This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Killzone: Shadow Fall.
I want to fix a few things in the backs of our minds going forward, I want to be clear but I don't want to keep repeating myself. So in future, if I review a game on the XBone or the PisS4, every time I say something in the slightest bit positive, I want you to mentally append the phrase, "But it doesn't justify forcing us to buy a clunky new console with no backwards compatability." I've banged that drum with my raging hate stiffy so many times I figure it can go without saying. So let's practise:
- Dead Rising 3 was kind of fun in parts, "But it doesn't justify forcing us to buy a clunky new console with no backwards compatability."
- Knack looked pretty spectacular after I fired it out of my clay pigeon launching machine, "But it doesn't justify forcing us to buy a clunky new console with no backwards compatability."
- Thank you for these lovely corn flakes, mother, "But it doesn't justify forcing us to-" etc., etc.
Easy, isn't it? Now let's try again, but this time I won't say it and you can just add it on in your head. Ready? I was slightly pleasantly surprised by Killzone: Shadow Fall... ...There you go.
Now as I've said before, the thing with the Killzone series is that the Helghast seemed to have nothing but legitimate grievances but are assigned the role of bad guys solely because they wear Nazi hats. At the end of Killzone 3 for example, the heroic Vektans blow up the entire Helghast planet for looking at them funny, which leaves the situation in this game where the Vektans have given over half their planet for the surviving Helghans to live on. The story opens with our hero, Lucas Kellan, and his dad who were living on the half that became Helghan territory and have to sneak over to the Vektan side as Helghan troops purge Vektan stragglers. So hang on; Vekta agrees to let Helghasts have half the planet but don't evacuate their citizens first? How did that slip their minds? "I can't be arsed. Just sort it out, Mr. Helghast. In a not evil way if possible! I know you're still pissed at us for blowing up your planet and everyone you've ever loved and all that, but be fair! They were all wearing Nazi hats!"
Having said all that, one of the things I liked about Shadow Fall is that it's a bit fairer on the Helghast's choice of headwear and things are a bit morally greyer. The Vektans develop a biological weapon that can specifically target one race or the other, purely for defence purposes of course. Yeah, good one, Vektans. The same way I have a bottle of maple syrup purely for defence against pancakes. But when the Helghast nick it for their own nefarious defence, the Cold War threatens to boil over. Meanwhile, Lucas Kellan's fate is entwined with that of a half-breed girl named Echo who shows him that both sides have a lot of innocent civilians who would much rather just stop being murdered by each other's militaries if that's alright.
I do have an issue here that Lucas and Echo seemed to be placed as the emotional core of the narrative, but the game seems to have forgotten to characterize either of them. Lucas is the protagonist of a first-person shooter so of course he's just a big blank slab of roast pork in chunky boots, and I only know Echo's name was Echo because a mission objective told me; she just shows up like little snipy Tinker Bell now and again to jumpstart the plot whenever it stalls. Sometimes they take it in turns to point out things for the other one to shoot, and that's about all the chemistry they ever get. "Rawr, your guys are bad!" "Rawr, your guys are bad!" "We have a lot in common." "Yes." "Give us a snog." "No." Ah, but who needs chemistry? We've got the only chemistry that matters: Sulfur potassium nitrate! BAM!
The shooting is what the game's circulatory system runs on and it has a free form of quality that I quite enjoyed. Many of the combat environments are large and open-ended, allowing a variety of approaches. Will you find a vantage point and plan ahead, stay where you are and snipe everyone silly, or just burst into the enemy compound with one gun strapped to your meat and one to your two veg?
I quite liked the zipline mechanic. If such a thing was in, say, Call of Duty, you'd only be able to use it at a predetermined point indicated to your dumb ass by a little phantom zipline like the spirit of dead gameplay opportunities, but in Shadow Fall, you can zipline anywhere, providing a fast way from getting to a high point to a low point to keep the pace up. It would be nice if there were faster ways to get back up to high points, but sadly once you're in the fray, it's back to the usual waddling around in your armoured big boy trousers, trying to make snap judgement on how much of yourself can fit behind a wastepaper basket. And it can often be hard to predict what can be ziplined to and what can't. Of course, you can't zipline anywhere because this would be a sandbox game and you'd have more than the regulation amount of fun.
The zipline is one of the functions of a little flying robot friend who is the manifestation of their "use the new hardware or be fucking shot at dawn" part of the launch title remit, because you change its function with the new... "thing" on the PS4 controller. Not quite a button, not quite a track pad; I don't know what to call it, but I was using it for M&M storage. Your robot pal has four functions and you switch between them by wiping a bogey off on the whatever-it-is, so in this context, it's basically just another D-pad. But I found I rarely used its more exotic functions just because reaching over to the - well, I suppose I have to call it something - the controller's giant rectangular clitoris didn't feel natural with all my fingers engaged with the other more traditional buttons, and it seems like the robot's controls could have been worked into them without too much difficulty. I'm not sold frankly. It needs a game that can find an actual use for it. It's ideally situated for some kind of tongue control, but then again it would have to buy me dinner first.
But I digress. There's been a problem with AAA shooters for many years wherein the game is just dull linear shootouts in ugly little arenas with insanely spectacular skyboxes where all the actual effort seems to have gone. Well, Killzone: Shadow Fall has some very spectacular skyboxes indeed and more than a few dull grimy levels that drag on too long, but there's also plenty of places where the line between pretty skybox and gameplay arena becomes, like the face of an ugly barfly after a few more pints, appealingly blurry. It's certainly a far more certainly impressive display of hardware graphics than Knack was, (if that matters to you, Brian fucking Sewell.) But... ...Yes, well done, we remember how that sentence goes, don't we?
And I found myself distinctly ungrabbed by the story. Maybe that's because there's absolutely no character in the entire plot I felt that I could root for, and it ends anticlimactically. It just sort of apologetically peters out like a fart in a sauna. Without wishing to spoil, it gets us all worked up about averting a war between Vektan and Helghast, but then it just sort of gives up on the idea. I guess 'cos there'd be no game otherwise. What are they supposed to do in the sequel, argue over who finished off the milk?
Should have called it Killbone Wahey am I right fellas: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
You have now received your regulation amount of fun; continue about your business citizen
And after the milk comes the passive-aggressive notes