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Killzone: Shadow Fall Intercept Review: Fresh co-op ideas for a fun diversion

on 27 June 2014

Killzone: Shadow Fall’s Intercept expansion succeeds as a co-op experience worth your time in spite of a somewhat shallow pool of content and ideas. What’s here impresses, as Guerrilla’s take on the all-too-familiar wave concept is made novel by rules and systems that penalize failure (and reward success) a good deal more than your average horde mode. There’s just not very much of it, and the veneer wears away before long. A special kind of multiplayer intensity was born from early moments learning Intercept’s nuances and how to best cooperate with my team as the Helghast gauntlet wore on. But by the end of our raid, I was starting to see familiar conceits that somewhat devalue Intercept as a tactically deep, wholly unique endeavor. Shadow Fall’s brand of co-op is refreshing, but we’ve seen some of its tricks before.

Let’s start with what makes Intercept special, and why I think it will hold great appeal for Killzone fans still entrenched in Shadow Fall’s gorgeous, weighty world. First off, it’s grueling--not in a difficulty sense (though it’s most certainly harder than your average cooperative romp), but in the sense that it will wear you down with a ferocious onslaught of enemies who all have an impossibly good knack for knowing exactly where you are. The tides of Helghast don’t stop until you win, which starts to distinguish Intercept from the pack. There are no strictly defined waves of enemies, and you don’t attain victory for surviving through said waves. Instead, all members of your team (up to four) passively earn points for holding uplinks (your usual A-B-C fare), and actively earn points for things like kills, headshots, and assists. These points are built up individually and, when banked at the center base, start to accumulate toward a goal amount. Reaching that goal, which varies by matchmaking lobby, heralds victory.

Because Intercept doesn’t give you defined moments of relief or clear benchmarks on your way to the goal amount, the intensity of matches doesn’t grow wearisome by reaching climax moments again and again. Instead, the mood ebbs and pulses throughout. When my team came back from long minutes being battered by Helghast forces to recapture an uplink and win back lost points, I felt the rally like an underdog sports team might, high on adrenaline but knowing full well we could lose the impact of that victory in a second. That’s because every dead player the Medic can’t reach in time has to spend points to respawn. Meanwhile, if the Helghast retake two or more uplinks, your point total will start to drain. On top of that, if you die before returning to bank the points you’ve individually acquired, they’re gone. The odds felt overwhelmingly stacked against my team, which made the triumphant activation of power-ups like mortar strikes, double damage, and miniguns all the sweeter.

Our lows, meanwhile, were all the more devastating--when communication as a team broke down, the Helghast pushed back with a vengeance, draining our points and effectively wiping progress. These moments feel bleak in the classic Killzone sense: an overwhelming force intent on your destruction is winning, and there’s no hope. Intercept’s unique concept of victory enables these feelings and makes the narrative arc of each match quite unpredictable. The aforementioned power-ups add even more flavor and really take those moments of elation to another level. Bank enough points among the four of you, and you can choose from several team or map-wide bonuses. If you’re doing well enough without, you can also save these activations for later, continuing to build them up in the meantime. This allows for some truly astonishing domination, if you’re good enough to keep the Helghast at bay. Clearing dozens of Helghast from an uplink with a double-damage minigun, or storming A and B in jetpacks while automated turrets mop up C, is incredibly satisfying, and I think long-haul players will enjoy testing and refining creative combinations of power-ups.