News, Views, and Reviews
I want to like playing Killzone Shadow Fall online multi-player. There are moments, lots of moments, when the game is running well and teams are evenly matched, that I really enjoy it. But a few design decisions and uneven game play experiences keep me from highly recommending it. Perhaps the best way to describe KZSF, both the single-player and multi-player, is that it will be divisive. Those that like it will really love it, and those that won’t appreciate its differences and unique qualities might not like it at all.
This review will put my review format to the test: the parts of the game that hold it back are technical, inarguable issues (objective) and the parts that people will like or dislike will be based on personal preferences (subjective). Beyond that, people that really like it will probably overlook those technical issues, and those that don’t like it will just use those issues to complain about it. So, really, the same thing that happens with every game, just more polarizing.
Online Multi-Player: 1-24 Players. (Note: A co-op mode is in development and will be available later as paid DLC.)
Local (Offline) Multi-Player: Split-screen N/A; System-link (LAN) N/A; All of the multi-player modes and custom options are available offline, for 1 player, versus AI bots.
Custom game options: Free, online or offline, extensive versus modes customization is available. Simple match settings like score and time limit can be adjusted, as can everything else, such as weapon and ability restrictions, respawns, health regeneration, etc. Custom game variations can be shared online and played by other players in regular matchmaking.
There are eight game modes playable on ten different maps. These maps are all big, to accommodate up to 24 players, and have intricate paths, shortcuts, and choke points to exploit a variety of team strategies. A few of the maps are lifted from or inspired by areas in the single-player campaign. The eight game modes are:
Team Deathmatch: Work with your teammates to kill as many enemies as possible.
Search and Destroy: Attackers must sabotage enemy generators, defenders must prevent the enemy from sabotaging their generators. After a generator is sabotaged, the team on defense has a time limit to repair the damage. Both generators have to be destroyed to win the mission.
Beacon Retrieval: Retrieve the beacon and return it to the designated return location. This is a “neutral capture the flag” game mode, even the scoring location is neutral.
Capture and Connect: Capture territories in sequence, win by capturing the point closest to the enemy’s base. Connecting the territories creates a tug-of-war between the teams, pushing the contested zone back and forth until one team can capture the enemy base.
Beacon Safeguard: Retrieve the beacon and guard it from the enemy as long as possible.
Capture and Hold: Capture designated territories to earn points. Like it sounds, this is a “domination” game mode.
Capture and Move: Capture the single designated territory to earn points until it moves to a new location.
Beacon Theft: Classic capture the flag game mode. Steal the enemy beacon and return it to score while defending your beacon from the enemy team.
Warzone: Like previous Killzone games, these game modes can be combined into a series of rounds played in one match. A match that has been set up with the game modes of choice and the number of rounds to win (best 3 out of 5 or first to win 5, best 5 out of 7, and so on) is called a Warzone. Warzones are the default games played in regular matchmaking, but players have the option to choose matches that are only one of the eight main game modes. Warzones help balance matches a little, for example, your team might really stink at Capture and Hold and lose that round, but winning the next round of Team Deathmatch ties up the match, and then the game mode changes again and either team has a chance to win.
Custom Warzones can alter the game rules so much, though, that they practically become brand new game modes. One popular example is a “juggernaut” game variation that faces one, really hard to kill player, versus several other players. Technically, it’s a Team Deathmatch variation, with one team consisting of only one player, his health and armor levels have been set really high, and he’s limited to only one weapon like a knife or a pistol. If creating custom game modes sounds familiar, it should: the Halo franchise has been popular for years for this reason. Killzone Shadowfall elevates that concept, though, by allowing these variations to be searched for and played by other players in regular matchmaking. A community voting system is in place to push popular custom games to the top of the matchmaking list.
Classes: Also like previous Killzone games, players can select a certain “class” that fits their play style and fills a role for their team. The varied classes of Killzone 2 and 3 have been simplified to three main choices, but each of those three classes can be customized with certain weapon, equipment, or ability choices to compensate for removing certain classes. For example, players used to choose between a medic or an engineer class, and those abilities and equipment choices have been combined into the new “support” class. Similarly, the previous “sniper” and “scout” classes have been combined into one “scout” class. Players can customize six loadouts for each of the three classes, for a total of eighteen different combinations to choose from, and these can be modified even during a match. Killzone Shadow Fall has all of the weapons, equipment, and abilities “unlocked” for every player. There is no “XP” required to “level up” and unlock different weapons, although there are “challenges” with each weapon that, when completed, unlock different scopes and other attachments. It’s a great effort to make the game “fair” to new and experienced players.
Guerrilla Games have tried to widen the appeal of their game by making so many modes and options available, including an offline, fully featured “training” mode versus AI bots. Overall, though, the default game play may be an acquired taste. Fans of the series actually liked the challenge of “weight” in aiming, firing, and moving, but many others didn’t like it. Perhaps it is a compromise: the aiming and firing controls have finally been tuned to perfection, but movement still feels a little slow and clunky to me. Players can now sprint and “knee slide” like in Call of Duty: Ghosts, and can crouch behind cover, “pop and shoot” over the top, and return to cover like in Battlefield 4. Players can also mantle over low objects, and jump up and climb up to higher terrain. This added mobility is great, and like Battlefield, I can appreciate the design choice to slow players’ top running speed down. But, in Battlefield, players also have the option to get inside vehicles to compensate for that slower mobility on the map, and there are no vehicles in Killzone. The best option is to have someone on the team play as “support” class and deploy tactical spawn points on the map, closer to objective points. Preferences may vary, as I’m not a big fan of some of the turrets and flying drones available to some of the classes, so it’s a good thing there are so many custom game options. Overall, the default settings of Shadow Fall encourage a slower paced, methodical, and tactical approach, which again, will appeal to player preferences. Those that prefer games like Battlefield or Team Fortress 2, for example, acclimate and enjoy playing Shadow Fall right away, but others might struggle with the concept. I’ll keep mentioning it because it’s relevant, but even those that prefer a quicker game “of skill” over teamwork and strategy CAN find game modes set to their liking, it will just take some searching to find them. But, that brings up some design functions that I’m not sure I can overlook.
Searching for games is relatively easy, and is even possible from the main PS4 menu outside the game itself. But, the list of options and modifications is pretty overwhelming, so even if you find a game mode that matches your preferences, you could join the match and realize that you forgot to check a few of the settings and found yourself in a game variation that you don’t like. With time, these sort of mistakes can be avoided. Similarly, and with some embarrassment I admit, I have yet to FIND the option to create my own custom game variations. I know it’s available, I see the list of custom game modes which means other players are doing it, I just haven’t figured it out yet. Again, with time, I’ll figure it out, but I mention it because it reflects on the overly complicated user interface present in multi-player. But the one design choice that is borderline “deal breaker” for me is that there are no lobbies for parties. From the matchmaking menu, I can SEE my friends list, and see if they are playing Shadow Fall or some other game, and invite them accordingly. I don’t have to press the PS button on the controller and access the PS4’s main menu, it’s conveniently right in front of me as I’m playing the game. If a friend is playing Shadow Fall, I can’t JOIN them unless they are already in a match, which, more often than not, is going to be full of players. When this happens, the game sets me in a “queue” and waits for players to drop out on his team so I can finally join his game. The ability to form a “lobby” and invite your friends to that lobby, get everything ready, and THEN join matches together is not a new, unique concept; it has appeared in countless games for at least a decade. It’s absence in Shadow Fall is infuriating. I really hope that this feature is added in the future. Previous Killzone games had it. They even allowed system-link or LAN matches, with several players, against AI bots. Dropping the offline modes to only one player is upsetting, but it’s not nearly as annoying as not being able to form a lobby.
Beyond these criticisms, I will add that I do experience some technical difficulties. All matches are supposed to be on dedicated servers, but I find some connections are worse than others. Naturally, laggy connections lead to less than fun game experiences. Even the standard, “official” hosted matches are hit or miss, though the chances of finding a good, solid connection are higher when using official servers than when searching for random game variations. On the subjective side, I should also mention that “tactical” teamwork games like this can devolve into some pretty frustrating matches, where one side clearly dominates the other. That also results in less than fun game experiences.
With those criticisms in mind, Guerrilla Games has an extensive list of promises already made for supporting Shadow Fall. They’ve promised that all future map and versus mode content will be available for free. They’ve also promised a new co-op mode, but that will have to be purchased separately. My hope, then, is that the complicated user interface – and lack of a friends lobby – can be fixed over time. Still, this review has to reflect the current state of the game, and as it is, there are some issues that may be hard to overlook. In its standard, default settings, Killzone Shadow Fall should appeal to players that prefer tactics and teamwork over “twitch shooters” and faster paced games. The extensive list of modifications and custom game variations, all available offline against AI bots, could widen that appeal to other players looking for something different. Overall, Shadow Fall offers a deep, satisfying, competitive game to those willing to sort through the user interface and adjust to a slight learning curve.
Killzone Shadowfall is rated ‘M’ for Mature for Blood, Intense Violence, and Strong Language, and was released exclusively for PlayStation 4 on November 15th.