Killzone: Mercenary single-player – from PS3 to Vita

Thursday, 31 January 2013 00:04 GMT By Patrick Garratt

Killzone: Mercenary may be a fresh take on Guerrilla’s shooter for Vita, but the PS3 quality of the experience is largely intact. Roll on September, says Patrick Garratt.

The campaign isn’t far removed from the Killzone 3 experience. It’s built on the same tech, and keeping the emphasis on cover, spectacle and grit gives you the more considered take on sci-fi shooting you expect from these games.

We arrive at the coffeeshop, one of the most famous in Amsterdam, too late. It’s mid-week, so the bouncer sends us to another bar round the corner, a black, empty hole. It’s full of cigarette smoke. Gangnam Style is bellowing from the PA at such volume that Killzone: Mercenary director Piers Jackson is forced to shout into my ear.

“There’s a tipping point,” he yells. “There’s a tipping point where it goes from being an FPS to being Killzone. It feels like a Killzone game now.”

He puffs his cheeks out, as if he’s told me something momentous. Mercenary, the fifth Killzone game and the first for Vita, is the first chapter in the franchise made outside the Guerrilla headquarters in Amsterdam. There have clearly been some nerves, but thankfully any doubts over collaborating with Sony Cambridge on a full project (Cambridge contributed to both Killzone 2 and 3) have been dispelled. Mercenary couldn’t be anything other than Killzone.

You play muscular grunt Arran Danner. He’s a body-suited skinhead with an assault rifle, as is every combatant in Killzone. He murders people and blows stuff up for money, whether working for human or helghast. Mercenary’s first contract is set just after the events of Killzone 1. It lasts “6-8 hours” in single-player, has six multiplayer maps and three online modes.

The campaign isn’t far removed from the Killzone 3 experience. It’s built on the same tech, and keeping the emphasis on cover, spectacle and grit gives you the more considered take on sci-fi shooting you expect from these games.

Lightning Strike, single-player’s third level, starts with a drop-in by wingsuit through a sky speckled with platforms disintegrating from upward fire. It’s objective-based and certainly a “full console experience”. Killzone’s signature gameplay means you’re not just running at the enemy, and precision shooting works well with Vita’s twin sticks. Your opponents have to plan position just as carefully as you do, and you’re able to pick them off from a distance as they cower. Headshots work best.

The latest trailer.

Danner’s role in the level is to hack computers, kill attackers and eventually defend a transformer from helghast soldiers so your compatriots can power-up some cannons. The enemy AI is noticeably excellent. I was flanked repeatedly, and forced to make solid use of cover to progress.

The “brutal melee” system introduced in Killzone 3 has been linked to Vita’s touchscreen. You tap it when you’re close enough to an enemy, then swipe in whatever direction the game picks to get nasty with your knife. Again, this happens at a manageable pace, as is befitting the format. The languid stabbing’s like killing in a dream. Not that I regularly kill people in dreams, of course.

Every kill and completed objective gives you Vectan dollars to spend with Blackjack, a weapons dealer. His shop – which looks suspiciously like the PS Store – allows you buy and equip gear, either through in-level crates or at the start of missions. Blackjack has daily specials, primary weapons, secondary weapons, equipment (such as differing types of grenades), and armour. The entire game’s based on money. Everything you earn in single-play can be taken over to multiplay, and vice versa.

Replayability is a focus. Every single-player level has three difficulty settings (Recruit, Veteran and Elite) and four contract types, three of which (Precision, Covert and Demolition) are unlocked when you complete a Basic run-through. All require different tactics and afford different awards. Assuming it’s as good as it should be, you could be playing Mercenary for a long time.

Guerrilla’s focus, MD Herman Hulst tells me at the end of the day in his office overlooking the Herengracht canal, was to create a benchmark portable shooter, a console-style game which took total advantage of the Vita format. It’s Killzone, but it’s handheld. It’s still a way off, but there’s a good chance the Dutch studio and its Cambridge partners will deliver on the project’s intentions.

Killzone: Mercenary releases for Vita in September. Check out new footage and our multiplayer impressions before you toddle off.