Last Level Press

PS4: Day One Impressions

(The console, Killzone: Shadow Fall, & Need for Speed: Rivals)

By: Cliff Davenport

Alright, Stephanie and I have weathered our first midnight release together to get our hands on a PS4 (hey, the couple that freezes together stays together, right?), and while it’s still too early to provide any in-depth reviews, we have spent a full day with the console and our two launch titles, Killzone: Shadow Fall and Need For Speed: Rivals, so what follows are our day one impressions of all three.  

The Playstation 4 Console:

Even after having seen so many comparison pictures, videos, and demos of the console in action, I was still surprised by how compact this system actually is.  It’s even smaller than its predecessor, and was packaged neatly and securely; no cumbersome plastic packaging (short of baggies for wiring), no filler cardboard, and a rather sturdy box that I’ll certainly be hanging onto in case of future moves .  

Aesthetically, it’s got some class going for it, and its wide base gives it a steady platform on most shelves.  I did have some issues figuring out how to turn the bloody thing on at first, but that was just my being too much of a dude to read the instructions first.  Derp moment: check.  I have to admit, though, once I figured out the little stroke motion necessary for ejecting discs, the thought that came to mind was, “Sexy,” so kudos to the design department there.  

I find that I do like the new controllers, as they’re ever so slightly smaller than those of the PS3, somewhat lighter, and better contoured for a comfortable grip.  I did, however, have an issue with its button layout and sensitivity while playing, as I accidentally tapped the center PS button more than a few times, interrupting the flow of gameplay and causing me no small amount of frustration.  Gamers with smaller hands than my 6’3 frame might have less of an issue with it, but I, and I suspect others as well, will have to force my hands into new habits to avoid running into it again.  

Start-up was simple enough, and prompted automatically for me to link my old PSN account to the new console.  Upon popping in the first game, I did have to update the console before I could get started, but that only took about two minutes to complete.  As for menus and navigation, if you’re familiar with any other Sony product from the last few years, you’ll feel right at home here.  Lateral navigation returns, and thankfully, menu categories are a bit more clearly marked and intuitively arranged than the PS3’s were.  

Now, on to the real reason you’re here: the games!

I walked into this game with a cautious optimism.  I know and expect that most launch titles for any console will be hyped beyond recognition, rendering reasonable expectations a moot possibility, but even Shadow Fall has managed to garner some iffy previews already.  Still, I’m a fan of the first few Killzone games, so I decided to dive into this one as well, even as I half-expected it to amount to a beautiful mess.  Unfortunately, my apprehensions were dead on.  Right away, the game suffers from abrupt pacing, a lack of meaningful exposition, and a rushed intro.  Gameplay is sluggish, and does not match at all with the expectations set up for players by the sparse few cutscenes we’re given to introduce the main character, his methods of operation, or his missions.  

“Stealth.” You keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means.  

New features include truly stealth takedowns, increased focus upon climbing and vertical takedowns ala Assassin’s Creed, and the OWL, a robotic companion to main character Lucas Kellan’s Shadow Marshal training and equipment, which is controlled primarily by the PS4 controller’s center touchpad, and provides a good handful of practical uses, from shorting out alarm systems, to assaulting and distracting enemies, to shielding Lucas from enemy fire, and giving him zipline access to otherwise inaccessible areas.  Unfortunately, that latter function is incredibly selective, and won’t get you access to near as many vantage points as one might expect.  It’s flat land, predetermined structures, or bust, and the same goes for climbing.  

Most useful and thematic of the new features thusfar is, I think, the sonar-like ability to scan Lucas’ immediate surroundings, giving players a fleeting glimpse through walls and locating all manner of enemies, from Helghast infantry to security cameras.  Yet again, however, even this feature quickly becomes a novelty, as stealth gameplay still seems to elude this franchise.  The second an enemy spots you, everyone knows you’re there, broken neck be damned, and never mind that he never got a shot off.  After that, players will need to eliminate any other enemies in the area, lest they activate the infinite flood-o-troopers alarms, which only the OWL can deactivate, and at a painfully slow pace, I might add.  

As for level design, breathtaking visuals notwithstanding, I must say that those I’ve encountered thusfar were rather uninspired.  Players are given little direction in larger areas, but are led along by a contrived and unexplained series of conspicuous red flares in cramped and indoor environments.  

“Who put these here?”  

“I dunno, same guy that dropped off your equipment box.”  

“Why couldn’t he have done all this, then?”  

“Johnson, you’re using logic, and you’re asking questions.   

This is government work, and we’ll have none of that.”

Really, the only aspects of Killzone: Shadow Fall that feels “next gen” are its impressive graphics.  Render distances are vast and detailed, and lighting effects are absolutely gorgeous.  Shadow occlusion is well executed, and the sheer resolution at work in the game is a treat to behold.  I only wish the levels I’ve experienced thusfar weren’t so cramped, as I feel like it’s not taking advantage of the sort of scale this technology has obviously got the potential to deliver.  

I have to wonder how hard EA is pushing this game, or at least how hard Gamestop is, as I had to specifically ask for it upon arriving to secure our console pre-order.  It wasn’t on the pre-order sheet we were given, and only a single copy of it occupied display shelves.  On launch night.  Nevertheless, as old Need For Speed fans, we made sure to get our hands on a copy.  

Just as with Shadow Fall, I approached Rivals with a cautious hope for the best.  Thankfully, this one actually rewarded me a bit.  Outstanding visuals compliment a wide and varied game world, and I have to say, I rather liked its “Us vs. Them” style intro, setting players up for its Cops vs. Racers gameplay.

 There doesn’t seem to be much of an individual story, at least not in the sense of players taking on the role of any one character or characters, or even developing (pun very much intended) any rivals on either side of the fence.  Instead, players accept what amount to varied lists of challenges, each aimed at a different sort of driver’s preferences, before rolling out into Free Drive, in which players may seamlessly pursue one objective after another within the game world of Redview County.  

After every few challenges, short cutscenes present an unfolding narrative of social rebellion and questionable authoritarian reactions, all centered, of course, upon the increasingly violent feud between Redview County’s street racers and its law enforcement.  Some take the guise of newscasts covering the rivalry, while others are presented as briefings or inner monologues, presumably delivered by the near-anonymous player characters.  

With an online connection, players can also drop in and out of other players’ games, and vice versa.  In fact, doing so seems to be a substantial focus on the part of the design team, as players participating en masse in group events multiplies their rewards, granting no small incentive for online play.  As for Rivals new mechanics, I did rankle a bit at first upon the discovery that its controls have shifted substantially from those of previous Need for Speed titles, and that I couldn’t change them back.  I have gotten used to the new shoulder-centric gas and brake buttons already, though, so it’s a minor complaint at worst.  New features include pseudo weapons systems that players can now equip their cars with, but don’t worry, Twisted Metal this ain’t.  

Probably for the best.

Directed EMPs, spike strips, and other tools can aid a cop in slowing, stopping, or outright disabling pursuit targets, and similar abilities allow Racers to make 007-style getaways.  While I would have been leery of such features’ inclusions in a game like Need For Speed, lest it turn into a Mario Kart style ping pong match at 150 miles per hour, I find that it doesn’t detract from the otherwise tried and true gameplay that veterans of the series have come to expect and enjoy.  Other new aspects of gameplay include a full day-night cycle and weather mechanics, with rain and wet roads adversely affecting road control as drastically as sliding off the road and into rough terrain will.  

I haven’t delved too far into the customization aspect of the game yet, but suffice it to say, there are a multitude of cars available in this game, though perhaps not as many as some of the older entries in the series.  There aren’t any SUVs, trucks, or other large vehicles to choose from, so for now, the focus seems to be squarely back upon small, fast cars.  Tuning returns, as does Need for Speed’s modular paint and decal options, though I’ve only just barely scratched the surface as yet in discovering how many of those options are available.  

Is it an outstanding game?  I can’t really say so, but I can’t say it’s a bad one, or even a mediocre one either.  It’s a niche title, much like those that came before it, and it’s delivering an amped up version of everything Need for Speed fans have come to expect, so for that, I’m content with it.  

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