*Authors Note* Killzone Mercenary is a PlayStation Vita exclusive title. Some spoilers relating to this title as well as past games may be contained inside for the purpose of this review.
With Sony’s newest handheld the PlayStation Vita featuring dual analog sticks gamers have been waiting for 18months for their first AAA standard first person shooter on the portable platform, well with Killzone Mercenary FPS fans be assured – you’re finally getting quality.
Past Killzone games have had an overarching narrative that has guided the direction of your characters, but have never really taken proper advantage of the potential of the series plot. Guerrilla games in Cambridge have taken the reigns for this portable trek and take the narrative in a whole new direction. The games title gives it away a bit – you’re not a member of the ISA, nor one of the Helghast, you’re a gun for hire, a mercenary who doesn’t care whether it’s the ISA or the Helghast he is working for, he just wants work and the cash as a reward. The anything-for-money factor makes for some odd, almost comical moments but it is what drove me to keep coming back for more. The events of Mercenary run parallel to the console trilogy so anyone with some exposure to past entries may notice references to Visari’s death among other notable Killzone moments – digging up intel will uncover more links to parallel events.
One the Killzone franchise is known for is its weighty gameplay, the heavily armed ISA or Helghan troops have always had enormous turning circles and everything has possessed this extra punch and feeling to it, and despite packing slightly less gear the Mercenaries of Killzone: Mercenary have a similarly weighty feeling to them, with large turning circles and meaty, chunky weaponry. Over the games quite disappointingly short 5/6hour campaign you will be firing your way through waves of ISA and Helghast troops as you move through each of the nine sequential missions before a final the in-game narrative finally comes to ahead in one final encounter with a formerly close ally.
Spending time at BlackJack’s shop will be essential for success as he can stock you up with more ammo, equip you with new weapons, customised amour and VAN-Guard abilities. These abilities are an interesting new element that adds new flavour to the combat, from a shield, to attacking enemies from a remote controlled flying robot or even going into a stealth mode – their necessity is even greater in higher difficulty modes or when playing online. All of these extras cost serious dollars – so it is a good thing that you earn money from virtually everything you do, from scrambling for ammo on the ground, kills in various degrees (headshots, stealth kills and more) and hacking terminals. This is the first FPS on the Vita that truly functions well with swift, clean movement, great shooting and some clever use of the touchscreens. The touchscreen itself can be used to take down troops with a simple swipe as well as for the hacking minigames and to set bombs on destructible items – it is also used for changing your equipped weapon and launching VAN-Guard abilities and as functional this is, you may find your finger getting in the way mid way through heated combat so this element could have been better thought through and implemented.
Many of these features make the jump into the series’ acclaimed multiplayer, and whilst compared to the console versions Mercenary’s multiplayer is a bit more limited in range there is no doubting that the quality of the product is as sensational as it has always been. Each match supports a maximum of eight players with three different modes over six maps and while there will no doubt more added via downloadable content the initial package is quite impressive. The three modes: Mercenary Warfare (Deathmatch), Guerrilla Warfare (Team Deathmatch) and Warzone (Objective Based Free-For-All) are all quite enjoyable with Warzone surprisingly being my personal favourite with the team who completes five different tasks with the highest score at the end being declared the winner – it is clever because it requires teamwork and also ensures that racking up ludicrous numbers of kills is not the name of the game. The mode itself complements Mercenary Warfare and Guerrilla Warfare nicely because they are both your typical FPS multiplayer fare. The modes to feature one key difference however and that is that VAN-Guard drops occur randomly throughout each match and serve as a major advantage to whoever can get their hands on it first.
Mercenary is a beautiful game, obviously not holding up to its bigger console brothers but on the portable platform the game truly looks sensational despite essentially looking at a brown and grey environment for a large percentage of the experience. Looking over the top of a large battlefield provides some incredible sights and really emphasises to the player the gravity of what they have gotten themselves into and once again those cold orange eyes of the Helghast troops will send shivers up the spine especially as you find them closing in around you. Typically of the series howeverm the soundtrack is quite strong with the game receiving the fully orchestrated treatment and it truly benefits from this with even the track playing in the background of the main menu evoking tension and anxiety surrounding what is to come.
For all of a few flaws, ranging from the cumbersome touchscreen use to change weapons and the all too short campaign, Killzone Mercenary is quite clearly the finest first-person experience in the portable market to date, with engaging gameplay fuelled by the need to hoard as much money as possible, incredible depth and replay value as well as exciting differentiated multiplayer, and beautiful visuals it is hard to put Killzone Mercenary down. If you’re looking for one of those killer apps for your PS Vita then Killzone Mercenary has now become one of them. Killzone Mercenary no longer holds the promise of being the first truly excellent portable FPS – It is the first.