Combine and conquer
It’s always interesting to pinpoint the moment an idea really comes to fruition in videogaming. While fighting games certainly existed before its arrival, Street Fighter II was the release that made the genre an overnight sensation—and the title that helped inspire countless clones to enter the market. In much the same way, the gameplay idea of surviving waves of enemies wasn’t the creation of Epic Games, but it was Gears of War’s Horde mode that would establish the option as a go-to element of many games to come.
Killzone: Shadow Fall’s latest DLC release, Intercept, brings that Horde-mode idea to the PS4’s most prominent exclusive shooter. The basics will be familiar to anyone who’s played similar modes in other games before: You and three teammates hold out for as long as possible against unending waves of enemies, with only your skills, your partners, and limited resources to keep you alive.
As a team, your goal is to try to reach a preestablished amount of points that will result in victory. Points are earned from kills or accomplishing various tasks and can be banked in a central base on all of Intercept’s four maps. There’s a twist, however, and it’s the first of a handful of ways that this DLC strives to mix the Horde-mode conventions up a little. A countdown continually ticks away during matches, and when it reaches zero, your team will gain one level on a multiplayer that affects the overall points players earn.
The catch? Banking your points resets the countdown, and if you die, you’ll lose any points you have on hand and will be forced to pay a 50-point penalty to rejoin the fight. This makes Intercept a game of chance: Do you hold on to your points and risk losing them in order to earn a better multiplier, or do you play it safe but slow down your team’s overall progress?
Part of deciding which strategy you should employ will no doubt come from which character type’s shoes you’ve stepped into. Intercept is built around the idea of four people playing together, and it’s definitely at its best when you’ve got a full roster of people to fill out its four class options: Assault, Marksman, Medic, and Tactician. Easily one of the best parts of Intercept is the balance between these classes—each feels unique and useful.
On a personal level, I had the most fun playing as the Medic (who can, among other things, resurrect other players for free, with them retaining some of the points they had on hand) and Tactician (who can place turrets or a shield), while I wasn’t so fond of Assault (your typical soldier who can utilize weaponry dropped by Helghast soldiers) or the Marksman (a sniper of sorts). With how similar classes have been in some other games I’ve tried, I see it as a good thing that I didn’t enjoy playing all of Intercept’s class offerings—that tells me that they were indeed different enough from one another to not feel interchangeable.
When you’ve got four players in their proper roles where they really know what they’re doing and the armies of Helghan descending on your position from all sides, there’s a thrill that can come from fighting and surviving together in Intercept that just can’t be matched from any amount of competitive wins in Killzone: Shadow Fall’s standard multiplayer. I ended up having a lot of fun with this DLC—even in spite of the fact that it neither really brought anything hugely new to the Horde concept, nor did it offer an abundance of content and variety.
While Guerrilla tried to spice things up with Intercept’s risk-versus-reward points banking and a perks systems where players can trade in earned capacitors for temporary bonuses like air strikes, double damage, or jetpacks, this is still a “survive waves of enemies” game that never tries to totally redefine what’s come before it. Intercept won’t change our idea of what a Horde mode is—but the balance that Guerrilla achieves between solid core concepts and those handful of new ideas comes together in this addition to Shadow Fall that I’ve continually found enjoyable in both shorter and longer play sessions.
In fact, where Intercept stumbles the most isn’t when I’m knee-deep in swarms of Helghast with other EGM staffers or random strangers I’m matched up with online—it’s what comes before and after those matches. Even taking into account that this is an add-on to a much bigger game—at least for now, as plans are to release this expansion later as its own $20 standalone product—Intercept feels horribly bare bones. There’s no option for selecting the difficulty of matches, no way to add any spice to games beyond the “protect data nodes, kill enemies, earn score” premise, nor any way to customize the point total you’ll be striving for beyond the three presets provided. Once you’ve set up a Warzone (Killzone’s term for rooms) and hopped into it, not only can you not change the match length at that point or get any information on who else is in the room until they’ve pick a profession, but you can’t check on the progress you’re making on each class without backing out to the main menu.
Prefer to play a certain class? With no way to search for games by character preference, unless you’re playing with friends and can call dibs, all you can do is hope the slot you want will be open when you get matched up with others. Then there’s that sticking point that I always harp on: character customization. You can do nothing to change the look or skin of your characters, but you can change your character’s voice or the skin of your automata robot partner—for real-world cash. If there’s anything that can make you question the validity of paid DLC, it’s paying $4 for a female voice pack, only to have that voice still coming out of some generic white dude.
Especially given that Sony and Guerrilla are expecting this to be its own game of sorts a few months from now, it’s a shame that Intercept feels as undercooked as it does. Because, really, I legitimately like the fight for survival and great teamplay balance that’s been crafted here—it just needs to be fleshed out into a more player-friendly, fully featured mode. The team at Guerrilla promises six more free maps for the mode in the near future, and those should definitely help battle concerns over longevity that some (including myself) currently harbor. Along with them, I’d love to believe that more elements will be added or expanded upon in other ways when Intercept becomes its own release—but that’s little more than wishful thinking on my part.
For now, I can only judge Killzone: Shadow Fall – Intercept on what it is as of this moment—a take on the now-classic Horde mode that’s tense, entertaining, and disappointingly anemic.
|Developer: Guerrilla Games • Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 06.24.2014|
Killzone; Shadow Fall – Intercept mixes some new twists on the Horde idea with some great team-based gameplay, but its lack of content volume and overall options unfortunately dull some of this new mode’s shine.
|The Good||The team balance and uniqueness among Intercept’s four classes are great; firefights can often become quite intense.|
|The Bad||Since it’s a paid DLC expansion, you’ll constantly be left wishing there were more to everything Intercept does.|
|The Ugly||Players who won’t trust me to do my job as a Medic. Stop instantly respawning and wasting our points, you jerks!|
|Killzone: Shadow Fall – Intercept is available exclusively on PS4. Review code was provided by Sony Computer Entertainment for the benefit of this review.|