Why “Killzone: Shadow Fall” is the Most Important PS4 Launch Title

For nearly two decades the Playstation brand has been associated with great games of all shapes and sizes. The Playstation 3′s lifespan in particular was teeming with a variety of excellent first party exclusives each bringing with them their own special flare and identity:

  • God of War brought incredible action and scale the likes of which we had never seen in a video game.
  • InFAMOUS arguably perfected the superhero game with its large open-world that oozed fun and action combined with its terrific story and lore.
  • Ratchet and Clank had charm and a terrific sense of humor. Its gameplay was spot on and exactly what we expected like a great comfort-food meal at grandma’s house.
  • Uncharted’s summer blockbuster mentality blurred the lines between film and game like never before and its great gameplay and a loveable cast certainly helped to establish it as a Playstation mainstay.
  • LittleBigPlanet’s infectious charm and wonderful creativity could make even a Siberian bodybuilder who trains with bears in the Russian wilderness crack a smile.

I could go on all day but you get the idea.

All of these franchises and more serve as the pillars that keep the Playstation name strong and sturdy. But there’s one relatively high profile Sony exclusive that is sort of the black sheep of the family… Killzone.

It hasn’t been the smoothest of sailing for Killzone since its debut on the PS2 back in 2004. It was brought into the world kicking and screaming as Sony’s doomed-to-fail “Halo Killer” that never really stood a chance to begin with. Gamers weren’t convinced that it could out-do Microsoft’s flagship series and it didn’t take long for those the beliefs to be substantiated as Killzone launched to a lukewarm reception and decent yet painfully disappointing sales.

I’m sure at the time it would have been easy to write off the franchise as a failure and to move on, but that wasn’t the last we’d see of the Helghast. The following Summer, at their E3 press conference, Sony aired the then controversial and now famous Killzone 2 debut trailer showing the world their commitment to the series and setting a dangerously high bar for what they want it to achieve.

At the time, the footage was written off as fake and impossible. No game could possibly look that good, even a next-gen title. It was revealed later that the trailer was indeed fake but Killzone’s developer, Guerrilla Games, rose to the challenge and delivered the most visually impressive console game to date when Killzone 2 launched on the PS3 in February 2009. The series quickly became the poster child for the console’s technical capabilities.

Killzone had been given a second chance at life and it seemed to have taken that chance and ran with it. The sequel was far better received than the original and nobody could stop talking about how great it looked as well as debating whether it was THE standard for video game graphics. Also just two years later, Killzone 3 was released with even better visuals and a similar positive reception.

So why did I call Killzone a black sheep? The recent entries did well critically, 2 and 3 each managed to move over two million units, and it’s Sony’s go-to technical showpiece. Well, Killzone’s problem is that’s all it is: A technical showpiece. Unlike the rest of Sony’s catalogue, Killzone has nothing to show for itself other than nice graphics.

I’ve spent a lot of time with both Killzone 2 and Killzone 3, both solid games that are worth your time to play, but outside of the presentation they really don’t have much going for them. Everything else about the series is either mediocre or just uninteresting.

Killzone 2′s heavy/weighty gameplay felt unique but to me lacked the polish and precision needed to make a truly great shooter experience. It also ended up being a major turnoff for lots of gamers checking out the series. Rather than refining those controls, Guerrilla tried to make Killzone 3′s more like other first person shooters while retaining some of the old characteristics in an effort to attract a wider audience, while still appealing to the series’ core fanbase. Thus creating a game with an identity crisis that was stuck awkwardly somewhere in between with gameplay that wasn’t necessarily bad, but just didn’t feel right.

The game universe is also extremely generic and the story/characters are also uninteresting and in some cases absolutely terrible *cough* Rico *cough*. It’s also difficult to state at all of the browns, grays, blacks, whites the game levels are littered with and not get bored.

So what we’re left with are glorified tech demoes that are subpar or merely decent in almost every conceivable way. That sounds harsh and as painful as it is for me to say that as a person who’s enjoyed the games and supports the series, it’s true. Virtually every Sony first party franchise brings something unique to the table, Killzone just kind of shows up, albeit looking good doing so.

And that brings us to today, August 2013. The Playstation 4 is only a few months away, as is the next entry in the franchise, Killzone: Shadow Fall, which happens to be a launch title.

Everybody knows that a strong launch line-up is crucial for the early success of any console and the PS4 is no exception. Thankfully its early catalogue is looking quite strong, but it’s also looking a little too identical to a certain other next-gen console that also happens to be launching in a few short months. That’s why in today’s gaming landscape, where third party exclusives are nearly extinct and almost everything is going multi platform, first party exclusive games are more important than ever and hence are one of the biggest deciding factors when somebody is choosing a console.

Sony only has three legit first party titles set for launch: Knack, Drive Club, and Killzone: Shadow Fall. The more we learn about the action/platformer Knack the more we realize it isn’t quite what we were expecting and therefore becomes more underwhelming. Drive Club looks good and has a capable studio behind it, but racing games aren’t the powerhouses they were a decade ago so this game probably won’t shift too many consoles. That leaves us with Shadow Fall as the one traditional Triple A exclusive coming to the PS4 at launch.

This is a make or break moment for the Killzone franchise.

The times when Sony could rely on third party games from EA, Capcom, Namco, et cetera, to push their consoles are long gone. You will be able play Battlefield 4 on plenty of other consoles, you will be able play Watch Dogs on plenty of other consoles, but Killzone: Shadow Fall will only be available to play on PS4.

You see Sony has spent the entirety of the PS3′s lifespan establishing themselves as an extraordinary first party publisher and I’m sure they would like that reputation to follow them in to the next generation. For that to happen they need to put their money where their mouth is and come out of the gate swinging. Especially since InFAMOUS: Second Son, hands down the most anticipated PS4 exclusive currently announced, won’t be out until at least a few months into 2014. So it falls to Killzone and its moderate name power to lead the initial charge.

It’ll be months before another meaningful exclusive hits the market so Sony is counting on Guerrilla to make a game with the same pedigree as the other great playstation exclusives we’ve seen over the past few years. Long story short, Killzone: Shadow Fall NEEDS to deliver. It NEEDS to be a great game. The PS4 needs a signature exclusive game and Sony needs its name to stay strong.

It’s perhaps just as important for this game to deliver for the future of the franchise as it is to deliver for Sony’s next console. If there’s ever a time for Killzone to break out and become one of the Sony’s premier franchises on the level of God of War, Gran Turismo, and Uncharted, it’s now! There are no other first party games overshadowing it and for many people it’s going to be their first experience with the franchise and the PS4. A great first impression would do wonders.

Luckily Killzone: Shadow Fall is looking great. It’s a loose reboot to the story with an interesting iron curtain in space story and it’s going to be packed with new features. Previews also imply that they may have finally found the sweet spot between the fast paced gameplay/controls people like in other shooters and the weighted feel that help make the series unique. In addition to that we know it will have big open levels full of multiple objectives you can approach how you please. This all sounds good, really good.

We’ll have the game and the PS4 in our hands before we know it. For now all we can do is sit back and wait and hope that everything lives up to our expectations.

Killzone, the stage is set, you have the show to yourself. Go out there and make us proud.