Killzone: Mercenary PS Vita Review
Danner struts his stuff
15SRP: £29.99When it comes to portable gaming, companies usually strike it rich or go home with their tail between their legs. Sony, with their Vita, has managed to make it thus far without doing anything extraordinary or selling huge quantities of units or games and, in comparison to Nintendo and their 3DS, has not been as successful. However, a small selection of titles have propped the Vita up and kept things moving for the console. Come November, the handheld might well grow into the platform it was initially billed as, playing a supplementary role to the PS4.
Until then, a few games will keep things ticking over until the PS4 lands and allows cross-functionality in a similar fashion to the Wii U’s GamePad. Killzone Mercenary is one of those titles, and finally addresses the problem that first person shooters have had on the Vita. The only titles of note (for differing reasons) have been Resistance: Burning Skies and Call of Duty: Declassified, neither of which took the platform by storm.
Guerrilla Cambridge now have the reins over the Killzone franchise to whip up a storm on the Vita and undoubtedly reignite enthusiasm for the series before Shadowfall launches with the PS4. Much like its name however, Mercenary doesn’t have one true allegiance. It doesn’t stay completely in the camp of traditional Killzone mechanics as it dabbles in features previously unexplored in the series. It’s the age-old question, do you provide fan service or spice things up a little and attract a new audience?
Well, Killzone has been known for its solid cover-shooting mechanics and considered gameplay. Whilst not offering up anything new to the genre (other than some gimmicky Move and Axis 3 functionality) they have provided many PlayStation owners with enjoyable shooting and online play. So, hypothetically, what would happen if a curveball was suddenly thrown at the series and shook things up a little? Say, a more frenetic and arcade-style approach?
The mere mention of such words will probably ignite a riot amongst those loyal to the brand, but if done right surely it will bring something new and exciting to the series? Well it’s hard to tell which way things go in this case as Mercenary takes the cover-based approach and adds a monetary incentive for kills. Think of it as Killzone with a Bulletstorm twist as you are rewarded for killing people in different ways.
Unsurprisingly you play as a mercenary, in particular Arran Danner, who is looking to turn a quick profit from the on-going war between the ISA and the Helghast. Despite your protagonist having a clichéd, 1980s action movie name, the plot is quite well delivered and has a couple of twists and turns along the way. Where all previous games focused on the ISA fighting the cockney-come-Nazi foes, Danner isn’t shy of plying his trade for both sides if it means a big payoff.
The monetary reward is the main ingredient the entire way through; you get paid for killing enemies, scoring headshots, picking up intel or hovering up loose ammo. This goes for off and online play so you build up a wad of cash regardless of mode or for that matter difficulty level.
Consisting of nine missions, the campaign is somewhat of a brief affair that can be completed in around the five hour mark. You jump between certain battles and points of the conflict, from the Helghast’s main carrier to fighting on the ISA’s home turf to stick it to the Higs. Your missions are usually fairly simple; destroy strongpoint A so ships can safely pass through or escort character B to safety. In effect, your main goal is to keep fuelling the fire between the two sides in order for you to keep earning the big bucks.
Mercenary has been billed as a game that pushes the Vita to its limit and rivals that of its console brethren, boasting to be running on exactly the same engine. Regardless of what engine the game is running on, you will never be fooled into thinking this is a PS3 title. Granted, it’s up there as being one of the best looking on the handheld platform, but it’s not PS3 quality. There are moments where you look at the events and think ‘wow’ (in particular leaping out of a skyscraper) but there are others where you’re left wondering how some of the low-resolution textures weren’t picked up and corrected. In particular, the explosions in the cut-scenes leave a lot to be desired, often turning out to be a pixelated mess.
Complementing the overall quality of the title is the effort that has clearly been put into the script and voice acting, as well as the supplementary pre-mission scenes. There’s plenty of information and detail for those interested in Killzone lore, but given the frenetic nature of the whole experience you’re unlikely to take note of each little morsel.
Upon completion of the main campaign, each level opens up with three challenges: Precision, Covert and Demolition contracts. These place constraints and requirements for completion, such as using a certain weapon, finish this under a set time limit and so on. Whilst they’re nothing frightfully new or inventive, they do allow you to partially forget about the shortest and skimpiest campaign Killzone has ever provided. As you would expect, the intensity and difficulty of these missions ramp up significantly depending on the difficulty level set and also as you progress through them. Skill (and sometimes a lot of luck) is required to complete them all, and repeated runs will more than likely be required.
The game really does stand up to the test it has set itself when it comes to the handling and shooting mechanics, as this is one area where Mercenary is of home console quality; the analogue sticks will be tested and pushed to their max as they rarely get a moments rest. Aiming is both crisp and precise, resulting in a very rewarding experience as you rack up your body count total, and there are no signs of the issues that have plagued previous shooters on the Vita.
The system does bring some limitations however such as the sticks not being clickable or having two shoulder buttons each side. This results in a mixed bag of a control scheme with some elements being good and others being completely mental. For instance, a click of an analogue stick usually signifies a melee attack or to begin sprinting, here though these functions are mapped to the face buttons. This isn’t a problem as such, but when button presses have dual functions this is where the problems begin, especially when crouching and sprinting require a press of the same button. Thankfully, sprinting can be initiated by a quick double jab at the rear touchpad which is much more effective, as running when you wanted to crouch often results in an infuriating death.
The rear touchpad only comes into use when sprinting which is actually quite handy as your fingers usually hover over it whilst playing anyway. As far as other Vita features go, thankfully Guerrilla have been sparing with integrating them. The touchscreen comes in useful when you melee an opponent and have to shrug off their incoming block, hack into a terminal or mark out targets for your homing rocket system. Strangely, these never feel ill-fitting or out of place and altogether enrich the experience, proving that the Vita has interesting features when utilised right.
Gameplay is mixed up more in this outing as you have a new Van-Guard system to play with which is available through the weapon merchant who, somehow, has terminals pretty much everywhere. They’re scattered around like vending machines ready and waiting to dispense the goods upon handing over your hard-fought cash. They allow you to purchase perks such as shoulder-mounted rocket systems, temporary shields or a remote controlled robot. These can be pivotal to your success both offline and when playing competitively, however they can sometimes seem a little unfair and shift the balance too much in your, or an opponent’s, favour.
The potential loadouts at your disposal are a bit of a mixed bag and something that you will either be working strenuously towards, or relyig on the weapons you have unlocked already. The money you harvest during each mission can be put towards new weapons, Van-Guard items or armour that gives you perks. Whilst the number of weapons and items available is high (12 primary and 12 secondary) you more often than not just depend on the ones you have already purchased. Being brutally honest, the staple assault rifle will suffice in a lot of scenarios.
The main appeal for many Killzone fans will probably lie in the online modes which are supported in this outing as well, despite them being somewhat stripped back from the console outings. Eight players are supported in three modes across six maps, and this still manages to provide some short and sharp thrills for those willing to give it a whirl. There are a couple of connectivity issues at times but nothing that will ruin the overall enjoyment of the online game.
The available matches of Mercenary Warfare (deathmatch), Guerrilla Warfare (team deathmatch), and Warzone (objective-based free-for-all) provide your usual shooting mayhem and reward. The Van-Guard system plays its part throughout by random drops occurring in each match, with the spoils of the capsule going to the person who can open it successfully. The risk of being vulnerable for a short time is worth the reward considering you may be on the verge of opening a can of whoop ass with Van-Guard perks.
Striking it rich
- Looks fantastic
- Handles and performs well
- Plenty of variety
- Extended mission longevity
For all the wrong reasons
- Short campaign
- Poor button layout
- Some weak textures
Killzone: Mercenary PS Vita Review
Technically, Killzone: Mercenary is an absolute marvel. To play something of as high quality on a machine in the palms of your hands is amazing and thankfully there isn't a case of style over substance here; there is an effective blend of both. Sure, the single player campaign is short, but it is extended through added missions and objectives for you to complete and items to collect. Add to that what is probably the best example of online competitive play available on the Vita then you have one heck of a package which represents very good value for money. It would be harsh to regard this as the weakest of the brand because of its change of focus in gameplay, and to completely negate it would be foolish, as it offers something new to the franchise and sets things up nicely for until Shadow Fall arrives in November.
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