Killzone Mercenary ReviewSeptember 11, 2013
Sony’s powerful PlayStation Vita handheld has long promised console-quality experiences in the palm of your hand. While it’s been proven that the Vita can display awe-inspiring visuals with its beastly hardware specs and crisp OLED screen, it’s been a bit lacking in the triple-A, killer app department. Uncharted: Golden Abyss was fantastic, and Assassin’s Creed 3: Liberation was pretty good, but beyond those titles there haven’t really been any mind-blowing exclusives. Killzone Mercenary has taken its sweet time in development, and some disastrous FPS games have sprung up in the meantime (Resistance: Burning Skies, Black Ops Declassified). Luckily, this game was definitely worth the wait.
The first thing you’ll notice when booting up Killzone Mercenary is the incredible graphics. I’d seen some screens here and there for the game ahead of time, but it looks gorgeous in motion, with great particle effects, lighting, and models – all while managing to keep a smooth framerate. Water moves beautifully, blood spatters realistically against walls, fire dances against shadows and environments are surprisingly high-poly. The controls feel great, as the Vita was built with first-person and third-person shooters in mind. The two-thumb control scheme works well, and after a few minutes with Killzone Mercenary you’ll likely forget that you’re playing on a handheld. There’s little in the way of compromise here – the game functions exactly how you’d expect a Killzone title to, and nothing feels watered down.
The feel of firing weapons is practically identical to the its console brethren. Touch screen controls pop up here and there, for instance during hacking sections and when making swiping motions for melee kills, but it’s not overbearing. Aiming feels precise, weapons have a definite weight and power to them, and movement is fast and responsive. Due to the lack of buttons on the Vita, some functions, such as weapon switching and grenade-throwing, are mapped to virtual buttons on the side of the screen, but it works well enough to not be a nuisance.
In Killzone Mercenary you control Danner, while the events of the game take place somewhere between the original PS2 Killzone and PlayStation 3′s Killzone 2. The game has an over-arching points system, which encompasses the entirety of the single-player campaign as well as the multiplayer. Points are accrued for everything from standard kills, headshots, scavenging ammo, shooting out security cameras and taking out enemies silently with melee knife kills. The points system lends even short play sessions a feel of progression, as points can be utilized to purchase new weapons, armor, and more. There’s plenty of stuff to purchase – 12 primary weapons, 12 secondary weapons, six armor types, and 5 explosive weapons – all with different stats and uses. Depending on your play style, you could find dozens of interesting loadouts to play around with, and unlocking every piece of gear will add some longevity to the proceedings.
Adding even more longevity is the stellar multiplayer suite. While the modes feel pared down a bit from its console brethren, Killzone Mercenary’s MP features six maps, three modes and up to 8 players. The matches I played (with the post-release patch, which is HUGE at over 1 GB) were very stable, chaotic, and most importantly, very fun. A new Valor system is incorporated into the multiplayer, where slayed opponents drop cards, which you can collect to flesh out entire decks. The cards raise or lower in ranking depending on how well a player is performing, so if you manage to drop a top-ranking player online, you’ll accrue the most points.
Killzone Mercenary‘s campaign is thoroughly entertaining and engaging, with plenty of great set-pieces, beautiful environments and interesting level design. Some sections even have multiple routes, such as one notable sequence where I could either barge through the main doors of a compound Rambo-style or crash through a glass ceiling, a la Mission Impossible. This game is the first in the series that gives you the opportunity to fight for both sides of the conflict, which sheds some new light on the ever-present conflict between the ISA and the Helghast. Regardless of who you’re fighting against, enemies are varied and just as relentless as ever, and even on the Normal difficulty setting they will hunt you down and flank you without mercy.
Overall, I came away very impressed with Guerilla Cambridge’s work on Killzone Mercenary. They’ve done an admirable job of preserving everything that makes the series fun and addictive, while setting a new graphical standard for handheld FPS games. Even the multiplayer is great pick-up-and-play mayhem, and the smartly incorporated money and upgrade systems will keep players wrapped up in the game for quite a while. Just like Uncharted: Golden Abyss before it, Killzone Mercenary is not only a competent handheld entry in its franchise, but a must-play for fans of the series and genre.