“The light of lights looks always on the motive, not the deed, the shadow of shadows on the deed alone.”
-William Butler Yeats
“The following is a contributor post by the Hopeful Sega Mage.”
As someone who primarily owned an Xbox 360 during the seventh generation of consoles, I missed out on many of Sony’s big franchises: Uncharted, Jak and Dexter, Ratchet and Clank, God of War… it’s a fairly big list. Thanks to remasters, I can catch up on these games. It’s something I really want to do.
One of those Sony franchises I missed out on was Killzone. I didn’t get a chance to play the first three games in the series so I made sure to grab a copy of Killzone Shadow Fall when I had the chance. As well as being curious about the series, I was interested to see how it had aged in the five-and-a-half years since its release. Killzone Shadow Fall (referred to as Shadow Fall from here on in) was one of the Playstation 4’s launch games intended to sell Sony’s new system to the masses.
“Previously you may have seen high dynamic ranged lighting, you may have seen really exquisite particle affects and all of that…Now we can combine all of them, which we don’t have to pick and choose — we can just have all of that on screen at the same time.”
Steven ter Heide, Game Director with Guerilla Games
Interview with Polygon from May 30 2013
Shadow Fall was developed by Guerrilla Games with the intention of kick-starting the franchise on the new PlayStation 4 console. Unlike many early PlayStation 4 games, Shadow Fall was not developed jointly for seventh generation consoles, just for the PlayStation 4. This allowed Guerrilla Games to focus on one platform and build a game that would showcase the power available to them. Indeed, that’s what they did – online stories of the game’s size (290 GB reduced to 40 GB) show how much effort went into Shadow Fall.
I’m not sure how well respected that effort was, though. The hardcore new adopters may have been interested in the size and technical skill involved in the making of Shadow Fall, but most consumers just looked for familiar IPs and characters to invest their time and money into. Often, the games launched with a new console are the ones that are overlooked in favour of more popular games.
Granted, some launch titles don’t deserve the player’s time… they’re simply tech demos or insubstantial games that can be dismissed easily. A lot of games released as launch titles don’t have a lot of shelf life and only exist to get the console into the consumer’s home. Given the number of copies of Shadow Fall floating around in my local game shops, I wanted to know which category Shadow Fall fell into? Was Shadow Fall a shallow launch game or was it just an underappreciated launch game moved aside by most players for more attractive games?
I think Shadow Fall may be one of the best looking PlayStation 4 games I’ve played. Everything looks lifelike and the animation is fantastic too. As a launch game, Shadow Fall had to be impressive in order to get the early adopters’ attention and it certainly achieves that – I think it would’ve made me want to buy a PlayStation 4 had I seen it in 2013. The PlayStation 4 does a good job of running Shadow Fall, too; it’s smooth and I’ve never seen it suffer any glitches. Admittedly, my five-year-old PlayStation 4 does sound like a helicopter about to take off while running Shadow Fall, but as long as it doesn’t actually fly away, I can deal with it.
The only criticism I could make of Shadow Fall‘s graphics is: they aren’t terribly adventurous. I understand that a first-person shooter set in the future is going to be set primarily in military bases and spaceships but it does get old quickly. Sure, they’re some of the most detailed, well designed military bases and spaceships you’ll ever see, but I found myself yearning for something different. Just some colour, a change of lighting… anything. When Shadow Fall‘s action is set outside its futuristic backdrops, it looks incredible.
One of my favourite sections of Shadow Fall is the second level (The Shadow), set outside in a forest. The contrast of colours, the amount of detail on the trees, the sand and the rocks was incredible and eventually made me long for another section like it. Likewise, the fourth level (The Patriot), which is set in Vekta City, really stood out to me, thanks to its architecture and the difference in shades and contrast. I guess I’m just nitpicking but having seen how amazing Shadow Fall can look, it’s frustrating to see it limit itself visually with cliche settings.
As you’d expect from a current-generation game, Shadow Fall mainly relies on voice acting for its audio. To be honest, it’s exactly what you would expect from a first-person shooter over the past ten years – the gruff military instructions, traumatized citizens recounting horrors on audio tape and bad guys giving their best “villain monologues”. It’s serviceable, but I doubt any of the voices will leave much of an impression after completing Shadow Fall. That said, I was traumatized by a distressing audio log that wouldn’t stop playing… I spent a good five minutes flicking through menus trying to turn the sound down and stop the tale of woe from a victim of experimentation… it wasn’t what I needed on a Tuesday night…
There is some background music among the talking and I enjoyed it. I like how the music is involved with the game – it never distracts from the action, but it always supplements it well. Apparently, Shadow Fall‘s music was a departure from other instalments in the series, with soundtrack composer Tyler Bates (Guardians of the Galaxy, Atomic Blonde) and electronic artist Lorn responsible instead of regular series composer Joris de Man. While I’d always want a developer to stick with a series composer, I think Guerrilla Games made a good choice with its choice of composers as Shadow Fall‘s music suits the bleak, cold world it’s based in.
I enjoyed playing Shadow Fall, but I did feel it had its ups and downs. Firstly, as a first-person shooter (FPS), Shadow Fall is great. The combat is superb, with responsive controls, decent enemy AI, a good selection of varied guns and some fine set pieces. I had a great deal of fun shooting my way through the various Helghast troops and developing a lot of respect for Shadow Fall‘s combat as well as a healthy fear of mechanical spiders.
However, Shadow Fall doesn’t have enough combat for my liking. To its credit, the game does try to add some variety to the proceedings – there are sniper sections, some platforming, a bit of exploration, some stealth, collectables for the player to hunt, even some flying sections – however, none of these sections are as good as the combat sections and sometimes they can outstay their welcome. For example, the fifth level (The Helghast) involves searching for one of the bad guys throughout the slums. After a promising start, the level becomes a long stretch of wandering through a bland, grey industrial world with nothing happening for ages. I think this section, and Shadow Fall generally, could have been enhanced by having more enemies to deal with.
I was also frustrated by Shadow Fall‘s long levels. There are only ten missions, but some of them are very, very long. The game isn’t too generous with the save points, either, which led to some very late nights to avoid having to backtrack. The aforementioned fifth level was a massive level and the levels after that get longer. There were some points where I was getting frustrated – after clearing tons of enemies, I just wanted a save point to take some pressure off. I guess that’s Shadow Fall‘s main issue with its enemies – it’s either feast or famine. You can either wander around and not be accosted for ages or it feels like entire armies are attacking you while you desperately look for a save point. It’s a shame, as a bit of balance would have really improved Shadow Fall‘s gameplay experience.
There is certainly a lot of story attached to Shadow Fall. Continuing on from Killzone 3, Shadow Fall is set 30 years later after The Terracide, an event in which a massive bomb detonated by the Vektans left the Helghast homeless. With their planet Helghan left uninhabitable, it’s ruled that the Helghast must share Vekta with the Vektans and so Vekta is split between the two warring factions (via The Wall) with the Helghast part known as New Helghan.
You play as Lucas Kellan, starting as a young boy who sees the Helghast kill his father while fleeing to The Wall. After that, Kellan is taken in by Sinclair, a Vektan Shadow Marshal and becomes a Shadow Marshal himself. Shadow Fall then focuses on the enforced civil war between the two neighbours, both still blaming each other for the events that led to them cohabitation.
I found that, as detailed as Shadow Fall‘s story is, I couldn’t take to it. I have to shoulder some of the blame – I think fans of the first three games would understand the characters, their motivations and the setting much better than a newcomer. As a newcomer to the series, everything felt quite dense to me… for example, some major characters made fleeting appearances without much detail being given on their motives. Main bad guy Stahl is referenced a few times in the early going, but you have no real involvement with him until you face off against him in the second to last level.
Personally, I felt that Shadow Fall just went through its plot with little attention given to the series’ backstory. This is fine for fans of the series, but for any one new to the franchise, the story would leave little impression. Imagine starting Game of Thrones at High Sparrow? You’d have missed out a ton of narrative, character development and story. That’s how Shadow Fall felt to me: like I’m starting in the middle of a big story. I imagine a lot of people were in the same boat as me – with Shadow Fall being a launch game, there should’ve been more emphasis on the series’ history to help those grabbing Shadow Fall as a launch title with the story.
Maybe I’m being a bit harsh – I certainly can’t fault Guerrilla Games for their effort and the time given to the plot. I did find myself warming to the characters during the game – Kellan and Echo (the rogue Helghast agent) are interesting heroes and Sinclair is great as the single-minded protector of Kellan. If fans of the Killzone series are reading this and shaking their heads at my lack of understanding, I’m sorry.
Shadow Fall is a fairly conventional FPS. I imagine most players have experienced an FPS before and wouldn’t struggle with getting to grips with Shadow Fall – it sticks to the controls and rules of the genre fairly faithfully. Shadow Fall explains its controls well, too, so it’s easy to pick them up as you advance through the game. Personally, I found the OWL robot who assists you with hacking consoles, and attacking enemies, a nuisance at times. It seemed a bit indecisive at crucial moments – I’d be hammering the “hack” command on the pad, yet the OWL would just be watching me. To be fair, it wasn’t a game-breaker, but it definitely led to some frustration during Shadow Fall.
As I alluded to earlier, Shadow Fall is a very easy game to get hold of. Dare I say it, it’s probably the most common PlayStation 4 game in the world right now and is very cheap for a current-generation game. I’ve seen it priced at £14.99 digitally, but you can get it for less second hand. I personally paid £2.50 for my copy, which makes it one of the cheapest games I’ve ever bought – and definitely the cheapest since my game collecting days!
I can’t see Shadow Fall having a lot of replay value. Once its single-player campaign is completed, there isn’t really much to do. There is a co-op mode if you have a friend willing to play through some long levels, plus a fair few collectibles, and achievements to obtain for the hardcore player, but I don’t think Shadow Fall will hold that sort of appeal.
Shadow Fall does have multiplayer options, but sadly it looks the multiplayer scene is long dead. It’s a shame, as there seems to be a long of options available, but, to be fair, Shadow Fall is nearly six years old. Most of its players would likely have moved on to a more recent FPS by now.
There are more futuristic first-person shooters than you could shake a gruff space marine at and Shadow Fall doesn’t stand out particularly from the crowd. I think where Shadow Fall does stand out is its gameplay – I did enjoy the variety in the levels. Whether it was a spot of exploration or a quick section of platforming, I enjoyed the break from the action. I just wish there was more action as that’s when Shadow Fall excels.
Personal Grade: 6/10
I enjoyed Shadow Fall more than I thought I would. I’d purchased it assuming it would just be a generic first-person shooter and was quite surprised at how fun it was to play. There’s a decent bit of variety in the gameplay, plus the actual shooting bits are pretty good. Throw in the excellent graphics and Shadow Fall is a fairly solid package.
Shadow Fall certainly isn’t perfect – the single-player can become a slog thanks to those longer later levels and I’d have appreciated more enemies to shoot – but it’s a better game than its reputation suggests. It’s definitely a better game than fellow launch title Knack – Shadow Fall was a walk in the park compared to the agony of playing through Knack.
In summary, I’d recommend Shadow Fall. It’s a decent FPS and can be bought quite cheap. If you’re low on funds and have a week or so to fill, you could do worse. Just make sure you have an hour or two to dedicate to each level…
Aggregated Score: 5.8
The Hopeful Sega Mage is a Sega obsessive who shouldn’t be approached by members of the public. However, he can be found on Twitter at @carrythegary and here at The Well-Red Mage, if you wish to discuss Japanese Mega Drive artwork and the greatness of Altered Beast.
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