Monday, February 24, 2020

Backlogging - Killzone: Shadow Fall

Every time I tried to play Everquest 2 this weekend the game either froze at the character select screen or crashed while loading into a new zone. That's not very conductive to leveling up my crafters, which was my game plan.

My hand forced, I switched gears to a different gaming project: clearing out my console gaming backlog before the new round of consoles release in the fall. This isn't a strictly necessary exercise. If the rumors hold true then both the PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series X will both have some degree of backwards compatibility. But I'm running into the problem of physical space for both consoles and games. It's probably about high time I start actually playing through some of these things and maybe purge anything I've decided I'm not in love with. It is almost time for spring cleaning after all and it can't hurt to get a jump start on it.

I have this thing where I like to play games in chronological order. Firstly, it helps take some of the decision paralysis out of deciding what to play. Just pick some parameters and then pick the first game on the list. I use GameFAQs for this usually. The advanced search feature let's me pick different parameters and then order the list by release date. Secondly, I like watching games evolve over the years and watch developers steal each other ideas and hopefully improve upon them. It's the stuffy English major in me, I tend to view art as creators having a conversation with both the audience and amongst other creators.

Anyhow, I'm only interested in playing console exclusives right now. My desktop is far more powerful than my base model PS4 or Xbox One S, so if I have the choice I'd rather play a game on PC. The PlayStation 4 was already conveniently setup next to my desktop because of my racing rig, so I went with that instead of the Xbox. The first exclusive launch title by alphabetical order was...:

Killzone: Shadow Fall
Platform: PlayStation 4
Genre: First Person Shooter
Release Date: November 15, 2013 (NA)

There's no two ways about it: this is a pretty looking game. I have apparently not been giving this generation's consoles enough credit because the vistas and environments in Killzone are damn impressive. Especially for a launch game that only used half the system's available memory because they were working with dev kits that only had 4GB of RAM instead of the 8GB that the PS4 shipped with.

This is less true of things when you get up close. There are some ugly textures here and there, particularly near the end of the game where a developer's efforts always seem to lessen under the presumption that most players won't actually get that far.  The game also retains that "chunky" face on NPCs that most seventh generation games had. It's not Oblivion bad, but the NPC you tag along with the second half of the game looks like took some bad bee stings to the noggin.

If your game doesn't do faces particularly well, maybe don't have cut scenes that highlight that.

This was the biggest PS4 exclusive on launch, so Guerilla Games were clearly under orders to make the game look as pretty as possible. Unfortunately, the overdid it a bit. On some of the more wide open levels, there is so much foliage that actually finding enemies or objectives because tedious. 

The core gameplay loop is fairly simple. First you scan an area to get X-ray vision of all the enemies and objectives in an area, then use your drone to provide a distraction while you flank the enemy and shoot them dead. Occasionally, you get an enemy type that needs to be stunlocked by your drone. Sometimes you need to do basic puzzle solving. The gameplay isn't terribly deep, but for a 10 hour or so campaign it doesn't overstay it's welcome too much.

The gun play is decent. I feel like in the post-Destiny world every shooter wants to pad out it's run time by making every enemy take entire clips to kill and Killzone mostly avoids that. (It pads its length by having unskippable scenes of your character very slowly riding elevators or conveyor belts. Very, very slowly.) Even with my potato aim on a controller I was able to kill enemies fairly decisively.

The gun variety is incredibly poor. There is a shotgun, a sniper rifle, a rail gun, a Gatling gun, and 4-5 different assault rifles with next to no differences between them. I don't know why there are so many assault rifles in this game. They may have slightly different zoom or power, but they are more or less indistinguishable. Maybe it makes sense in the multiplayer, but it serves no purpose in the single player.

I was surprised by how much narrative there is in the game. I was also very surprised by how much I really needed to have played the previous Killzone games in order to understand the plot to this one. I picked up the first Killzone game for $5 this weekend, so maybe I'll start playing through the series soon. The quality of the story is fine. It's a war movie but in space. There's a lot of "big reveals" that were probably pretty cool to people with an understanding of previous games. The story line did get confusing in parts. There is some incredibly poor audio mixing in the game, where background noise is louder than the dialog, resulting in me missing out on important story information. I didn't even realized I had traveled to another planet at one point until I read the story line summary on Wikipedia after I had finished the game. It also does that annoying thing every fantasy or Sci-Fi work does where they name drop a bunch of proper nouns and expect me to actually keep tracking of all of it. It was cool when Tolkien did it. Nobody is doing it for generic shooter #75,648.

All in all, it was fine. It would be a rental if that was still a thing. On 'The Grand Everwake Scale of Reviewing Things'. It was a 3/5. It was slightly above average. If you are a hardcore shooter fan and don't mind playing with a controller then it's worth the $10 or so it goes for used. For most people its probably a pass.

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