Killzone: Shadow Fall is a confirmed launch title for the PlayStation 4. A few things we can count on: it will be beautiful; it will have lots of shooting; and it will have creepy dudes with red eyes. But beyond that, there's a lot we just don't know, so GameSpot's resident Killzone experts Kevin VanOrd and Chris Watters decided to let their imaginations run wild. What do they most want from the upcoming sequel?
So it seems the fight is coming back to Vekta. Killzone: Shadow Fall's location is abundantly clear in the first few seconds of the demonstration we saw at the PlayStation 4 announcement meeting. That change of locale is a good start for differentiating this sequel from Killzones 2 and 3, which took place on the unfriendly red soil of Helghan. Civilians! They're almost unheard of in this series, yet here we see them, milling about in a city that looks teeming with life. If a next-gen platform means delivering grander, lived-in vistas in a modern shooter, then bring on the PS4.
Shadow Fall's announcement trailer came later, and it calls to mind the series' greatest weakness: story. The trailer's narrator is a Helghast--and he poignantly refers to his race's victimhood, in spite of Killzone's continuing portrayal of the Helghast as the bad guys. After all, they wear creepy gas masks and have menacing red eyes; their visual symbols bear a passing resemblance to the Third Reich's; and their grandiose leaders chew up scenery in an effort to seem as unhinged as possible. The Helghast are hardly blameless, yet their Vektan forebears were all but forced to flee the planet to avoid persecution by the occupying ISA. Furthermore, their second home has been ravaged and their people almost annihilated. The story has occasionally referred to the Helghast's plight in the face of ISA aggression, but it has never quite "gone there." If Killzone: Shadow Fall finally acknowledges the ISA's moral shortcomings and the social tensions that drove the Helghast to the breaking point, the series' narrative might finally soar. At the very least, I hope Guerrilla makes it about more than just military squad chatter among grunting meatheads.
"Here's hoping this powderkeg setting injects new life into the series by fueling new narrative entanglements."
Given that Killzone 3 began as a preemptive ISA strike against the Helghan homeworld, I shared your hope that the next Killzone game would take a more sympathetic view of the Helghast as an oppressed people. Even as I watched the attack unfold in the Shadow Fall stage demo, I hoped that the uncloaked Helghast walking towards the player would reach out his hand and help the player up, revealing that you are playing as a Helghast this time around. But then came the knife in the neck, and then came the trailer with voiceover that sounded like a terrorist manifesto. The arch-villain Helghast are certainly still in effect in Shadow Fall, but I think the setting gives us good reason to hold out hope for a more nuanced narrative.
Set thirty years after the catastrophic finale of Killzone 3, Shadow Fall finds the Helghan survivors quarantined in a walled ghetto district of Vekta City. The fierce enmity that exists between these two factions must have been tempered somehow to allow this situation to arise. Diplomatic ties must have been reforged, humanitarian aid offered, and some measure of sympathy must have prevailed among the ISA populace. Helghan scum and ISA dogs working together to build a new city? It's enough to make a shooter fan misty. Meeting the characters from both factions who are responsible for constructing and maintaining this fragile peace could make for intriguing interactions and a less ham-fisted story. And of course, the rigid border controls, military-caliber police forces, and violent terrorist cells make for no shortage of combat opportunities, both covert and cacophonous. Here's hoping this powderkeg setting injects new life into the series by fueling new narrative entanglements and new gameplay scenarios.
I, too, would love to see new scenarios. We would both certainly agree that Killzone 2 and 3 had terrific action. (Sadly, I can't say the same about the original Killzone, which was fine but not a standout.) But the power of the PlayStation 4 will hopefully open up the action so that we fight through fewer corridors and move into spaces that allow more room to breathe. Consider Killzone 3's jetpack scenarios; what made them great was that suddenly we had the power to approach battle from different angles. On-foot gameplay could take a cue from these flights of fancy, littering larger battlefields with cover opportunities and letting the series' generally terrific enemy AI keep players on the move. And with larger arenas, perhaps we may be gifted with even more ways to zoom and fly about the place. In other words: Moar vehicles plz.
I also hope that Shadow Fall embraces its sci-fi setting. The series is science fiction, of course, but the action is more akin to the tried-and-true traditions of military shooters than to the futuristic mindsets of games like Unreal and Halo. (Which makes sense; developer Guerrilla has said that the series was inspired by 20th-century conflicts.) We've seen a few outlandish weapons, but I'd love to see even more. For that matter, it was nice to see the disguised Helghan reveal his true form in the demo and in the trailer, hinting at the possibility that the disguising aspect of Killzone 2/3's multiplayer might find its way into the single player. Throw in some cool far-future weapons (Resistance 3 and Bulletstorm had the right idea here) and some neat special abilities and gadgets (Trip mines? Ghostly doubles to distract the opposition? Poison-gas grenades?), and it might actually feel like the 24th century. And just think about the implications new abilities might have for the online multiplayer.
Hey, in the past thirty years our technological advances have brought us cell phones, the Internet, and the Shake Weight (TM), so who knows what 30 years of Vektan scientific progress could bring? Letting the setting take the lead again, I'm imagining an array of weapons and devices focused on zone control and nonlethal incapacitation. These kind of tools could help maintain order around the ISA-Helghan border, and could fuel some new multiplayer game types as well. Picture a Border Patrol mode that, similar to the fantastic Warzone mode introduced in Killzone 2, shifts between multiple objectives as the factions vie for dominance. One moment you have to man a security checkpoint, scanning the crowd to spot enemies in disguise and then capturing them without killing the dozens of AI civilians that are passing through. If successful, the intel you grab from the enemy puts you on the offensive as you try to gain control of a terrorist safehouse by any means necessary. If you fail, the infiltrators blow a hole in the wall, and you must hold off the incoming enemies with gunfire and area denial devices.
This kind of branching multiplayer conflict would be a natural progression from Killzone 3's Operations mode. With the PS4's processing power, these scenarios could get even more complex, perhaps fueling a larger metagame in which the two factions strive to make enduring territorial gains, winning and losing districts as Vekta City simmers on the verge of all-out war. How quickly you complete missions and what kind of collateral damage you cause would inform your faction's morale, and whether or not you had the support of the people could have real, in-mission consequences. If things finally boil over, the gametypes focused on infiltration and sabotage would be small-scale conflicts away from the front lines, while the team deathmatch clashes would be much larger scale, spanning multiple destructible city blocks. Yes, I said destructible. What good is all that PS4 hardware if I can't have dynamic environments in my multiplayer matches?
"The more Shadow Fall distinguishes itself among the sea of mainstream shooters, the more likely it'll be to start the PS4's life cycle off with a bang."
Are we asking for too much at this stage? Nevertheless, given the environmental variability of games like Battlefield: Bad Company 2, it's hard not to throw this kind of thing into the Shadow Fall wishlist. The series has boasted some of the best multiplayer level design of the last several years; there's no reason to think that Guerrilla couldn't sustain that high level of design while still allowing walls to crumble, exposing players that thought they were hidden in relative safety.
But you know what tops my most-wanted list? Online cooperative play. Killzone 3 dabbled in co-op, but the split-screen feature was hardly inspired. And not a separate campaign, please, or another Gears-type Horde mode, but full campaign co-op support that lets me and my buddy take advantage of these open maps Chris and I have dreamed up. And I don't want co-op skimped on; it's not enough to throw two people into the level and call it a day, maybe breaching a door together here and there, or pulling your squadmate to a higher ledge. Split us up every so often to increase the tension. Take a cue from Dead Space 3 and use the opportunity to flesh out the secondary character. Let one player drive around some space-age vehicle while the other takes charge of a mounted gun. Whatever happens, I don't want this aspect of the series to be overlooked again.
I want a lot, don't I? Well--a guy can dream, I guess!
Cooperative campaign play doesn't seem like a big ask from a series that has so often put you in a squad of other soldiers in environments with room to maneuver, so you go ahead and dream your dreams, Kevin. For me, my final wish is a new character progression and loadout unlock system for multiplayer. Remember the one from Killzone 2? With the ribbons and the medals and the confusion? I was oddly compelled by that system because it felt fresh and different. Killzone 3 streamlined things a bit and made it easier to comprehend, but I want Shadow Fall to further distance itself from the familiar and give me a system that draws me in, urges me towards specific goals, and gives me some flexibility with my class loadouts. It's a vague request, I know, but the more Shadow Fall distinguishes itself among the sea of mainstream shooters, the more likely it'll be to start the PS4's life cycle off with a bang.
Now that Kevin and I have shared our hopes for Killzone: Shadow Fall, it's time for you to chime in. What kind of innovation do you want to see? In what respects should the series stay the course? Share your thoughts, no matter how outlandish, in the comments below.