Killzone: Mercenary brings hardcore on handheld

By Dave Cook
24 July 2013 08:00 GMT

Killzone: Mercenary isn’t just a pared back take on Guerrilla’s series. VG247’s Dave Cook goes hands-on and explains why it stands tall on PS Vita.

Killzone: Mercenary

Developed by Guerrilla Cambridge, Killzone: Mercenary is a PS Vita exclusive shooter set between the first two Killzone games.

The game stars mercenary Arran Danner as he takes paid contracts from the ISA during its initial invasion of Helghan.

Check out this Killzone: Mercenary gameplay trailer from E3 to get a feel for how the game looks running on PS Vita. It’s impressive for a hand-held title.

In case you think the game’s trailers and screens have been touched-up by Sony to make them look better, know that all screens in this article except for the top banner were captured on my PS Vita.

When PS Vita was announced Sony promised us the Earth. It was billed as a hardcore juggernaut capable of replicating our favourite PS3 experiences in portable form without sacrificing quality. This was to be a triple-a delivery format for the mobile generation, but it’s now over a year later and the blockbuster releases simply aren’t there.

We were promised shooters that would take advantage of that important second stick. It was one of the console’s key selling points. Resistance: Burning Skies disappointed, Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified was a lazy cash-grab and we still haven’t had as much as a screenshot from Levine’s BioShock spin-off.

I’d be lying if I said the PS Vita has a stellar library of IP to call it’s own, as it currently lacks a convincing argument to make you to buy one, but Killzone: Mercenary is certainly a good start. Guerrilla Cambridge has inched the bar closer to Sony’s initial promises of home console quality on the move.

It’s set between the first and second Killzone entries, and places as you as a contractor hired by the ISA to assist in the invasion of Helghan. Money serves Mercenary’s backbone and ensures that your soldier is constantly kitted out with bigger and more destructive tools with which to slaughter enemies.

There’s really two layers that make Mercenary a hardcore handheld experience, and the first is the game’s scoring mechanic. Slot a Helghan troop and you earn money, follow-up with another kill quickly and you double it, slay both enemies with headshots and you get even more cash.

This constant pressure to move quickly and pull off skillful shots is at odds with the PS3 Killzone series but it works. Almost everything you do is converted to currency; from evaporating clusters of attackers with a single grenade, to looting a dead grunt’s corpse. Everything matters to the point where no action feels redundant, giving you real incentive to push onward.

And push you shall, because this isn’t a cakewalk by any means. The second layer is intensity and it hits home from the first mission. It saw my mercenary Danner infiltrating a Helghan military compound flanked by Arc Cannons, and as soon as I stepped foot beyond the starting area I was met with a hail of gunfire that cracked and fizzled past my avatar relentlessly.

At points the never-ending barrage reminded me of the TV station assault from Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. You really need to stay low and keep moving due to the aggressive – if not occasionally dumb – Helghan AI, and on the highest of three difficulty tiers you can’t take many bullets before you keel over and incur a small cash penalty.

The Vita will never feel comfortable to me as an FPS controller, that’s just a genetic problem of my clumsy fingers, but the game still handles well on the format. The only issue I found is that double-tapping the rear touch panel to sprint didn’t work for me a few times, but again my hands turn into two boiled hams when under pressure.

Otherwise it’s a slick shooter that absolutely replicates the home console experience on Vita. Put it this way; I reviewed Resistance: Burning Skies back in the day and pardon my French, but it was fucking dross. It was a poor, poor take on an existing IP that took great liberties in order to fit the handheld paradigm. It was woeful, and Killzone: Mercenary sparkles by comparison.

It has light, but non-intrusive use of touch screen to cycle weapons, equip grenades, use gadgets like the Mantys flying drone, execute melee attacks and pull levers. At no point does Guerrilla Cambridge seem obliged to shove too many touch actions down your throat when button presses would suffice.

Killzone: Mercenary doesn’t match the visual fidelity of recent high-end PS3 titles like The Last of Us, but it’s up there with the rest of the industry and in terms of presentation it utterly spanks anything 3DS and mobile formats currently offer. If any game closely matches Sony’s initial promise for PS Vita, then this is surely it.

What I am concerned about however is how the multiplayer stacks up. Online play wasn’t available in the preview code I was sent, and I have real concerns that it will only offer scaled-back player counts and matches to suit the PS Vita’s specs.

I’m also worried that given the game’s abundant technical clout, we’ll be looking at a short campaign. What content exists in the story mode is so far appealing, but it veers towards a cocktail of familiar chores – defend the waypoint, flip the lever, protect the thing, run back to the extraction point before everything explodes.

The sample I was sent only included one mission, but if Guerrilla Cambridge can offer a diverse range of missions, encounters and locales during solo play, as long as a hectic and expansive PvP component then we really could be looking at something of a revelation for the modern handheld shooter. Right now I’m highly optimistic.

Disclosure: To assist in writing this piece, Sony sent Dave a PS Vita download code for Killzone: Mercenary. No other merchandise or advertising was offered or accepted.

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