I remember the first time I went hands-on with Killzone 2. It was a segment from one of the final game’s major action sequences: the siege level where you roll into enemy territory in a tank. At the time it was impressive for its spectacle - this was, after all, months, if not years before Call of Duty and Battlefield really started to ramp up the action stakes. And because of that, it remains fairly memorable.
But unfortunately, the same can't be said of Killzone: Shadow Fall. I only played it a few hours ago, yet I found it so depressingly dull that I’ve already forgotten much of what I played. Sorry.
But here’s what I can remember.
The E3 demo opens in a nondescript forest – atop some sort of raised platform, actually – and asks the player to work their way past enemy patrols to meet up with other members of their squad. Because, you know, video games. The objective appears to be fairly simple. There’s a dropship billowing out smoke in the distance – a double whammy for Guerrilla, acting as a clue towards the location of the goal and the opportunity for some lovely particle doodahs to show off those next-gen graphics.
But first things first: getting down from that platform. Now you’d think something like this would be simple, but as a complete newcomer to Shadow Fall, you'd be wrong. I look around for obvious signs of an escape: a ladder maybe, or a slightly lower platform that I can jump on to. There aren’t any. Stumped, I ask the developer driving my ‘guided hands-on’ for advice.
“If I jump down, will I die?” I ask. “Yes,” he replies. I start to ask myself whether this is the shortest demo I’ve ever been entrusted with, thrust onto this godforsaken tower just to make me admire the view, or whether I’ve simply gone stark raving mad. “Use your OWL to fire a zip-line,” my accomplice tells me.
As it turns out, in Killzone: Shadow Fall you have an OWL. I don’t know what OWL means either, but it appears to be the name of a drone that shadows the player’s movements and offers offensive or defensive combat support. And here's where things start to get as interesting as they do confusing. Unlike previous games in the series, the player has numerous special abilities available to them on the d-pad. Hitting left turns your assault rifle into a single-shot sniper rifle, hitting down temporarily slows down time, and holding up sends out a radial sonar highlighting any nearby enemies in red.
But so does OWL, and his (or her – I frankly have no idea as to the gender of this little floating space bot) are activated by swiping in different directions on the DualShock 4’s touchpad. Swipe up and it’ll activate a cover fire mode, or swipe right for a zip-line – again pressing L2 over anything the zip-line can be attached to. OWL can also drop a shield that looks a lot like Halo’s energy shields and... Gosh darn it, I can’t remember. See? I did warn you.
Anyway, with newfound abilities now in tow, I aim towards a nearby tree and fire off the zip-line, crunching a knife into the enemy as I reach the other end. I head into the forest, itself surprisingly open and seemingly host to multiple ways of handling the situation, either by holding back and picking off enemies with your sniper rifle, or charging in for a quick and noisy kill. Whether you’re able to stealth your way through or not, though, I’m still not entirely sure: within an instant I’m spotted by an enemy who calls for backup at a nearby alarm station; the alarm’s rotating red light lighting up the surrounding area. I use OWL to hack the alarm and shut it down.
And this is where my memory starts to become a little hazy. I remember spending a while trying to work out which route to take to meet up with my space colleagues, navigating along cliff-sides (themselves complete with a pair of pathetically poorly scripted rock-slide moments) before asking if I’m going the right way. “Well, this is one way to do it,” he tells me. I’m still not sure whether he meant there were multiple paths or whether he was referring to me being crap.
But finally I reach them. And then I die. As I crash to the floor, the soft glimmer of my gun shines amongst the depth of field. It looks nice (although arguably not everything I would have hoped for from next-gen), but I ask myself, how is this any different to what I’ve played before? And what makes it any better? Is this not just a current-gen experience with some shiny next-gen sparkle? Before reloading, I ask if I had almost reached the end. "No", the dev replies, "This demo can go on for over an hour". I pick up my bag and wish him good luck.