Let me start by saying I love my PS Vita, but occasionally I want to shoot stuff and that is where the Vita library has left me wanting more. You can make the argument that Uncharted: Golden Abyss works just fine in this regard, but it’s a third-person action adventure game, not a true first-person shooter. Sadly, every other FPS on the system has left us wanting. Unit 13, Resistance: Burning Skies and Black Ops: Declassified spring to mind… oh wait, those are the only ones! Until now that is, because with the release of Killzone: Mercenary, Vita fans finally have a fun and, more importantly, playable FPS to enjoy.
Mercenary’s plot follows… wait for it… a mercenary by the name of Aaron Danner. Danner is a true gun for hire who is only in it for the money, but what is clever is how Danner’s missions span the entire Killzone saga, from both sides of the struggle. As a fan of the series, I thought this was inspired, even if the campaign is too short. Considering the game is pushing the system to its limit that is not terribly surprising.
From a gameplay standpoint, Mercenary is finally the FPS we’ve been waiting for on the Vita. Using the dual analog sticks feels more natural and fluid than it ever has before, and you can adjust the sensitivity as you see fit. Moving in and out of cover takes a bit of practice, but once you get the hang of it you’ll feel like you’re playing on a PS3 with a really small screen. I also like how the touchscreen controls are implemented. During a melee attack, once you’ve initiated the action, you’ll need to swipe the screen in the indicated direction to finish the takedown move. The animations that follow are often gruesome, but ultimately satisfying.
There is also a hacking mini-game that can be both clever and frustrating. It’s a basic puzzle game that involves matching different combinations of triangles while on a timer. It takes some practice, but is actually nicely rewarding. However, you had best be sure that there aren’t any Helghast still lurking around when you start hacking as you are defenseless when doing so.
Like it’s console forebears, Killzone: Mercenary is visually stunning. We have seen the impressive power of the Vita with other titles, but few can rival the splendor and graphical fidelity of this one. Backgrounds are sharp and beautiful, and it played (fairly) smoothly throughout, even during intense firefights where a lot was going on at once.
I’m a huge fan of the in-game monetary system. Basically, you get “money” for everything you do. Those funds can then be spent on new weapons, ammo, and upgrades. Obviously you’ll garner more money for headshots than you would for just taking someone down, but picking up dropped ammo also scores you a modest amount. As a result, it’s worth scouring the battlefield for spoils and looking for computers to hack simply to gain more funds. This proves to be more important than it sounds, because you don’t pick up enemy weapons in Mercenary. Instead, you select a load out of primary and secondary weapons, armor, grenades, and more importantly, VAN-guard support systems.
VAN-guard systems range from lightly armored stealth hovercraft to aerial reconnaissance drones to shoulder mounted rocket launchers or even barricade shields. I had a lot of fun trying the different toys out. These additions, while expensive, are a literal blast to use. Towards the end of the campaign, they become a virtual necessity.
Unsurprisingly, a game that pushes a system to its limit is bound to have some issues, and I encountered a couple of doozies. While Mercenary runs smoothly with minimal screen tearing or pop-up issues, the game did lock up on me a couple of times (once during a loading screen that basically deleted my save file… fortunately it was early enough in the game as to not be a deal breaker). Sadly, there are some annoying issues involved with programming that are far more frustrating. At one point, at the very end of a level, the prompt to jump to safety never came up. I ran around for 10 minutes trying to figure out what I was doing wrong before quitting… which naturally took me back to the very beginning of the level, not a more recent checkpoint.
Another annoyance is the length between checkpoints. This has been a common complaint with the series in general. There is nothing more annoying than getting past a tricky part after multiple attempts (usually surviving by the skin of your teeth) only to die quickly in the next skirmish and have to do the first part all over again.
Mercenary’s online multiplayer will keep you coming back once you’ve finished the campaign. While it’s not particularly robust (small maps, not a lot of players per map, only a handful of different modes), there is fun to be had, especially considering the VAN-guard upgrades and how those play out against actual opponents. Plus, there are random VAN-guard drops during a game, so you’ll have to decide whether it’s worth putting yourself at risk while hacking it open during the middle of a firefight.
Killzone: Mercenary is the shooter that Vita fans have been patiently craving: gorgeous visuals, reasonably tight controls, a surprisingly clever (if short) campaign, and a multiplayer element that will keep you coming back for more make it the complete package. If it weren’t for some tough-to-deal-with glitches and technical issues, I would have given it a much higher score, but even ignoring those foibles, for those who are fans of the Killzone series or simply want to shoot stuff while on the go, don’t hesitate, go pick this one up.
Reviewed By: Simon Waldron
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
This review is based on a retail copy of Killzone: Mercenary for the PlayStation Vita provided by Sony Computer Entertainment.