As Sony's flagship shooter series, Killzone's critical worth seems doomed to be forever linked with that of Microsoft's rival Halo series.
But that's unfair really, because if you look past the sci-fi trappings they're two very differently paced shooters. As if to prove the point, Guerilla Games elected to demo a very un-Halo stage behind closed doors in Sony's E3 war room. The stage, appropriately entitled 'Behind Enemy Lines', sees Killzone lay the stealth on thick and promotes strategising and pre-planning over gung-ho foolishness, and the end result isn't entirely unpleasant.
To recap, Killzone: Shadow Fall takes place thirty years after the events of the original trilogy. The war's still rumbling on to some extent, but both sides have been decimated by the accumulative effect of the conflict, and the Helghast's home planet has been more or less rendered inhabitable.
And so we find Vektans and refugee Helghast living virtually side by side in a Vektan city split in half by a Berlin Wall-style barrier. It's a bit of a Cold War situation and the suspicion is that the Helghast are as trustworthy as a freshly-shaken Pepsi can, so the demo has us assume the identity of an ISA soldier trespassing on the Helghan side of the border on an intel mission.
The idea in this mission is to wipe out guard patrols while keeping as low a profile as possible. You can engage enemies directly if you fancy, but this isn't advised as the guards are tougher than Hulk Hogan's skin. By far a better option is to wait for guard formations to fan out and take them out one by one, either by melee attack or by charging up your sniper rifle attachment.
To help keep you hidden, you're equipped with an echo pulse, activated by pressing up on the d-pad, which shows the locations of any enemies in your immediate radius. Of course, even with all this tech behind you accidents do happen, which is why you've also been issued with an OWL - a flying drone that can be deployed during firefights to take the heat off your back when you've been rumbled.
The OWL unit, which is considerably less cute than its name suggests it'll be, is capable of laying down suppressing fire or (more usefully, as it turns out) as a distraction technique, allowing you to flank enemies and take them down as they pre-occupy themselves with the OWL. When the enemies are alerted to you presence they'll continue to call in reinforcements until you hack the alarm terminal with OWL, so that becomes a priority.
The level on show took place in a wide, sprawling mountain region, fertile with fauna and tactical possibilities. All of which is quite the departure for a series that has made its name on narrow corridors. (That said, we're told Shadow Fall will have more than its fair share of interior combat).
"Shadow Fall is crisp, beautiful and uncharacteristically artsy for a Killzone game
Although some might infer that it's the extra power of PS4 that has enabled Killzone to branch out its level design, it seems unlikely. Shadow Fall is crisp, beautiful and uncharacteristically artsy for a Killzone game, but it doesn't seem like anything that couldn't have been done on PS3.
And so Guerilla Games has turned to the DualShock 4 for its next-gen inspiration. Before we explain how, let us just say that the DS4, as many have long suspected, doesn't feel quite 'right' for FPS games. The triggers are the main culprit - while they're not as slippery as the PS3 equivalent, they feel light and flimsy and don't have the tactile feedback of the Xbox One's equivalents - and that's before we consider the individualised rumble motors, on top of that.
What the DS4 does have however is a touch pad in the middle, and this has been used in an attempt to phase out that classic but clunky FPS trope, the selection wheel (which can still be called up by holding down L1). So you swipe up to activate OWL, down for a shield and right to select your mobile zipline, which connects to OWL and lets you zip to any open space below you quickly and smoothly.
We're not sure it'll catch on. Grasping for the touch pad means taking your fingers off one of the analogue sticks, and in that sense it's actually more hassle than a selection wheel. Talking of more hassle, your health bar is now represented by the glow of the PS Move light on the top of the pad.
It changes from blue to yellow to green to red as you near death, but of course unless you're playing in darkness you will have to angle the pad upwards to see how healthy (or not as the case may be, as this is a tough game) you are. It's cute, but we can't see developers using it five years from now.
Killzone: Shadow Fall isn't a Halo-beater, butnor does it set out to be. It's a more methodical, weighty shooter, one that aspires to merge Halo's open environments with Far Cry 3's superior action-stealth and Call of Duty's keen sense of spectacle.
From what we've played we don't think the various influences on display blend well enough to push Killzone above any of those titles, but it's by no means a bad game when judged on its own merits. The pieces are in place here for a solid, well-rounded shooter that completes both its mission objectives; in giving PS4 owners something to take aim for during the launch window, and in distancing itself further from the Halo hype train and crafting an identity Killzone can call its own.
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