The PS Vita has often been touted as the perfect fit for portable first-person shooters but so far this potential has largely been untapped. Thankfully Killzone: Mercenary not only represents the definitive handheld shooter but also addresses PS Vita fans’ pleas for a triple-A, console-quality title which supports Sony’s advertising claim that owning the handheld is like having a PlayStation 3 in your pocket.
The recently rebranded Guerrilla Cambridge has done a hugely impressive job of adapting the Killzone franchise for the small screen, creating a game which takes some creative risks but essentially retains what makes Killzone so popular with FPS fans. From its breathtaking visuals to its extensive customisation options, Killzone: Mercenary is synonymous with quality and excellence no matter which area of the game you scrutinise.
In Killzone: Mercenary you fill the combat boots of gun-for-hire Arran Danner who is more than happy to fight for both the ISA and Helghast depending on who can offer him the fattest wad of cash. Every kill in both the game’s singleplayer campaign and multiplayer modes rewards you with money which is shared across its offline and online components. Certain actions, such as performing a stealth kill on your enemy, rewards you with a cash bonus, while dying reduces your bank balance and cancels any money you earned since the last checkpoint. It’s a well thought out system, especially when you consider the massive assortment of primary and secondary weapons, armour, grenades, and VAN-Guard abilities which are available to purchase. These are also shared across the game’s offline and online modes, meaning that every play session will take you a little bit closer to having your dream loadout. Killzone fans may find it a little strange that you can’t pick up downed enemies’ weapons but they nevertheless drop ammo which can be used to replenish the clips on your equipped primary and secondary weapons.
During the singleplayer campaign you’ll find blue armory crates littered around the battlefield belonging to Blackjack – an underground weapons dealer who sells you new equipment and will often comment on your current mission. You can also change your loadout in this screen, and when you exit you essentially create a new checkpoint which you’ll return to should you get killed. This Blackjack menu certainly breaks the passage of play when you’re in the middle of a fierce firefight, and can be exploited by players to create artificial checkpoints which make getting through the game on harder difficulty settings a whole lot easier.
Killzone: Mercenary’s highly enjoyable singleplayer campaign only takes a few hours to finish, but each mission has three additional contracts which are packed with different challenges such as killing ten enemies with an explosion of some sort. Completing these contracts on higher difficulty settings will earn you more cash, and some of them force you to use a certain weapon to accomplish your mission. These extra contracts are a great way to hone your skills before diving into the game’s online modes, and the additional cash you earn certainly won’t go to waste as you beef up your arsenal before taking the multiplayer plunge.
Few PS Vita games have really exploited the handheld’s online capabilities but Killzone: Mercenary seems destined to make its mark on the multiplayer scene. Featuring support for up to six players via a local wireless connection (i.e. Ad Hoc) and for up to eight players online, the game boasts a full suite of features and modes including support for Party Chat and inviting your friends to join your game (or vice versa) over the PlayStation Network. Only one mode and one map were available in Killzone: Mercenary’s open multiplayer beta, but I still got a good idea of how matches will play out in the full game. The mode I played was called Warzone and consisted of five phases where players earned points by fulfilling various objectives such as collecting Valour cards from fallen enemies, or extracting intelligence from enemies at knifepoint by sneaking up behind them and then matching the on-screen prompts on the PS Vita’s touchscreen. New players were able to join during matches and the map’s fairly small area created a tense multiplayer experience which rewarded getting the drop on your enemies.
Killzone: Mercenary’s control scheme is another area where the game excels – offering players a highly customizable experience which takes advantage of the PS Vita’s tilt functionality for precision aiming and its touch functionality to quickly switch between weapons or equip a grenade. You can even double-tap the back touchpad to sprint, but like all the other non-traditional control options in the game – this can be turned off in the settings menu.
Killzone: Mercenary’s graphics are worthy of an entire review of their own since they raise the bar so much higher than other PS Vita titles have managed to! Using a modified version of the Killzone 3 engine, the game runs at native resolution at a smooth 30 frames per second which only drops noticeably during auto-saving. Although the detail on character models isn’t on par with Killzone 2 and 3, everything else in the game looks surprisingly close to what we’ve come to expect from a PS3 Killzone title. This represents an outstanding achievement for a PS Vita release – especially one running at native resolution! I was also very impressed by the ambitious art design in the game since a lot of the singleplayer campaign takes place in open areas where the horizon is not obscured – allowing you to look out on gorgeous panoramas of the ocean or futuristic-looking structures in the distance.
It’s been many months since the PS Vita received a triple-A release and Killzone: Mercenary feels like the perfect counterpoint to all the indie games we’ve been seeing lately. It’s genuinely exciting to be able to play a console-quality title on the handheld with all the bells and whistles you would expect from an established Sony franchise such as Killzone. Longtime fans of the series will be rewarded with a singleplayer campaign which ties into a few of the major events featured in the Killzone trilogy, while newcomers can finally see what all the fuss is about before Killzone: Shadow Fall launches alongside the PlayStation 4 later this year.