Killzone: Shadow Fall aims to be a poster-child for PS4’s new features and a new direction in its own right. Patrick Garratt speaks to Guerrilla in LA.
“We want to make it a showcase for everything on PlayStation 4, and that includes the inputs. Simple things are included such as the light-bar indicating health, but we’ve also implemented the touchpad. And it’s not at all tagged on.”
Some games don’t work well in the trade show environment. Bethesda’s RPGs, for example, present a nightmare for PR as it’s impossible to understand the concept of something like Skyrim if you play it for eight minutes surrounded by hassled reps and huffing men carrying “swag”. Shooters don’t normally suffer as badly from the problem as it’s easy to show five looped seconds of gunplay. Killzone: Shadow Fall is different. And getting to grips with it in the few minutes available for E3 demos isn’t easy.
Luckily, we got a seat in a 30-minute hands-off demo with Guerrilla head Herman Hulst and director Steven Ter Heide in addition to a quick play. I’m glad we did: the PS4 launch title isn’t as two-dimensional as your average FPS.
Guerrilla is open about the reason why: the title’s designed as a showcase for the console’s new features.
“There are a lot of PS4 platform features this game will make use of,” said Hulst. “Pretty much everything is there. Seemingly mundane features like PlayGo? We’ll make sure that works with this game, so you can start right away as the rest of the game downloads. We’ll do Remote Play. You can enjoy it on your Vita as well.
“Essentially we want to make it a showcase for everything on PlayStation 4, and that includes the inputs. Simple things are included such as the light-bar indicating health, but we’ve also implemented the touchpad. And it’s not at all tagged on.”
In addition to a myriad of inputs, Shadow Fall features levels on a far larger scale than those seen in previous Killzone games. Objectives are ordered as the players sees fit, with the overall effect more Far Cry 3 than anything traditionally expected from the Dutch studio. Coupled with the touchpad, the effect is relatively complex.
For instance. You have a flying companion droid called OWL (it isn’t an acronym as yet: the team’s still trying to think one up). It has four different modes. It can attack, stun, shield or create a zipline for you to cross over to platforms too far away to reach by jumping. You select a mode by swiping in the corresponding direction on the touchpad then point and tap L2 to tell OWL where to do whatever you want it to do. You have to think about it.
As well as the OWL controls, your d-pad allows your to take med packs, do a radar-style enemy scan and more. Then you have the fact you’re involved in large environments you can traverse any way you wish. And dropping off ziplines for melee kills. And climbing. You can combine ziplines, shooting, melee, bullet-time, crowd control, flanking and whatever else. It isn’t a simple game. Hulst described Shadow Fall’s play as “more thoughtful”. While it’s possible to approach combat as you like, though, Killzone is still Killzone.
“I don’t want to present it as a stealth game,” said Hulst. “It’s covert gameplay. You’re a super soldier, and you have to engage in combat. The abilities are centred around combat.”
The violence is instantly recognisable. You click the right stick to snap necks and slash throats, and the gunplay is Killzone to the core, OWL or not. While plenty has been added to the traditional Killzone formula with Shadow Fall, Guerrilla is mindful of its roots.
“We’re not going to drop what we liked about the visceral fighting, metre for metre. We’re also going to have that in this game.”
“We don’t want to just create this,” said Hulst, talking of the open levels and freeform approach to objective completion. “We’re not going to drop what we liked about the visceral fighting, metre for metre. We’re also going to have that in this game. There’ll be plenty of areas that are open with varying objectives in different orders, but on top of that, for varieties sake, and for what we like about it, we’re going to have that too.”
But Shadow Fall is new, and represents a new direction for the classic shooter.
“It’s something the new platform has made possible for us, creating fantastical worlds with very high fidelity,” said Ter Heide. “To do that with large open areas that you need to populate with AI rather than faking a lot of stuff in the distance, you need a lot of horsepower. It was just an opportunity to look at the franchise and say, ‘What can we do? What have we always wanted to do?'”
I played the Shadow Fall demo straight after the presentation. Five minutes in, after getting distracted by a large facility in which it’s possible to kit-up for later fighting, I hit the main objective of a downed ship. Helghast surrounded it. I tried to stun them with OWL, missed, aggroed everyone, shot a guy, stabbed someone in the neck, sent OWL up a tree and fell off a wall. And died. I have a feeling that when Killzone: Shadow Fall comes together it’s going to be Guerrilla’s finest hour. I just wish I had a fine hour to get used to it: some games don’t work well in the trade show environment, and normally that’s an indication you’re looking at something special.
Killzone: Shadow Fall will release as a PlayStation 4 launch title this year.