Looking at Killzone: Shadow Fall, it’s easy to assume Guerrilla Games didn’t realise current-gen systems were capable of colour.
The series – characterised largely by its dour brown and grey palette and Nazi-substitute enemies – has sauntered onto the PlayStation 4 and into a realm of bright greens and blues at the same time. There are narrative reasons for the switch in environments: players are back on the Interplanetary Strategic Alliance (ISA) colony planet of Vekta for the first time since the franchise’s 2004’s debut, and 30 years after Helghan’s demise.
The Nazi parallels are still there: their home planet obliterated, surviving Helghast are allowed to resettle on Vekta, separated from the ISA by a huge wall. However, it seems the two groups’ ideological differences have kicked off a Cold War of sorts.
Our playthrough begins on the second level of the game, near the top of a forested hill. In the valley below us, Helghast patrols are guarding a power station. We are an ISA Special Forces Shadow Marshal, and have been tasked with extracting any surviving ISA crew from a nearby downed chopper. Successful evacuation won’t be possible until we have destroyed some AA guns atop the facility and shut the power down.
The level is downright spacious – reminiscent of rival franchise Halo in that way – and this allows us to engage the unwitting Helghast in the manner we see fit, although we’re told a complete stealth approach won’t be possible. Our primary weapon is a rail gun that may be set to automatic or sniper mode – the latter of which requires fire to be held for several seconds to charge the shot.
We also have an OWL at our disposal – an attack drone which may be commanded to guard an area using its machine guns, or stun a group of enemies with an area effect electrocute weapon. It also has defensive capabilities, and it's able to erect an electro-shield barrier in front of us that proves particularly handy while sniping.
The OWL itself cannot be destroyed, but instead has limited energy and must return to our power suit to recharge before redeployment. It also doubles as a zipline to any surface within range, much in the way that Batman: Arkham City’s line launcher operates. All its functions are accessible with a quick swipe of the PlayStation 4 controller’s touch pad.
The drone isn’t the only gadget available to a Shadow Marshal. We also are able to send out a tactical echo, a pulse that briefly shows all enemies in the area whether they are in our sight line or not. Then there is adrenaline mode, which slows time when we aim down our sights.
We try and take a stealthy approach to eliminating the patrolling Helghast, but are eventually spotted and a full-scale firefight erupts. We dispatch closing enemies then switch to sniper mode to pick off those in the distance before they can get to alarm buttons that bring reinforcements. Killzone’s shooting has always had heft, and that feature along with its brutal melee animations has been preserved in its second generational jump. It’s also a very pretty game.
There is little doubt that FPS titles will clog up the virtual storefronts of next-gen consoles just as they have the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 over the past seven or so years. There will be the same old on-rails trudges from recycled setpiece to recycled setpiece, and somewhere a dog will probably die in the player character’s arms. Fortunately, there will also be Killzone. With its newfound visual splendour and colour palette, openness, and willingness to at least attempt small changes to the gameplay formula (see also: Killzone 3’s multiplayer modes), Killzone: Shadow Fall is looking like another solid entry in the series, and a strong launch title for Sony's upcoming console.