I love video games, but it’s rare for me to play them right when they are first released. Normally it takes me a somewhere from a few months to a few years to get around to playing to a game. I’ve got a considerable backlog of games that I’ve been meaning to play and it hasn’t been until recently that I’ve had the time to start chipping away at the list. With that in mind, I’ve created a new series of posts called Late to the Party, wherein I discuss the games that came out in the preceding years that I’m finally getting around to experiencing. Today’s entry in the series is Killzone: Shadow Fall. As is usually the case, I skipped over the game’s multiplayer and focused purely on the singleplayer.
Having played and enjoyed my time with both Killzone 2 and Killzone 3, I expected to also like Killzone: Shadow Fall, but this was not the case. There’s nothing egregiously wrong with Shadow Fall, but I just didn’t find it to be as fun as the other Killzone games I have played. Despite being undeniably better than previous Killzone games on multiple levels, Shadow Fall didn’t quite click with me. My experience with Shadow Fall reminded me of how I was not a big fan of Resistance 3 – another game that also had been preceded by two strong entries in the series but I ended up not liking.
I have a few things to say about Shadow Fall, but first let me just give you an overview of the story before commenting on the game. Minor spoilers ahead. The main section of Shadow Fall’s story picks up a number of years after the events of Killzone 3. The planet Vekta has been divided in two, with one half of the planet ceded to the Helghast who survived the events of Killzone 3 and the other half inhabited by the native Vektans, with a massive wall and dead zone between them than spans the planet’s circumference. You play as Lucas Kellen, a Vektan whose family used to live on the side of Vekta that was given to the Helghast. After being forcefully evicted from his home and seeing his father killed by the Helghast, Lucas escapes to the Vektan side of the planet and when he grows up becomes a Shadow Marshal – a special forces soldier who frequently infiltrates the Helghast side of the planet to carry out covert operations. Lucas goes back and forth between the Vektan and Helghast sides of the wall and along the way meets a Helghast operative who shows him that not all of the Helghast are as evil as he’s been led to believe. Together they learn that leaders in both the Vektan and Helghast governments are not particularly interested in peace and are looking for a way to gain the upper hand before restarting the conflict between them. From there it’s a race to neutralize the weapon both sides are seeking and trying to stop a new war from breaking out.
Scouting the Helghast side of the wall
Shadow Fall’s story is better than the preceding Killzone games overall, but that’s not a high bar to jump. Despite there being some interesting lore to the Killzone universe, the games have never been very good at translating it into good stories, which is truly a shame. The one thing Shadow Fall did nail was the Cold War vibe, with the world divided into Vektan and Helghast halves. The planet Vekta is effectively Cold War Berlin/Germany expanded to a global scale and the contrast between the two sides is striking. The Vektan side is bright, lively, and colorful, while the Helghast side is largely dark, industrial, and threatening. A few missions in space and the Helghast homeworld add to the mix and give Shadow Fall much more varied environments than its predecessors. The levels you play in are all exceptionally well rendered and Shadow Fall is a great looking game. I just wish I had more fun as I traveled through them.
Repelling a terrorist attack
The mechanics of Shadow Fall are all sound and in many cases are the best in the series. Gone is the controversial weight system of Killzone 2, and to a lesser degree Killzone 3, which slowed your movements slightly but also made it feel like your character and weapon had actual mass. I personally had no problem with it, but I can understand why a lot of people didn’t like it, as shooter games normally favor speed and twitchiness. A new addition is Lucas’ OWL, which is a drone companion that can be used to do things like hack consoles, stun enemies, deploy a zip line, and project a protective shield. Lucas also makes use of adrenaline packs that can be used both to revive him as well as give him a brief period of slow motion so that he can quickly take down foes. There’s a fair assortment of weapons at your disposal throughout the game, though you can only hold one of them at a time as a secondary weapon. Thankfully, your primary weapon is good for nearly any situation, so as long as you don’t run out of ammo for it you’ll always have a gun that can handle what you’re up against. One of the few places where Shadow Fall’s mechanics falls short is the enemy AI, which vacillates between competence and stupidity. Sometimes the enemies will appear to know what they are doing and sometimes you’ll question why the Vektans are so scared of the Helghast. On the positive side, the variety of Helghast enemies you run into keeps firefights from getting mundane.
In spite of the many strong aspects of Shadow Fall, I did not enjoy it as much as I had hoped, and I’m struggling to put my finger on exactly why this is. In Shadow Fall you do a lot of the same stuff you did in previous Killzone games, along with some new things, but I found myself trudging forward through the game and I finished it not because I was having fun, but just because I wanted to get to the end and see where the story led. When I completed the singleplayer campaign of Shadow Fall I wasn’t even interested in replaying any of it to hunt for trophies, which is saying a lot, coming from me. I actually somewhat feel bad for disliking Shadow Fall, as I recognize it’s good in a lot of ways. My best guess as to why I didn’t like Shadow Fall is that the mission structure had me either doing things that I didn’t want to do, or doing things in a way that I didn’t want to do them. Whatever the reason, I was disappointed with my time with Shadow Fall and I don’t see myself coming back to it at any point in the future.
While part of me would like to another Killzone game at some point in the future to give the series another chance, another part of me thinks the series should just be abandoned at this point. The Killzone games, while selling a few million copies over the span of the whole series, have never turned into a mega franchise that I think Sony had hoped it would be and at this point developer Guerilla’s talents are probably better spent elsewhere. While I could see Guerilla possibly churning out one more Killzone after they finish up with their next big game, (Horizon: Zero Dawn) unless that Killzone game is a major success it’s hard to make a case from a business standpoint for Sony and Guerilla to keep investing time and money into the series.