Killzone Mercenary comes to us from the recently restructured Guerilla Cambridge studios with the burden of proving that a First Person Shooter can be done properly on Sony’s handheld after disappointing installments from Call of Duty and Resistance. Each one failed to convince gamers that the Playstation Vita could handle a full-fledged shooter the same way consoles could. So, is Killzone Mercenary a game to buck the trend?
The game wastes no time in putting you in the guise of a rough and ready gun for hire named Arran Danner, who works for the Phantom Talon Corps, a somewhat dubious mercenary unit run by Commander Anders Benoit. Employment is provided by the faction known as the Interplanetary Strategic Alliance or ISA to those familiar with Killzone. The protagonist is given a one-way ticket to liberate the war-torn planet, Vekta, against the vile Helghast. This kick starts a rebellion which sees the planet’s inhabitants fight back and eventually take the battle to the Helghast’s home planet.
This particular campaign runs alongside to many of the memorable moments in the trilogy fleshing out the plot points nicely and giving fans some great moments to savor. Fighting for an organization driven by the almighty dollar leads to many a twist in the story with backs being stabbed everywhere and plenty of heated arguments between staff members. Despite this, the story is still a predictable affair that none of the characters, with the exception of Blackjack who is the underground market trader, manage to break free from. The story does give some more secrets away regarding the ISA and their ethical practices being not as highly regarded as in previous installments, a great piece of insight and backstory that left me wanting more.
This is the backdrop for a total of nine single player missions visiting various locations such as the lofty skies of Vekta and down to the dark corridors of Helghan. While past installments were criticized for a less than inspiring list of locations, Mercenary gives the player plenty of variety without repeating itself too much. Locations such as a neon-infused marketplace, a run-down fishing village and an Orwellian judicial apartment make for exploring the locations in the game feel fresh and exciting; which is great as these types of games rarely excite me.
This is definitely an impressive achievement for a handheld game. Killzone Mercenary maintains a great pace throughout the game with plenty of enjoyable action set pieces to experience. This is pure gun porn with so many meaty machine guns to fire, even though the game does go for a quicker pace than before. The variety is astounding with machine guns, sniper rifles, side arms and shotguns available in plentiful supply thanks to Blackjack who is always keen to make a sale. These are purchased using the cash that you acquire in single-player mode and, once they are unlocked, are available in your loadout in multiplayer.
Being a mercenary for hire, money plays a big part here. Everything’s for sale if you have the coin. Which you earn by killing enemies, surpassing medal criteria, completing objectives and scoring high in online matches. Apart from buying new weapons there are also grenades, armor, and Vanguards available. Vanguards are rechargeable power-up drones that prove to be very handy in the heat of battle by electrocuting your enemies, disrupting communications and raining fire down on those unfortunate enough to be on the wrong side of the conflict. These are available in both single-player and multiplayer, and always leads to great strategy plans.
The single-player campaign will take you about five hours to complete, depending on your skill level. Thankfully, the designers at Guerilla Cambridge kept re-playability in mind with alternate objectives to complete in the main missions. You’re allowed to set the difficulty how you like it and in order to succeed, the player must approach each mission in a unique way. Using a sniper rifle and making a minimum number of head shots or completing a mission against a tight time frame without being detected are some examples. Approaching the scenarios with these alternate challenges adds mountains of replay value, which is perfect for a handheld title. The only drawback is the lengthy cut-scenes which you can’t skip. Eventually, they will get on your nerves when all you want to do is get into the game and get down to business.
Furthermore, once you bought all the weapons and accessories your heart desires, there really isn’t much else to obtain. No gun upgrades such as scopes and other attachments. This makes the reward loop feel a little underwhelming as a consequence late-game, but there is plenty to buy in-between so it’s not a deal breaker.
The online of Killzone Mercenary is quite addictive. The player has three modes to choose from: Mercenary Warfare, Guerilla Warfare, and Warzone. Each of these modes supports up to eight players with Warzone offering the same rotating objectives as its predecessors. The modes cycle through mini-missions which require killing your opponents, collecting Valour cards and interrogating your foes are all part of the fun; the latter is done by injuring the opponent then going for a melee attack. The animations for these interrogations can be drawn out and leave you vulnerable to attack however. Warzone brings the most enjoyment but it’s also the longest one to play, since matches can go for over twenty minutes. Alternatively, Mercenary and Guerilla are straightforward and short, and are basically Free-for-All Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch respectively.
Which does bring up a minor drawback that needs mentioning. Despite creating a stellar FPS on a format that’s been handled terribly in the past, the multiplayer offerings aren’t enough to distance itself from other titles already available on home consoles. While there is a novelty to be had from stabbing people in the neck while you sit on the train or bus, there is the distinct feeling that you have already seen much of what the game offers on a TV screen before.
The game is a graphical tour de force that pushes the Vita’s hardware in ways that have not been attempted before. The technological accomplishments are staggering. Guerilla Cambridge has not just created a game that masquerades as a Playstation 3 title, but could actually pass as one. The subtleties in texture work, lighting, and post-processing effects are comparable to a full-scale console release, and run in native resolution on the handheld’s super sharp OLED display. Some of the visual tricks are nothing short of mind-boggling. Light reflecting naturally on rain-slicked tarmac, gunfire illuminating dark corridors with each pull of the trigger, the list goes on. The only criticism I can find is that the frame rate drops when the action heats up on screen or there is an auto save in progress.
The sound is also a standout. The sound effects are spot-on, the voice-acting really well done, and the music is suitably dramatic. Put in some headphones and prepare to be amazed.
This is an A+ release for the Vita. It does pack in great value with a single-player campaign with a lot to chew on, a robust multiplayer component that is superbly addictive. Overall, it more than covers the price of admission.
Killzone Mercenary would be a worthy title if it appeared on the Ps3. The publishers deserve kudos for somehow squeezing this game into the Vita with very little sacrificed for doing so. The game does struggle to shake off some of the stifling gameplay elements to have plagued the genre in the past but honestly, this is leaps and bounds ahead of its brethren within the portable scene. The production values are all top notch and it packs some serious online firepower. It’s about time a high budget handheld title like this hit the Vita, and it comes thoroughly recommended.
AAG SCORE: 8.5/10
- Polished Refined Gameplay
- Graphically Gorgeous
- Amazing Replay Value and Multiplayer Modes
- Been There, Done That Feeling
- High Price May Put Some Off
- Long and not able to skip cut-scenes