I'm not a big fan of first-person shooters at the best of times, and Killzone 3 wasn't the best of times.
When I played that game on PlayStation 3 and reviewed it in 2011 I wrote how it had outstanding visuals and high production values but these qualities weren't matched by the mostly unoriginal, formulaic and forgettable gameplay.
With this in mind, I wasn't particularly looking forward to playing Guerrilla Games' Killzone: Shadow Fall, or Killzone 4 if you prefer. But since it's one of a sparse selection of games released on PS4 so far and one of very few exclusives, I felt compelled to give it a go.
I'm pleased I did, because Shadow Fall is a bit better than I expected.
I don't think this will go down as one of the greatest games in its genre once next-gen is in full swing, but for now at least it provides a decent sci-fi shooter experience which proves to be an ideal launch title by showing off glimpses of what the new platform is capable of while also teasing at a far greater potential yet to be fulfilled.
Shadow Fall has impressed me in two main ways, the first of which is the dazzling visuals. If you need a game to show off your new PS4 to your friends, this is it.
With its stunning views and spectacular futuristic cityscapes, this game definitely marks the arrival of PS4. Surfaces such as glass and metal look real, while natural structures such as cliffs look, well, natural and not computer-made. If your eyes survive the lens flare, they'll see vast draw distances as well as convincing reflections and shadows. It took my breath away when I embarked on the first proper mission, and continued to impress as I explored the lush colourful forest looking for an aircraft crash site. Here I got to see the attention to detail close up and enjoy the beautiful lighting effects such as the sunlight rippling through trees.
The vividness of the environments combines very well with excellent audio to produce something that is thoroughly immersive. The game runs really smoothly without stutters or glitches, while the tight responsive controls make moving around effortless and engaging in combat easy when required.
The other main way Shadow Fall impresses is with its gameplay, which is markedly different from most other current and recent shooters.
There are parts of it where the game conforms to type and is rigidly linear in standard virtual-corridor cover-shooter style but other parts allow the player greater freedom than is usual, with more open levels and tactical possibilities.
While objectives remain fixed and have to be completed in a certain order, the exact ways you complete missions is left up to you at certain times, such as deciding on entry points into buildings, plotting which route to take across an area and choosing how stealthy or aggressive you want to be.
An extra strategic dimension comes in the form of the OWL attack drone which accompanies you during the game and can really you help gain an advantage with its several uses which include attacking enemies, hacking security systems and deploying a shield. It also fires out a zipline which can be used to travel around levels and explore the, at times, impressive sense of verticality.
As well being a handy companion the OWL adds a neat addition to the control scheme, with Shadow Fall being the first PS4 game I've played so far which utilises the new DualShock 4 controller's touchpad.
Although the feeling of freedom introduced early on does diminish somewhat as the game goes on, the fact it's there at all is still a refreshing change. Hopefully other developers will follow suit with their shooters and take the idea further.
Other developers would also do well to look at the variety in Shadow Fall, which includes puzzle-solving, free-falling, sniping, boss-battling and other segments to break up the running and gunning. None of these quite live up to the thrills and flexibility found in the tactical combat, such as when storming a building to rescue hostages, but they still contribute solidly towards making Shadow Fall more interesting and less generic than other shooters.
There are several things about Shadow Fall's single-player campaign which I've not liked as much.
The AI is tough, with enemy soldiers actually doing their best for the most part not to get killed. This is a good quality - however, the game can be frustratingly difficult in places. I'm not sure save points are as frequent as they could be to avoid having to re-do parts of longer missions.
I don't think the story about a Cold War-like conflict between two races living on the same planet divided by a huge wall is very interesting. The playable character Lucas Kellan, a Shadow Marshal or special ops soldier in other words, isn't someone I've found myself rooting for or even liking - the same goes for the other characters and I wasn't really fussed about who lived or died during the course of the story. The overall tone of the game is tense and dramatic, which are again good qualities to have, but it's also a very bleak and depressing experience with not a shred of levity to lighten it up.
Scripting and voice acting are generally weak and the quality of facial animation isn't a patch on some other games seen previously on PS3.
I'll be honest and admit to not having bothered with it myself, but multiplayer is all present and correct for online warriors to get stuck into. There are 10 maps, three classes and 22 weapons to mess around with. The Warzones feature allows users to set up and share matches, with a number of customisable options.
Purely in terms of the single-player experience, Shadow Fall is an essential title for any new PS4 owners. In some ways it suffers from the same problems as Killzone 3 in that it looks great yet much of its gameplay is unremarkable. However, the visuals are so incredible in this case that they need to be seen and the best parts of the game, those larger scale battlefield with more open-ended possibilities, are good enough to excite even FPS detractors like me.
Shadow Fall is the first real 'big statement' action game of the next generation, which thumps a flag into the ground and says "PS4 is here". It not only sets the bar very high now in some key areas, it also provides a delicious taste of the huge possibilities Sony's new console undoubtedly has which we'll hopefully start to see emerging further in the months ahead.
8 out of 10
Out now for PS4
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