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.
For the less-than-hardcore player, though, a Mortar Strike is usually enough. What quickly became my team’s go-to activation decimates each uplink with sky-bombs and basically guarantees between 200 and 400 points. When regular matches to 3,000 points can take upwards of 30 minutes (our first attempt was a whopping 55), that’s game-changing every time. Other activations are fun and executed well, but the Mortar Strike’s unapologetic effectiveness rendered them tactically obsolete, especially given the Helghast’s penchant for standing in really tight groups exactly where the mortars fall. This inconsistent balance extends to the maps, as well. The Highway, a crumbling stretch of urban chasms and ruins, kicked our butts for nearly an hour before we finally eked out a victory. We then proceeded to cruise through the forest map in about 17 minutes, aided by its smaller size and much better lines of sight. We didn’t dramatically improve our skills, either–a later run on The Highway, going for 1,500 points instead of 3,000, still took 20 minutes.
As we put in more matches, communicative issues similar to what plagued Shadow Fall’s competitive multiplayer at launch reared their ugly heads. Like the competitive side, new weapons are unlocked for the four co-op classes by completing challenges (say, bank 500 points playing as Assault), not accruing XP. But the specific challenges, and your progress toward them, are buried in menus. You also have to complete a tier of separate “class challenges” before you can start completing challenges that go toward weapon unlocks, but nowhere in my hours of playing was this stated or even made remotely obvious. It took internet searching after the fact to find that other players were similarly confused by their 0 percent progress toward weapon unlocks.
Party setup is also confusing, though admittedly quite elegant once made clear. If you’re in PS4 Party Chat with your teammates (a pre-made group is a huge help for timing banks and power-ups), the game will communicate with the console to see who’s grouped up and automatically send invites when one player joins a lobby. There’s actually no in-game system for forming a party or manually sending invites, though you can join friends already in a match. Meanwhile, if your pre-made group has less than four members, the game will try to fill those slots with other players throughout the match. The invisibility of party management is refreshing, just never explained. Similarly, I couldn’t confirm whether the Helghast scale in number and difficulty according to your team size. Starting a match with only three people seemed to spawn smaller waves, and our Marksman reported getting one-shot kills where two bullets are usually required. But when a stranger joined as our fourth member, the intensity of enemy forces didn’t seem to change in the slightest.
Finally, the things separating Intercept from the countless horde mode copycats on the market are diminished by recognizable cooperative tricks. The Helghast know exactly where you are as soon as they enter the map and are impossibly good shots–necessary to even the odds with human players, perhaps, but still a slight to their believability. The Helghast only spawn from a select few locations; learn those spots, and victory comes much easier through spawn camping. The requisite “boss” enemies even show up from time to time, and we’ve seen their bullet-sponge characteristics before. There’s little to distinguish them from the hoard, save teleportation, a few lazy one-liners, and the need to gang up on them.
Thankfully, $9.99 is a reasonable asking price for what’s on offer, even if it’s only four maps and the promise of six more to come. Intercept’s new ideas are great fun in its opening hours, but the predictability that sets in may only hold the long-term attention of those positively in love with Killzone’s satisfying shooting. It’s a fun diversion with cool ideas and one of PS4’s better co-op experiences, but not much more.