Vita Review: Killzone: Mercenary
Killzone: Mercenary is seemingly just what the PlayStation Vita needs, brought to us by Guerrilla Cambridge. Does it help to redeem Sony's handheld, or is it uninspiring?
- Worth The Time?Yes, it's by far the best shooter on the Vita.
- Things LovedThe incredible graphics, the premise of being sided with neither the ISA or Helghast is interesting, it replicates the Killzone experience almost to perfection, the good variety brought by the black market system, van-guards, excellent level design, controls are very comfortable, the sound is great.
- Things HatedThe game is a bit on the short side, mission design is a bit bland, lack of online modes, it's a bit hard to get a game online.
- RecommendationIf you're a major Killzone fan or looking for a good shooter on your Vita (or just an actual game to play) , then Killzone: Mercenary has you covered.
- Name: Killzone: Mercenary
- Genre: First Person Shooter
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: Online (8 players)
- Platforms: PS Vita
- Developer: Guerrilla Cambridge
- Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
- Price: R450
- Reviewed On: PS Vita
As an owner of a PlayStation Vita myself, I jumped at the chance to finally get a full blown triple A (if I can even use the term here) game for the system in order to take a break from simply playing FIFA or resorting to digging up my old PSP to play some games on the go in times of need. I was also intensely curious to see the potential of the hardware, which as of yet we’ve mostly seen glimpses of. I mean sure there was Uncharted: Golden Abyss, but I don’t think anyone really uses launch titles to draw conclusions as to the true potential of any hardware. Essentially that’s why Killzone: Mercenary was the ideal choice to see what the Vita is made of, with all the ingredients to be the type of game that shows you exactly what a gaming console is all about. At least, from a graphical and technical perspective.
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First things first though, the story and premise takes a little bit of a different route to the usual, with you being in the middle of the ISA and Helghast fight rather than on the side of the goodies. You play as a Mercenary who is initially only in it for the money, and you’ll get to know both sides of the war with neither side strictly being all that good or honourable. It’s not the most groundbreaking narrative, but it’s definietly enough to carry the game through and at least present a fresh perspective of the Killzone series that also helps to make the game more unique to the Vita platform, which is an easy plus. By Killzone’s standards, it’s an intriguing take that works well and offers something fresh.
Of course the first thing to get excited about with this game is the matter of its graphics. Well, the game is absolutely incredible in this regard. It has translated excellently onto Vita, and the system’s screen really does wonders for the visual experience. It’s true to the Killzone world, there’s plenty of variety in the environments, the detail is amazing and the game doesn’t skimp on anything, including even the body physics akin to its console counterparts, and delivering the expected level of beauty. There were a number of occasions in Killzone: Mercenary where I stopped to gawk at the environment or stare closely at the highly detailed textures, and this game truly does show what the Vita is capable of graphically speaking. Performance wise as well it’s hard to fault it for anything, as it’s smooth sailing with quick load times. I did dislike having to download a one gigabyte patch before being able to get into the online though, so be wary of that if you have a limited memory card size or bandwidth.
When it comes to gameplay, Killzone: Mercenary is highly impressive, replicating the console experience almost perfectly. It plays very close to that, and controls extremely comfortably even when it comes to more tricky aspects of gameplay such as the cover system. Thankfully, the game didn’t try to go heavy on the Vita’s more gimmicky control features, which is always a concern, and utilises subtle elements mostly with the touch screen, where melee kills, pulling switches and setting charges are done with screen swipes and nothing else intrusive or inefficient is forced on you. When it comes to changing your weapon, selecting grenades and using special gadgets, these are done via a simple touch press on the relevant icons on-screen, and it’s all very fluid and easy to get used. It took me one mission of playing.
Certainly one of the best things about the game is the unique features added to it in order to differentiate it from its console counterparts, and not simply produce a light or watered down Killzone. First on the list is the emphasis on player choice between stealth, soldier or, well, heavy demolition. This depends on your chosen loadout, which brings the new black market and point systems into play. In each mission, every act you perform will reward you with points, whether it’s killing enemies, getting headshots, stealth killing, sneaking through sections without alerting anyone or taking out security cameras. Your points are tracked in real time in the game, and dying incurs a small penalty, with suicides being a slightly higher one. These points accumulate during missions, with a bonus waiting for you at the end on completion, and you can spend them in the black market either during a mission, if you find a shop, or afterward when it’s over. The design is pretty sweet here, as trying to switch your loadout during missions incurs additional penalty costs, so you may want to wait until after unless you’re desperate or ill-prepared.
In the black market, you can buy armour, weapons and van-guards, which are unique gadgets and power-ups that are easily one of the best elements of the game. Armours provide varied stats and perks, such as increasing the money you get for kills or making you more stealthy or more resistant to damage and so on. Weapons is a choice entirely up to you, and here you can select a primary and secondary weapon as well as your grenade type, whether it be traditional frag, gas, smoke or incendiary. Finally, we get to the awesome van-guards, which are power-ups or gadgets you buy that can only be equipped one at a time. Their usage is limited, and you charge them up during missions with kills and points. Once they’re ready, you tap the screen to activate. Van-guards really add a new dimension to the game and a unique flare to the Vita experience, and further cements your playstyle. For instance you could choose a slteah cloak, or a silent flying drone that spikes enemies in the head for stealth kills, or an orbital artillery, or a shield that protects you from bullets or, my favourite, the Porcupine, which is a mobile missle launcher that locks onto targets and lets you tap the screen on them to blast them to hell.
Perhaps my one complaint about the campaign is that the mission structure is a bit bland, with very little standout levels or moments. This does run the risk of the game getting a bit repetitive, although fortunately the black market system does allow you to mix up your playstyle quite well, which at least can keep things fresh when it comes to gameplay. The campaign itself is on the short side, spanning about nine levels that admittedly are fairly lengthy, but the overall experience doesn’t last too long. Still, it’s an interesting one to experience that gives you a pretty enjoyable ride, especially as you get to see things from both sides of the war. Despite its length or lack of major moments, it certainly didn’t skimp on delivering an authentic Killzone experience, and this is undoubtedly a major selling point of the game.
The online presents you with three modes, namely Death Match, Team Deathmatch and Warzone, the traditional team-based Killzone multiplayer mode in which you get a string of objectives throughout one campaign. The game allows for eight players online, with four on either side, but admittedly I found it difficult to get a game and couldn’t get that many in the end, especially not with seven other players. Perhaps my timing was bad or there was something else that was going on with the matchmaking, I’m not too sure, as I know some people who participated in the beta and got games just fine. But the games I did get were very entertaining, and I enjoyed the fact that despite one or two other players being ranks far above me, I could still kill them a good number of times if I played smart or got the jump on them.
What’s pretty cool is that the gear you buy in the single player, in the black market, is what you’ll be able to use online, so it pays off really well to complete the campaign and unlock the loadout that suits you, and then not have to start from ground zero online, which allows you to comfortably make the jump. It’s an interesting change from the norm also because of the fact that Killzone: Mercenary doesn’t have ridiculous costs to its gear, and you can acculumate the funds fairly easily to afford even the most expensive of items. There are just a lot of weapons and such, so if you really want to unlock everything it will definitely take you a number of hours to replay missions or the entire campaign.
Killzone: Mercenary could have done with a bit of a longer and more varied campaign, as well as more online modes, but that doesn’t stop it from being the best shooter on the PlayStation Vita by far, and a clear demonstration of the handheld’s power. It’s easy to say that if you’re a major Killzone fan, or if you’re eager to see the potential of the device’s hardware or if you’re simply looking for a good shooter on your Vita (or just an actual game to play), then Killzone: Mercenary has you covered.