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Hands-On, OWLS Out With Killzone Shadow Fall

AJ Glasser | 12 Jun 2013 23:30
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Increasing the odds of survival with bigger maps and dynamic environments.

There's a certain appeal to dying repeatedly in a game beside the man who made it. Game director Hermen Hulst stood behind me as I died two, three, and four times in Killzone 4 and afterward told me I was the most "chipper" person he'd ever met that died that often in a demo.

I told him I was happy to do it -- because Killzone is one of those games that's supposed to be hard. I take my multiple deaths as proof of Shadow Fall's faithfulness to the established difficultly level of the series. Any KZ veteran will tell you that it's not supposed to be the kind of game where you can rush out with no cover, guns blazing, and walk away from the level in only one play-through.

Killzone Shadow Fall sticks with the difficultly, but increases the options players have for coping with it. The game first introduces a portable drone called OWL, which can be used to attack enemies, stage distractions, trip mines and other traps, and hack computers by remote while the player keeps his or her character safe behind cover. The OWL cannot be totally destroyed in combat, but it does take damage -- and may need to return to the player to regenerate if it gets hit too badly. Enemies will also see and react to the OWL if it's sent out to, say, hack an alarm system directly in their line of sight.

Second, each level in Shadow Fall is significantly larger and more dynamic than in previous KZ games -- giving the player multiple objectives per level and some choice of how to complete those objectives.

The level I played in a private area of Sony Computer Entertainment's PlayStaiton 4 demo booth, for example, was sparse forest on the edge of a rocky cliff overlooking the sea. Somewhere near the coast, a ship carrying Vektan operatives had gone down and my objective was to retrieve the data they'd collected and extract the survivors. Because Shadow Fall is set in a Cold War-style environment where the Helghast and Vektan are trying to not be at war with one another, this extraction is supposed to be done with stealth.

My objectives in the level involved taking out a communications tower, disabling some automatic guns, finding the downed ship, and then making contact with the operatives (that wisely did not stay in the ship after it crashed). I can do any one of these objectives in any order I wish -- but the order I choose has a direct impact on how the level plays out. For example, if I disable the guns and take out the tower before finding the operatives, the operatives will immediately join up with me to head to the extraction point. If I haven't done either of those things, they choose to stay in their hiding place while I deal with those two obstacles - but they do give me the data, regardless of whether or not they come with me.

Combat covers the basics - the gruesome close-quarters melee attacks familiar to Killzone fans, the varied gun options (sniper rifle, rapid fire automatic, etc.) with optional sights, a targeting reticule that turns read when directly over an enemy. A few new tools through the OWL, however, give players a tactical advantage. For example, there's a Pulse tool that detects and highlights enemies in fixed radius from the player -- the highlights are visible even through walls and cover. There's also a shield tool which the player can fire from behind, and it's especially useful if they find a convenient bottle neck on the map which prevents enemies from flanking the shield. These tactical advantages give the player more control over the flow of gameplay in a level, and buy the player time to think about how they want to take out enemies.

With the new level layouts and OWL tools, Killzone Shadow Fall may be the most stealthy title in the series so far. With the PlayStation 4's "share" ability, developer Guerrilla Games is hoping to see players upload videos displaying the various methods they used to get past levels. Also of note is the game's use of the PS4 controller's touchpad - players can navigate the OWL's commands and abilities by flicking a finger across the surface of the pad and pressing R1 to activate... or they can be lame and press a button to bring up the ability wheel.

The demo ended when I died for the fourth time after lobbing a grenade at a retreating Helghast and then running right on top of it because I changed my mind and decided to break the guy's neck. I actually survived the blast long enough to complete the melee kill, but collapsed immediately afterward. Hulst laughed, I laughed, and then had to hand it off to the next journalist in line. Who probably died just as often as I did.

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