Killzone: Mercenary PS Vita Review

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Having played both Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified and Resistance: Burning Skies, I had reservations about Guerrilla bringing the Killzone series to the PS Vita. The Killzone series has been the flagship FPS for Sony‘s PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3 consoles. However, there was one inherent difference between Killzone: Mercenary and the past FPS experiments on the Vita. Guerrilla Cambridge took charge of Mercenary’s development, meaning Killzone: Mercenary was actually being developed by a Sony first party studio.

Guerrilla Cambridge’s goal was to bring the definitive Killzone experience to the PS Vita handheld. The theme, tone and action of the Killzone series was successfully adapted in Mercenary. The series has a unique setting with distinct factions caught in a never ending struggle with each other. The ISA and Helghast war machines have been locked a bloody interplanetary struggle spanning decades. This is where the concept of the mercenary comes in. There’s money to be made during wartime and Arran Danner will work both sides of the coin in pursuit of profit.

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I was fortunate enough to take part in the Killzone: Mercenary multiplayer beta. The beta gave me hope that the final product would deliver the goods. The combat of Mercenary retains all the core features the series is known for. Visceral melee kills, cover shooting, signature weapons and new VAN-guard abilities that utilize the Vita touchscreen positively add to the formula. Adjustments had to be made due to the limited button layout of the Vita. If you’re unfamiliar, there’s only a single set of trigger buttons on the handheld. There’s also the fact that the Vita’s analog sticks don’t click. Meaning there’s no dedicated button for sprinting, melee or grenade throwing. That meant Guerrilla Cambridge had to either omit features, or find a way to successfully integrate the actions in the limited button layout. I’m happy to say that Mercenary found an effective alternate control scheme that still offers all the features we’re used to with modern FPS. Mercenary was able to preserve the sandbox type gameplay that I believe helps Killzone break the “corridor shooter” formula. You’ll have the opportunity to stealthily pick off enemies, or simply sneak past them. Silenced firearms and VAN-Guard weapons like the Mantis Engine allow for covert gameplay. Conversely, tossing on a ballistic vest and arming yourself with a high velocity assault rifle and shotgun give you the ability to charge headlong into battle. The Killzone series has always supported a slightly more knowledgeable AI system. Which is one of the reasons I’ve been drawn to the series over the years. Mercenary’s enemy AI reacts appropriately to your approach, suppressing your position and even flanking it.┬áThe end result gives us the most complete FPS the Vita has ever seen, all while retaining a flavor that’s undeniably Killzone.

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Speaking of Multiplayer, the online suite is just as impressive as it was during the beta. Loadouts are fully customizeable, as they are in most competitive shooters. You’ll have the ability to choose your primary and secondary weapon, grenade, protective vest, and VAN-Guard weapon. Another great part of the multiplayer lies with the in-game currency that’s used to upgrade your solider. The same credits and unlocks that are earned in your single player experience extend to the online side. A feature that breaks the status-quo. Mercenary also has party chat and squad support. Multiplayer maps are nicely varied. Most maps provide short, mid, and long range engagement opportunities, as well as a decent amount of verticality. The online portion of Killzone: Mercenary is one of the more fully realized Vita multyplayer experiences. It’ll add hours of additional entertainment after you finish the single player campaign. In short, the mode doesn’t feel “tacked on”. It’s a terrific addition to the overall package.

I was more than impressed with the visuals Guerrilla Cambridge managed to put together. Most locations you encounter are noticeably war-torn. There’s a good mixture of locales including refineries, military outposts, and even an embassy. Character models and animations are nearly indistinguishable from their console counterparts. I didn’t notice any large drops in performance, even when the action heats up, and believe me it does. There’s several segments in Mercenary that offer a different perspective on the action. From wingsuit flying to manning gun turret in an aerial engagement, I was captivated by the scenery on display. You’ll breeze by skyscrapers, view war-torn landscapes from afar, and approach full fledged war-zones via intruder transport. I was also stunned by the lighting techniques that brought firefights to life. You’re actually able to see explosions mirrored on metallic ground surfaces, something I wasn’t expecting to look as good as it ultimately did.

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The narrative of Killzone: Mercenary puts you in the combat boots of gun-for-hire Arran Danner. The ISA will utilize your skills to execute covert operations that are designed to improve their war efforts. Danner is instrumental in opening the window for the ISA to bring in their cruisers without being torn apart by Helghan arc cannons. The plot thickens when you’re tasked with rescuing a Vektan defector and his family. A bio-weapon that can end the war is left in the balance. After a less than stunning betrayal besets Danner, he’ll have to find a way to survive as a rogue agent. The unique part of Mercenary’s plot comes by way of working with both ISA and Helghast forces. Rather well executed voice acting and soundtrack helps with becoming more entrenched in the Mercenary’s story. The Helghast retain their unmistakably gruff U.K. accents, and weapons, explosions, and VAN-Guard’s all have their own distinct sounds.┬áThe straight forward plot doesn’t take any risks, but working both sides is at least something we haven’t seen in past Killzone installments.

The simplistic narrative is joined by an equally short run time. Which is what I expected, but you’ll see less than ten hours gameplay in the single player campaign. Another reason I’m thankful for the online suite. The addition of a challenge mode also gives a bit of incentive to multiple mission playthroughs. The only other real gripe I had was likely due to the fact that my gameplay sessions were done during the act of public transportation, but isn’t that supposed to be one of the Vita’s main functions? Playing on-the-go? I had a ton of trouble keeping track of enemy locations and would regularly become disoriented. The Vita’s lack of glare protection made it nearly impossible to stay engrossed in the action at times.

In the end Killzone: Mercenary is undeniably the best shooter I’ve played on the Vita. The crisp aesthetic, slick gameplay mechanics (even on a restricted button layout), and retention of all things Killzone make Mercenary one of the genuine must have games if you’re a Vita owner. Though the campaign is short, you’ve got a full fledged multiplayer suite to look forward to and additional mission challenges to bring you back through the storyline. Guerrilla Cambridge managed deliver the Vita’s first true FPS experience while staying true to the franchise. If you’re a Vita owner, get this game.

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Dylan Zellmer

Dylan splits time between games journalism, designing video games, and playing them. Outside of his deep involvement in the games industry, he enjoys It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Shameless, A Song of Ice and Fire, fitness, and family.
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