From this point forth I need to remind myself not to review another first person shooter straight after playing Killzone 2. Following a four hour stint immersed in Guerrilla Game’s epic first person shooter, Rebellion’s Shellshock 2: Blood Trails is probably the worst game I could have picked up. The lack of a multiplayer mode, the omission of Trophy support, the dumb A.I. and ugly visuals are the first indications that publisher, Eidos, probably didn’t have its heart and soul in the project from the outset. Perhaps it had its mind on other things? Whatever the case, there’s no excuse for releasing a game that doesn’t even attempt to hold its own against other PS3 first person shooters.
While it’s slightly unfair of me to compare Shellshock 2 to Killzone 2, as they’re worlds apart in terms of development budgets, you’d expect most developers to at least try to implement some of the features that the current generation of gamers demand from a modern day shooter, or failing that, to concentrate on making the gameplay exciting and technically acceptable. Shellshock 2, however, gets a lot of things wrong and doesn’t even try to attempt to stand out from the crowd, or take any risks. This is a FPS-by-numbers approach to the genre, complete with uninspiring visuals and bland design that would have looked out of place five years ago.
Where do I start? The lack of a cover system means that you just run around like a headless chicken picking off lifeless (in both senses of the word) zombie-fied soldiers. The closest you get to employing strategic tactics is being able to crouch, but as you can’t lean around or over objects it’s worthless, unless you get a cheap thrill from ‘tea-bagging’ the undead. You can also vault over should-be cover spots to evade the enemy, but you’ll soon get bored of watching the same short animation that kicks in every time you do so and you’ll curse at the way it clumsily interrupts the flow of the game.
It wouldn’t be too bad just running around shooting zombies if it was actually exciting, but it’s not. The shooting feels sloppy and the weapons and grenades lack weight and potency. At times, the A.I. is all over the place and proves to be a frustration rather than a challenge, shooting at you from blind spots or sneaking up behind you at inappropriate times, normally when you’re trying to deal with those enemies in front of you. Zombies also have the uncanny knack of being able to spot your position the moment you walk into an area, even though the locations are covered in a dark veil. It’s annoying trying to work out where the gun-fire is actually coming from, before battling with the loose targeting mechanic to try and get an accurate shot on your target.
Depressingly bland locations and the lack of destructible environments are further indications that the power of the PS3 hasn’t been harnessed. While the latter isn’t always needed to craft a great first person shooter, it certainly helps to create realism. Shellshock 2 lacks realism in abundance, and at no point captures the feeling that you’re involved in something significant. It’s a limp experience that feels like you’ve stepped back in time to where the technology that makes things crumble and look war-worn wasn’t available. With the power of the PS3 at its fingertips, you’d expect a lot more in terms of visual and audio impact. Overall, aside from some nicely rendered cut-scenes, and some decent voice-acting, it looks and sounds like an average PS2 game.
All of this could be forgiven if the gameplay were any good, but it’s not. There are no memorable moments (apart from the one where I turned it off,) there are no intense firefights, and there’s little to experience in terms of excitement. There’s actually no real need for me to go on because Shellshock 2 is an instantly forgettable title that will end up in the bargain-bin graveyard of video game stores across the country. That’s a guarantee. For the sake of completion, however, and to give you the option to make your own minds up on whether to purchase this survival horror shooter, let’s focus on some of the positive points; I have managed to find a few.
It features zombies, and we all like a bit of zombie action, right? Well, Shellshock’s most positive aspect is its storyline, which does a decent job at ensuring that you’ll spend the majority of your time taking pot-shots and tossing grenades at the feet of the undead. Set at the height of the Vietnam War, a U.S. cargo plane accidentally (don’t ask me how) drops a batch of ‘WhiteNight’, deep into the heart of the jungle. That’s bad news for all concerned because ‘Whitenight’ is a biological weapon that, when injected, turns people into zombies. Special Ops soldiers have tried and failed to locate the whereabouts of ‘WhiteNight,’ but have disappeared on their search. One man, however, makes it back to the field hospital, demented and deranged from whatever horrors are lurking in the jungle.
It’s a decent start to the game, with believable voice-acting, decent script-writing and an oppressively dark atmosphere that reminded me at times of Monolith’s psychological first person shooter, F.E.A.R. Starting out in a dingy and blood-stained military field hospital, you can hear manic screaming in the distance as your colleague fills you in on the mission ahead. You walk into a dimly-lit room where the lone soldier, who made it back from the jungle alive, is strapped to a bed shouting wildly and furiously trying to escape his binds. He manages to do so and then reaches out with his hand to touch you. Unwisely, you hold hands with the soldier, which then transports you into your worst nightmare. You still wake-up in the hospital, but it’s now under attack by a horde of Zombies! Argh! With a knife in your hand, you frantically navigate the corridors to escape the burning building.
Along the way you get treated to a few QTE events where you can shake the Sixaxis controller to push a Zombie away from you, or move it up and down to dive out of the way of an incoming grenade, and soon enough you get your first pistol as you navigate your way through alleyways and buildings picking off the zombie threat. Implementation of the Sixaxis controller is handled well enough, and keeps you on you toes to a certain extent, but the surprises don’t last beyond the first level and the QTE’s end up interrupting the flow of the game and becoming a bit tedious. Cut-scenes also do a fine job at interrupting the game at inappropriate moments, but I actually ended up looking forward to them more than shooting Zombies. That’s not a good sign.
The zombies themselves severely lack a scare factor, mainly because they don’t look terrifying or act intelligently. To clear an area you’ll often have to eliminate the entire zombie threat, but that undead invasion outstays its welcome far too often. They’ll frequently spawn from the same position, creeping over the same wall, for example, time and time again. At one point, I simply had to take up a position in a window overlooking the wall and pick them off one by one as they climbed over it. You’ll also run out of bullets frequently and then have to search around, annoyingly pressing ‘triangle’ to pick up ammo, rather than picking it up as you walk over it. The fact that you can’t kill a Zombie with one headshot, but instead have to put a few rounds into them, means that a lot of time is spent pressing that ‘triangle’ button, when there really should be no need.
Shellshock 2 really goes downhill after the first level. It starts off being like a cross between Wolfenstein and F.E.A.R., and lures you into the premise that it will be a exciting psychological experience that will keep you on the edge of your seat. However, it falls short of making the grade that you’d expect from any PS3 first person shooter. From the lackluster audio and uninspiring visuals, right through to technical issues, such as the weapon targeting and A.I., Shellshock 2 is certainly shocking in many respects, but not in a good way. Steer clear of this stinker.