Game Picks

Game Picks: 'Killzone: Shadow Fall'

CorrespondentDecember 19, 2013 

As one of the high-profile launch titles for the PlayStation 4, “Killzone: Shadow Fall” is designed from the ground up to impress.

And it does, in terms of visuals and gameplay. The latest entry in the venerable first-person shooter franchise, “Shadow Fall” takes full advantage of the PS4’s vastly improved processing power to deliver beautiful, dense visuals and fast, seamless action.

Story and dialogue aren’t quite up to snuff, though, and those who like a little character in their FPS won’t find much to linger on. The game is filled with long stretches in which nothing much happens, including a stretched-out prologue that feels like watching the world’s longest movie trailer.

Here’s what happened ...

The story: Following the destruction of the planet Helghan in Killzone 3, the Powers That Be have made a curious arrangement. Helghast survivors are given territory on the planet Vekta, and the two races are separated by a massive security wall. No one is happy with this new arrangement, least of all the Helghans, who appear to be holding a grudge over the, you know, annihilation of their home planet.

The player assumes the role of Lucas Kellan, a Shadow Marshall tasked with protecting the Vektans from ongoing Helghast plots. Kellan is captured by the bad guys early in the game and, during a prisoner exchange, crosses paths with the enemy operative called Echo – a half-Helghan, half-Vektan agent with ambiguous allegiances.

This is an intriguing set-up, but “Shadow Fall” never quite follows through on the implications of Echo’s heritage and her role as a kind of dark mirror image for the player. Instead, the story follows a well-worn plot template in which a super-villain schemes to deploy a mega-weapon, and Lucas must infiltrate the secret fortress, etc. etc. James Bond has been solving these crises since 1953.

Since it’s now the year 2370, you’d think plot devices would have evolved, but no. At any rate, “Shadow Fall” does provide some gorgeous environments, beginning with the vast cityscapes of the opening sequences. The game packs an impossible amount of detail into each frame, and in the open-air arenas you can see for miles across the densely populated urban landscape, with dozens of ominous airships floating menacingly overhead. Later orbital and zero-G chapters provide some interesting new physics to contend with.

Drone dread

The key gameplay switch-up in “Shadow Fall” is the introduction of Lucas’ personal aerial drone, which can be dispatched in combat sequences for various tactical purposes. If you look for them, you can find a lot of allegorical threads throughout the game concerning our cultural anxieties about drones, terrorism and 21st-century warfare.

In campaign mode, the battles are relatively easy on the default difficulty level, even if you’re not a dedicated FPS player. Lucas’ drone – I call him Jeffrey – can usually be deployed to soften up a room nicely before you even engage. The battles feel extremely realistic, though, thanks to the revved-up processing power and a palpable sense of weight and inertia. That’s a tricky thing to get right in a shooter – when Lucas fires his weapons or gets caught in a blast radius, you really feel it. The game also takes advantage of the new PS4 controller’s touch pad options.

“Shadow Fall” includes several multiplayer options, along with a perk system and choice of three different classes. Keep in mind that the new PlayStation 4 setup requires a paid subscription for multiplayer, though the game does include a free trial period.

FPS lovers are likely to find “Shadow Fall” to be a worthwhile investment just for the graphics and muscle-car game engine. And those multiplayer options are solid. But those not particularly keen on the genre might want to wait for a more interesting story to try out the PS4’s revved-up hardware specs.

New This Week: The Assassin’s Creed expansion “Black Flag: Freedom City” and a new PS4 port of the abstract indie sensation “Flow.”

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