Killzone: Shadow Fall has the distinction of being the first first-person shooter coming to PlayStation 4. Sure, Call of Duty: Ghosts and Battlefield 4 are also headed to the upcoming Sony console, but those traitorous multi-platform titles don’t really count. Shadow Fall is a platform-exclusive from one of Sony’s premiere internal development studios, Guerrilla Games. If anything’s going to showcase what the PS4 hardware offers to serious shooter fans at launch, it’s this game.
Our recent hands-on demo couldn’t possibly give a full sense of how the full Shadow Fall experience delivers, but we can tell you this much: it’s definitely a first-person shooter. Albeit a very pretty one.
Some time later. Killzone: Shadow Fall picks up roughly three decades after the events of Killzone 3. The long-running war between the Interstellar Strategic Alliance (ISA) and the Helghast that played out in the previous games is largely over, with Helghast refugees having been relocated to the lush jungle world of Vekta, populated by the native Vektans. The two communities share the planet, but are separated by towering walls. Resentment runs high, however, and tensions on both sides have created a cold war that threatens to turn into open conflict. This is the state of things as players step into the combat boots of Shadow Marshal Lucas Kellen, a special forces covert operative for the ISA
Search and rescue. Our playable demo drops Kellen into a high-altitude jungle setting, with towering palm fronds and undulating green grasses running right up to the edge of cliffside ledges overlooking sheer drops. The task at hand involves rescuing a missing squad of friendlies, though getting to their behind-enemy-lines location involves taking out a series of Helghast-patrolled security posts. While not every environment in Shadow Fall is so open, this particular chunk of games gives players the opportunity to tackle a series of tasks in any order that they choose.
It’s a shooter. Guess what? Killzone: Shadow Fall feels like a first-person shooter. Surprise! The DualShock 4 turns out to be a great gamepad for this sort of title, much better than its PlayStation 3 predecessor. The outward curve of the L2/R2 buttons, used here for aiming down sights and firing, respectively, feels immediately familiar and natural. It may take some adjustment for those who are used to playing shooters on the PS3, but it’s worth getting the hang of. Insane Killzone purists also have the option of changing up the control scheme to put aim/shoot commands on the L1/R1 buttons instead.
The rest of the controls fall into the standard shooter mold. You can sprint, you can crouch, you can melee (aka facestab)… all of the usual stuff. Pressing and holding up on the D-pad brings up a little meter at the bottom of the screen that fills up slowly. Release the D-pad just before it fills completely and you send out a pulse that highlights nearby enemies through walls and other obstructions. Hold the button down for too long, however, and your pulse will be picked up, alerting the enemies you were trying to creep in on.
When all else fails, send an OWL. Kellen’s hovering OWL drone is capable of performing a number of tasks with a tap of L1. Swiping up/down/left/right on the DualShock 4’s touch-sensitive pad allows for quick switching between OWL abilities, though holding L1 down brings up a radial menu that serves the same function.
The stun command sends your little drone forward to zap your selected target with an electric charge that leaves him staggered for several seconds. In shield mode, the OWL hovers up above your head and spits out a front-facing energy shield that blocks incoming fire, though your foes are smart enough to circle around and flank. The zipline is handy for crossing short and medium distances quickly, though your target needs to be situated below you. The OWL can also perform contextual hacks to fulfill mission objectives and take command of the occasional radar station.
Sexy sci-fi. Killzone: Shadow Fall certainly looks the part of a next-gen game. The demo’s expansive environment is a wide open space brimming with movement and life. Whether it’s the trees and grasses swaying in the breeze or the heavy surf smashing into the base of the cliffs you’re skirting along, there’s an extra bit of shine to your surroundings that isn’t present in any of the console games out there right now. It’s nothing that a high-end modern-day gaming PC couldn’t handle, but then that’s exactly what these new consoles are: extremely specialized gaming PCs.
Killzone: Shadow Fall appears to be a promising first step for shooters on the PS4 and a welcome change of pace from Guerilla’s previous Killzone games. The hands-on demo’s open environment amounts to an enjoyable little sandbox for murdering Helghast forces, while offering a good sense of what to expect when the game launches alongside the console later this year.