The Cold War Endures in Killzone: Shadow Fall

New technology meets tense storytelling.


Killzone: Shadow Fall

Picture a Killzone that almost entirely breaks from the earlier entries in the series in its storytelling. Shadow Fall, which is set 30 years after the events of Killzone 3, adopts a Cold War tone. The Intergalactic Strategic Alliance has allowed Helghast refugees to resettle, and the Vektan and Helghast factions live on opposite sides of an enormous security wall with tensions running high between the two sides. In one cutscene, refugees are slowly walked through a security line; those who fail security screenings are pulled aside by armed guards and detained while their friends and spouses scream that a mistake has been made. The scene carries an emotional tension similar to the "fugee-culling" scene from Children of Men as well as the opening City 17 scenes from Half-Life 2. There's an idea of a threat of terrorism as opposed to the ongoing "hot" war of the previous Killzone games that adds something new, and Guerrilla Games has strongly hinted that you will be able to directly play a Helghan storyline (as opposed to disguising yourself as a Helghan soldier for purposes of infiltration in one specific level Killzone 3), allowing you to see the ongoing conflict between the ISA and the Helghans from a different perspective.

This type of storytelling is rare in a video game, but masterful if pulled off correctly. The prisoner line scene works on nothing less than a gut, instinctive level, the members of the line muttering their distrust of the security forces in barely audible tones, a sense of fear marking the scene. These are the moments, as conveyed perfectly here as well as in Half-Life 2 and Spec Ops: The Line where the presence of a police state has gone too far, you can sympathize with anyone living under these conditions, especially in the face of seeing family members segregated and pulled away at the militarized checkpoint you might have to pass through on a daily bais. This is where you'd be willing to fight for the side that's long been considered the bad guys, even if only to reach a stalemate, a sense of equality and a home to call your own.

It's this variation in perspective that could make for the most interesting storytelling of the game. After several entries, continuous conflict between the ISA and the Helghans, invasion, and nuclear fallout, the war between the two sides has dragged on for too long; the two cultures have pounded on each other for years and now share two sides of the same city, albeit in a state of inequality, the security wall marking a clear distinction between what seems to be a Vektan paradise and a Helghast slum. Now, in the midst of resettlement, there come the same questions that come with any long term occupation--a la the 70's/80's Belfast or Israel/Palestine scenario--and the actions both sides might take given these circumstances.

The new PlayStation 4 hardware is also in place to deliver an incredible new story both in terms of appearance and performance. After 90 minutes of gameplay, I was impressed by how the new game flexes its muscles with the PlayStation 4's powerful hardware. The textures, lighting, and shadows were far more impressive than anything current consoles are capable of, new portions of the level loaded without delay and in a sequence where my character was walking through a prisoner line, I could count the threads of the jacket worn by the character in front of me. Impressive, too, was how well the game uses the new PlayStation 4 controller, which feels a little lighter in your hand than the current PlayStation 3 DualShock controller while still feeling solid. The PlayStation 4 controller's built in touch pad allows you to quickly assign offensive, defensive or hacking-oriented tasks to your OWL.

Guerrilla Games has strongly hinted that you will be able to play missions as the Helghans.

What Guerrilla Games is doing with Killzone: Shadow Fall is adding both variety and a larger scale. The game, which the developers claim features 1,500 in-game challenges as well as unlockable weapons and items, will also offer new roles and classes to vary the gameplay: a support class for medic-types, a scout class for those that prefer to snipe from a distance, and an assault class for when you wish to wade into the fray. In addition to new central characters and a new shadow marshal role (essentially a black-ops assassin), a deployable flying OWL drone also helps differentiate Shadow Fall from the franchise's previous entries. The OWL creates shields, brings your character back to life provided an adrenaline injection is available to it, acts as a decoy, creates zip lines for travel, and hacks consoles found throughout the game.

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Killzone has always prided itself on its weapons, and with 22 weapons available to play with at launch, there's generally something for everyone to play with. The M82 assault rifle, stA-52 assault rifle, and stA-18 pistol return from the previous games, and Shadow Fall's standard rifle can switch between a conventional machine gun and what feels like a hybrid of a sniper rifle and a rail gun.

Guerrilla Games has an arresting new approach to missions in Shadow Fall. Where the previous games had you implanted in the middle of a "hot war," going in loud and with little focus on stealth or subtlety, Shadow Fall lets you choose your approach before initiating a mission; the game suggests routes to enter silently or routes to go loud and charge in with guns blazing. If you prefer to keep a low profile, you can sneak through ventilation systems and get behind opponents without drawing attention. Finally, a Tactical Echo mode will allow you to partially see infrared signatures through walls and inform you as to what's around the next corner before you charge in. It's been done before, but it could add a new element to the franchise.

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Shadow Fall's multiplayer game mode isn't the most original, but there's room for it to grow. The game will ship with 10 multiplayer maps and will offer additional free content over the coming months. Multiplayer is centered around the creation of warzones, which allow you to choose the game's rules, equipment and objectives, customizing the match as you see fit. Beyond the standard team deathmatch style demoed on-site, the series' signature Warzone game type returns, in which objectives change every few minutes, keeping you on your toes. Shadow Fall's multiplayer mode throws in the assorted unlockable weapons, challenges, and goodies, but also strips down your character before beginning the round. Remember the exoskeleton and jetpacks you loved to use in the previous games, and the single player mode's OWL? They're gone in this mode, leaving you to fight with fewer gadgets and more gut, relying on your skill for survival. In addition to rewarding players for long kill streaks and impressive kill methods, Shadow Fall's 1,500 challenges also reward cooperative multiplayer gameplay, so there's an incentive to use your character's abilities to heal a wounded teammate or attempt a stealthier set of kills.

There were still a few bugs left to iron out. The artificial intelligence on the NPCs in single player mode was about where it needed to be, but there were still occasions when characters would run into each other or get in the way of the player's movement. This was accompanied by a multiplayer bug in which your character would die, then respawn between two of your opponents who are more than happy to shoot you. Finally, the OWL, while a great tool for the single player campaign, seems to be limited in its offensive capacity. It's empowering to deploy the OWL to help attack your enemies, there's the feeling that not that many of its rounds are hitting or doing that much damage.

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Killzone: Shadow Fall looks ready to offer interesting new elements to the Killzone franchise if executed well. Strong voice acting, incredibly detailed graphics, and a larger map to explore help create a great new world, the OWL drone could make single player gameplay that much more fun, and the chance to play as the Helghans could add an entirely new perspective to the game. This won't be an entirely radical change to the franchise, but it could be what's needed to convey a new kind of story and relaunch the Killzone franchise.

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