There's A Small Chance I Could Care About Killzone: Shadow Fall

The first one was infamously dubbed a Halo-killer. The second gave the PlayStation faithful something impressive to hang on to when pickings were slim in the FPS genre. And Killzone 3 remains one of the only games that truly delivered on the promise of 3D gaming, layering its graphics so that it looked like you playing through a sci-fi diorama of death.

They’ve been shiny exemplars of what PlayStation systems can accomplish but Guerilla Games’ sci-fi shoot-em-ups have left me cold. I’m hoping that Killzone: Shadow Fall will be different.

The Killzone games always seem like they’ve been engineered to explicitly impress the shit out of you, with no reason to exist other than to look shiny and render explosions in ever higher detail. Ostensibly, you were supposed to be in awe of the Helghast, the implacable enemy faction out to dominate the galaxy. But, for me, that never happened. WARNING: Spoilers for Killzone 3 follow.

The Helghan grunts and commanders alike were full of bland bluster. And I never rushed to chat about a Killzone set-piece with friends when I played those games. Moreover, after I finished Killzone 3 -- with its ending that blows up an entire planet -- I found a surprising lack of chatter about such an apocalyptic event. Did anybody care that they just blew up a planet? Killzone: Shadow Fall might be the game that makes me give a damn about the malevolent culture at the heart of the FPS series.

Killzone’s main problem has been that the series’ bad guys have been far more interesting than its good guys. Can you even name the soldiers who you controlled in those games without looking it up? Probably not. They were empty wire-meshes thrown against creepy, glowy-eyed enemies. It was those enemies who were the series’ only intriguing element. In the franchise’s three titles, the Helghast were essentially presented as an extraterrestrial Nazi/Stalinist mash-up.

Marketing images -- as well as unlockables inside the games -- channeled mid-20th Century Soviet propaganda art and you could see the similarities to a swastika on the Helghan flag. And the Old Country macho affectations of the Helghan ruling class certainly made it feel like they were in a futuristic version of the Politburo. But for all the wannabe provocation -- ooh, get angry, why don’t you?! -- in the Helghan DNA, it never made me feel anything. Sure, the visuals and performance pushed the PS2 and PS3 to their limits but that’s all technical flash not emotional reaction.

The same kind of flash showed up when Killzone: Shadow Fall showed up at this February’s PlayStation Meeting. (The video above is from E# last week and features a more in-depth breakdown of Shadow Fall.) Guerilla’s devs were trotted out to show off a demo that highlighted the PS4’s glorious processing power. But in the middle of all the carnage, there was the hint of an interesting idea that could separate Shadow Fall from its predecessors: You might be actually have some sympathy for the bad guys this time.

Back in February, Guerilla managing director Hermann Hulst sketched out the framing narrative for Shadow Fall. Taking place 30 years after KZ3, the PS4 game puts Helghast survivors as refugees on Vekta, a planet they were formerly at war with. Helghans and Vektans have been living in an uneasy truce in giant areas where they’re walled off from each other. (Yes, it’s just like the Berlin Wall and, yes, it’s more real-world war symbolism.) Hulst said that planet Vekta’s embroiled in a cold war that’s about to go hot. It’s that cold war set-up that might get me more engaged with Shadow Fall when compared to other KZ games.

There’s room for some really interesting storytelling dynamics here. Shadow Fall could give a look at what’s it like when the galaxy’s bogeyman needs to survive off the good graces of the people he/they once terrorized. And I’m seriously hoping that this game shows what it’s like to go from aggressor to oppressed. The games in this series have operated on a very black-and-white morality scale, with clear motives for fulfilling various military directives. Save your fellow prisoners-of-war and that sort of thing. However, Shadow Fall’s spot in the Killzone continuity gives it a chance to something different.

Here’s what Hulst said to me back in February:

The home planet of the Helghast is pretty much destroyed. It was decided to give shelter to the Helghast on Vekta. And whilst that was great initially, the Helghan are turning back to their old doctrines. They’re all based on militarism, duty, obedience. Where there was a good peace initially, it’s now an uneasy peace.

Maybe I’m naïve to hope that Shadow Fall will show a more nuanced view of human nature. What could make the Helghast turn against the world that took them in, other than the reasoning that they’re the bad guys? For a series that imprints so heavily off chilling real-world events and power shifts, it’d be great if the societies in this newest game were scripted like the winning and losing sides of the world-changing conflicts throughout history. That would be a truly next-gen development.


Comments

    After the events of the previous games (especially the first one), am I the only one who finds it odd that, out of all the planets in the galaxy, they chose to settle the surviving Helghast on Vekta? Surely some other option - ANY other option - would cause less.... tension?

      I know, right? There are a number of planets in the Killzone universe that would have been perfectly viable alternatives; sure, no matter where they are there's going to be tension, but Vekta? That seems to be just asking for civil war :/

      Vekta was originally a Helghan planet. Maybe that factored into it.

      Otherwise, a wizard did it.

      You know what they say: "keep your friends close, and your enemies right over the other side of a giant wall."

      Pretty sure that was Sun Tzu.

    The settlement started with Refugees, so I'm assuming the ISA were using it as a means of control.

    That being said, I could easy see this as a Helghan trojan horse plan, get enough people on Vetka and attack from the inside, someone at the end of KZ3 returns, either Visari (I support that it was a body double that was killed in KZ2), but being 30years after the KZ3 events, then it will more likely be Visari's daughter looking for revenge or something.

      There was the talk that the Visari killed in Killzone 2 was a body double. The Visari at the beginning of the game (the speech) had blue eyes and the one killed had brown.

      Not sure if this has been debunked (or even true, I haven't replayed it to check yet)

    KZ2 was aweome, although the ending was a bit anticlimactic, and while KZ3 was pretty good, I don't feel like it lived up to #2.

    KZ3 felt more like it was pandering to the COD:MW audience with quick, tenuously-related set pieces, slinging the player from one side of the planet to the next with little to no exposition or character/world development in between. The intro introduced some really interesting insight to the Helghan but nothing much was done with it.

    That's what I really liked about KZ2, the development of the things that weren't guns or explosions - the characters (Rico is a DICK), the Helghan and the political struggles in the background. That's why I was drawn to the series in the first place (I'm not a big FPS guy, don't play COD or BF at all).

    Killzone always had the potential for an interesting story because the Hellghan in some ways are the good guys. They get forced off their own planet to a shit hole world with a toxic environment because they threatened to become an economic powerhouse and were going to succeed because the Earth was going to start taxing them. They come back for revenge for what happened to them and to take back their world and lose. Then the "good" guys decide hey lets go invade this new planet and kill them all.

    I'm generally not interested in game storys. There have been exceptions to that this generation, but generally it's good guys killing bad guys, and I don't really take much note of what race is called what, and why everyone's being so shooty. I'm currently playing Dark Sector and I have no idea what's going in that story. Someone's not happy with someone else, I suppose.

    I really enjoyed K2, which was one of my first current generation FPSs', if not the first, and I dug the gameplay, the character design, the environments. It's been one of my keepers and i'll one day play it through again,

    K3 is the only current gen game that other than MW2 that i've played through twice - although to be fair the campaign is particularly short.

    Again, it plays well, looks good, and it also has a good and stylish mood.

    I can't remember much about the story, other than Ray Winstone doing a bit of over-acting, but I really liked the opening and ending sequences - which I found really stylish and memorable. And that's what brought me back to play KZ3 a second time.

    Given the competence of KZ2 and KZ3 I can be very confident that Shadow Fall will at the very least be a very solid game. Sure, it may be trumped by CoD, or Halo, or whatever else, but regardless of that it will be have solid gunplay, excellent graphics, strong multiplayer and everything else.

    I can be confident in the Killzone franchise more than I can be in the franchises of RAGE, Resistance, FEAR, Crysis, Dead Space, Mirrors Edge, Rainbow 6, Ghost Recon, Call of Juarez franchises.

      "I can be confident in the Killzone franchise more than I can be in the franchises of RAGE, Resistance, FEAR, Crysis, Dead Space, Mirrors Edge, Rainbow 6, Ghost Recon, Call of Juarez franchises."

      Well, it's kind of like... Making Mirror's Edge is like making an exquisite soufflé. Pretty easy to fuck it up, and it's not a staple. Killzone? Probably a bit closer to cooking scrambled eggs. There's still some art to it (make sure there's plenty of milk and well-whipped so it stays light and fluffy, don't cook anything into it - cook onions/garlic/bacon on the side and add as garnishing afterward, and for the love of god, don't cook it so long that it turns into a mashed omelet. Just like a Call of Honour, Medal of Battlefield game: brown is the enemy - you want a subdued yellow colour to it), but it's still serviceable even if you disobey any of the cardinal rules I mentioned.

        I agree. Killzone is definitely a humble omelet. With a dash of piri piri.

    Didn't even nother finishing the story mode in KZ3 but multipalyer was a blast.

      I'm kind of the opposite - loved the campaign (I think I finished it 3 times on various difficulty settings), but didn't really get into the multiplayer.

      I think it's largely due to the fact that online shooters require so much time these days because you need to play for hours/days to unlock the decent gear. And I just don't have time for more than one of those. That one used to be COD, then it became Battlefield, and it's still Battlefield. I'm not going to find enough time for another multplayer shooter as long as I'm playing that.

      I really hate this unlocking/levelling up stuff that every multiplayer shooter seems to be obsessed with these days. Just give me all the gear from the start and let me choose what I want to use. Especially if you don't start playing on day 1 - come along a month or two later and everybody is fully geared up and you just get slaughtered running around with the default pea-shooter weapons.

        i agree with what you're saying but the best weapons in the KZ3 are available from the moment you begin with most classes. i found that the weapons felt very balanced. classes were locked to specific weapons which was kind of weird.

        actually the weirdest thing i felt about KZ3 is that because it had support for the PS Move Sharpshooter add on, aiming on the run was a lot more accurate than it felt in previous games! as soon as i realised how accurate it was i stopped using iron sights most of the time and my game improved significantly.

        if you played a lot of KZ2 multiplayer, KZ3 multiplayer started out very awkwardly but as soon as you got the hang of it it was good. i wish people still played but the servers are always empty when i jump on :(

        Yeah I know what your saying, I think Modern Warfare was the first to introduce the unlocking aspect but at least gave you the all mighty nube-tube.
        Unlocks really penalise the casual and new players who need all the help they can get against seasoned vets.
        Late this year I will have to choose either KZ4,BF4 or Ghosts if I want to remain competitive.

    When I read up on the lore, I actually kinda felt bad for the Helghast and sympathized with their general motivations (if not some of the more dickish, specific implementations). It made shooting them a bit off-putting. Especially since the people I was fighting for were basically a pack of implausibly-successsful-despite-incompetence dickish American dudebros.

      I just wish the writers would put that lore in the actual games, rather than just scattering it about their website.

    I may have felt neither sympathetic nor interested in any of the good characters (bar Luger in the first), but I did actually feel sympathetic towards the Helghast. I understood their motivation and I kinda got the feeling that they were trodden on by all of the other shitty people from ISA-controlled planets, lol. Though you are correct in implying that the series' main problem has been that the Helghast are far more interesting than pretty much all of the protagonists thus far.

    Though I like that it's a pretty game with lots of attention to detail, what I've seen of the AI worries me in terms of gameplay. Take a look at the other gameplay demonstration in the jungle level and tell me there aren't some pretty significant flaws in the helghans' behaviour :/

    As far as the story is concerned, I'm just glad Rico won't be in the game anymore. I got the feeling they were trying to pull the typical negligent/defiant loose-cannon soldier card with him, but I hated his character, his vocals, and pretty much every impact he had on the story.
    I don't know about you, but Visari's speeches in each game have made me feel something, and I rather enjoyed Radec too. Even if the majority of the other characters didn't quite pull it off, you have to grant that there is something there.

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