If you're not aware of the backstory, let us fill you in on the relevant events. It's thirty years after the last war with the Helghast. After their planet was destroyed they moved in next door to the Vektan, a giant wall separating the city where both sides live.
An uneasy peace has, up until now, prevailed. But as the demo that was first shown during the unveiling of PlayStation 4 demonstrates in no uncertain terms, peacetime is over, and the Helghast are back on the offensive. War has returned.
We don't get to see any of the urban environment demoed during that first reveal. Instead we're treated to a short section of the game a few levels in. No context is given to our actions, we're just told to go here and do this, head there and do that. Not that it matters, this isn't about experiencing the game's narrative; there's plenty of time for that. The point of this demo is to show us what Guerillia of introducing as gameplay basics, and in this respect it's successful.
The first thing that we're introduced to is the OWL. It's a flying robotic companion that offers a variety of tactical options as you progress through the game's environment. It's accessed via the touchpad on the PlayStation 4 controller. While it took a little bit of getting used to, likelihood is swiping across the touchpad's surface will quickly become intuitive and simple.
We're on a platform. Below us there's a Helghast grunt on another, waiting for a beating. Rather than blast from range we use our robotic buddy to zip-line down to the platform. We were supposed to perform one of the new "death from above" takedowns, but botched the effort. Instead we drop down behind the trooper and initiated a close quarters takedown, which wasn't as impressive, but equally effective.
You can zip-line down from any elevated position, with a swipe from right to left on the touchpad. An opaque icon appears; rest the crosshair on any location within range and it turns white. A quick tap on L2 activates the action and in this instance we're on our way down for some combat.
There are other options, and we're introduced to them over the next ten minutes in our walkthrough with Guerrilla. The OWL has four different functions. The most obvious, and the one that we'll be using the most, is the attack option. By sending our flying drone to a position we can engage the enemy from the front, distracting them long enough to move into a flanking position and get the drop on them.
For a more frontal attack there's a shield that deflects incoming projectiles. It's not subtle, but it's effective. To be honest, we largely ignored that as resistance was never so fierce that it warranted its use. Perhaps we could have utilised it better, but given more time we're sure that the shield will come in handy when it comes to getting out of scrapes.
The OWL can take damage, but its health is replenished when it's charging on your back. It needs to be used carefully, as it's not something that can be relied on too heavily. Purpose and planning will go along way here. Another useful function will be the ability to use the drone to disarm traps and deactivate alarms.
There are other features mapped out on the D-Pad. There's a scanner, which reveals the heat signatures of nearby enemies. Press and hold Up to send out a pulse that detects the Helghast, but use it for too long and you'll hand them your position on a plate. Once again, overuse will leave you exposed. If you find yourself in a bind, there's a health boost available by pressing Down. You'll also get a hit of adrenalin, slowing down time and allowing for some precision shots.
The automatic rifle we were firing has a alt-weapon feature. Selecting it turns the gun into a powerful one-shot weapon that needs to be charged before firing. The perfect way to initiate an attack is landing a shot on a powerful enemy target, before switching to the rifle's vanilla functionality and going to work on the supporting cast.
There was a lot to absorb during the short demo, but we went away impressed. There's huge scope for differing tactical options on the battlefield. You can use the environment to spring traps, easily perform flanking manoeuvres, create diversions, and bring strength to bear in full-on frontal assaults. Ultimately it's going to come down to level design. If Guerrilla can create environments that'll allow these features to blossom, then Killzone: Shadow Fall could well end up being a very, very good shooter.
The environments themselves definitely look the part. Not mind- blowing when compared to what's currently available on a decent PC rig, but the step up coming for console owners is a marked one. There's particle effects on display (taking out a sniper and a small cloud of ember-like particles drifts through the air), and the detail in the foliage and structures is impressive. The level we played was punctuated by impressive landmarks (a huge statue towered above, and a crash site smoked in the distance), and there was plenty of opportunity to try out some of Killzone's new tricks in the short section we experienced thanks to multileveled structures, platforms, and a diverse landscape.
Shadow Fall is shaping up to be a decent launch title for Playstation 4. It looks good, there's plenty of options for the player, and the new features on the controller are well implemented (as a side note, we really like the feel of the Dualshock 4, and much prefer it to its predecessor). We've a while to wait before we can get our hands on the full experience, but our short, controlled burst of time with the game yielded encouraging results. Bring on November.