Killzone: Mercenary reviews are dropping now. VG247’s Dave Cook gives his impressions on the technically impressive PS Vita shooter, and discusses if it has the substance to back up its flash.
(Note: while playing this game, Dave tried to appraise the multiplayer component but there weren’t any players online. It made him feel alone, sad and a little afraid.)
Wealth and personal greed lie at the heart of Killzone: Mercenary’s campaign. As gun-for-hire Arran Danner you’re surrounded by mercs who justify the war between NSA and Helghast forces as a means to get rich and nothing more. There’s a morally bankrupt vibe running throughout the plot and a sense of personal detachment from your comrades, who simply see the slaughter of Helghan troops as money in the bank.
But as Danner you become drawn into a larger conflict that stops being purely about business and veers towards personal revenge – and the obligatory FPS chemical weapons attack of course. The game is set after the events of the original Killzone and sees the NSA employing mercenaries to help it drive the Helghan off Vekta, and this forms the backbone of Guerrilla Cambridge’s scoring mechanic.
Almost every action in this game bears some form of monetary compensation that can be used to buy new weapons, armour upgrades and devices from Blackjack trading posts littered throughout each stage. Shooting Helghast troops nets you a base reward, but if you score head-shots, stealthy melee takedowns and multi-kills you can rack up your multiplier significantly.
You can also wound enemies by taking out their legs then follow up with a melee execution to net a big reward, which can also be used to interrogate Helghan generals that appear during missions. Simpy incapacitate an officer then hit the melee prompt to slap them about a bit and earn some intel as well as a big cash bonus. It’s a neat system that demands you exert discipline when shooting up the place like a nutter.
What’s also interesting is that you can play a lot of Killzone: Mercenary as a stealth game to reap further bonuses. Equipping certain armour and kitting out your firearms with silencers can allow players to sneak around each map quietly and go for a covert approach. There is also the option to try completed missions again under different contracts for even more cash. For example, you can take a Stealth contract that tasks you with destroying every security camera in the stage, using silenced weapons and sneaking through specific sections of the level.
All of the images on this page were taken on my PS Vita. They’re not too bad eh?
While there are many choke-points where direct confrontation is unavoidable, it would have been refreshing to allow players the chance to complete full levels without breaking stealth at all, but that’s just a personal preference. Regardless, there’s enough scope to dispatch plenty of enemies without being seen, so it’s still a welcome change from wading into packs of goons with reckless abandon like pretty much every action shooter out there.
When the boom-time does kick off, it does so like a mule hoofing you in the gob. Play on the hardest difficulty mode and I guarantee you’ll have a miserable time at the outset, but once you get used to your load-out and the way Helghans act the challenge is something to be relished. Luckily your arsenal packs a punch with an assortment of rifles, shotguns, rocket launchers revolvers and incendiary devices to be saved up and bought from Blackjack’s vendor stations.
Then you have the Van-Guard system, which is Killzone: Mercenary talk for ‘specials’. Your first Van-Guard tool is the Porcupine launcher which – when activated – lets you tap targets on the Vita’s screen to unleash guided missiles at targets. There’s also drones, orbital laser blasts, stealth cloaks and shields that will each shake up your approach. These goodies are quite expensive however, so you’ll need to shoot well and fulfil many challenges to keep your bank balance topped up.
I’ve already written at length about how lovely Killzone: Mercenary is to look at. Make no mistake; it’s a commendable technical achievement from Guerrilla Cambridge and serves as a poster child for the level of fidelity that is possible on Sony’s handheld. But it’s not just a visual tech demo by any means, as there is substance beneath the hammy acting and bite-sized levels. There are many challenges and rewards to complete, and a multiplayer component that had no press playing at the time of writing.
It’s one of the most impressive little-big games I’ve played in a while, and although I’ve never cared much for the Killzone setting and lore, I still found myself being drawn into the money mechanic in the same way I like hoovering up loot in games like Borderlands 2 or Diablo 3. I was actively going for precision kills and trying to stay hidden for as long as possible to max out my income. It’s that same addiction, that desire for perfection that comes with shaving milliseconds of your best lap time in a racer.
If this doesn’t sound like you then it is still possible to storm through Killzone: Mercenary indiscriminately like any old corridor shooter – and I’ll admit that most of your uninspired mission tasks boil down to ‘kill all these guys’, or ‘go here and press that button’ – but if you really try to fulfil contracts and challenges then you could find yourself playing this game for a while. There’s plenty to be getting on with.
If you want to talk about money some more then I’d say yeah, Killzone: Mercenary gives you a good dollop of content for your buck and is worth a purchase for series fans.
Now all you need is buy PS Vita, which is another issue entirely.
Killzone: Mercenary is out September 4 in Europe, September 4 in the UK and September 10 in North America.
Disclosure: To assist with writing this piece, Sony sent Dave a download code for Killzone: Mercenary on PS Vita.