Killzone: Shadow Fall takes steps to reinvent the franchise in a next-gen transition to wide-open areas, tactical shooting, and a slower pace--all told, a thinking man's game. If you look too closely, it's easy to see Killzone: Shadow Fall as a sum of gameplay, art, and design choices that have made shooters into mainstream blockbusters--inspirations from Crysis, Half-Life 2, and totalitarian settings are worn on its sleeve. But beneath the exceedingly shiny veneer (Shadow Fall is the best-looking PS4 game, after all), Killzone's pursuit of innovation fall shorts of greatness and yields a hybrid experience both familiar and bold. When it sticks to the Killzone script, Shadow Fall meets or exceeds the series' best moments. In its significant changes, the results are less positive.
Take the story, for example. Lucas Kellan is a Shadow Marshal, an elite class of ISA soldier that operate with a taste for espionage and working in the shadows. That's not to say his mission is an entirely covert affair--your fair share of shootouts will be blasted through by game's end. Rather, the most notable difference between Kellan and good ol' Sevchenko of old is their combat responsibilities. Kellan operates almost exclusively on his own, communicating only with his superiors back at HQ when the mission demands a change of plan or reminder of objectives. Kellen walks a lonely road, and the player feels it too. Say what you will about Rico's exhaustive profanity or the bro-tastic nature of most Killzone conversations; I found myself wishing for a companion, or even a more talkative radio mate, within an hour or two of starting the campaign.
I suspect this loneliness has something to do with the game's vague signposting. Some areas of Killzone: Shadow Fall are exceedingly large, and little to no natural direction is offered along the way. You can always press Up on the D-pad to highlight your next objective marker, but the marker itself is tiny and often difficult to make out amidst the extravagant environments and their colors. But having to refresh my memory of objective locations isn't really the problem. Rather, level design is somewhat vague and, in places, purposeless. I suspect there's a subtle art to making a level feel humongous and multi-faceted without the player feeling lost and turned around by its many details. Killzone doesn't have this magic, and while I appreciate the direction Guerrilla Games wants to push the series in, I've never missed having an AI companion to follow, or even war chatter to remind me of my mission, so much.