone: Shadow Fall controls much better than any other game in the series. Moving, looking, and aiming is as slick as it is in any Battlefield or Call of Duty game, a noted departure from Killzone 2 in particular. The only part of locomotion that is questionable is jumping, which, in every case, will slow you down to a near stop.

Lucas Kellan, being a Shadow Marshal, has access to specialized weapons and gadgets that the heroes of Killzone games past did not. His main weapon is a gun that is able to transform from an automatic assault rifle to a sniper rifle that fires beams of energy. You'll probably stick with this gun whenever you can.

Kellan also has access to his own personal OWL, a hovering drone that is basically a flying Swiss Army Knife. It can attack enemies, hack terminals, unleash EMP attacks, produce personal energy shields, and even deploy zip-lines to specific areas. The OWL is mapped to the primary directions on the DualShock 4's touch pad; so if you want the OWL to do something specific, you'll have to swipe up, down, left, or right. It works well enough, though it's admittedly a gimmick. Speaking of the DualShock 4, the light on the back of the controller goes from green to red as you take damage. It's a neat effect.

So Killzone: Shadow Fall makes it seem as if the franchise is suffering through some growing pains. However, the improved controls and stunning presentation certainly give the impression that it's going to be heading in the right direction very soon. Let's hope that they bring the big guns next time.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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