Killzone Mercenary, the long-awaited, much-anticipated first-person shooter for PSVita is finally here. The PSVita hasn’t had much luck when it comes to FPS games. It’s first foray into handheld shooter was the mediocre Resistance: Burning Skies, which failed to deliver a quality experience and, of course, how can we forget the frankly piss-poor Black Ops 2: Declassified: a joke of a game.
But now, can UK-based developers Guerrilla Cambridge deliver a not only a solid shooter but perhaps a “home console” experience to the Sony handheld?
After a surprisingly hefty “Day-1” patch, I got to grips with the game and here’s what I made of it.
You play as mercenary Arran Danner and find yourself carrying out missions/contracts during the events of the Vektan-Helgan war that takes place during the PS2/3 trilogy.
The game is set just after the end of Killzone and plays out through the several years of the war, one mission you’ll be on Vektor and it’ll flash forward to the invasion of Helgan 2 years later. Due to the time span of the story, you’ll be playing out missions on different planets and locales.
The narrative is told through short “tactical map” cut-scenes in between chapters, similar to that of the Modern Warfare series, where it’ll show you newsreels of characters or clips from previous games to indicate where you are in the fiction’s timeline as well as outline your next mission whilst constantly reminding you of the reason behind your actions – money. You’ll also observe scenes being played out in front of you during gameplay, at the beginning and end of chapters, for example you’ll witness an interrogation that’s divulging information regarding the overall plot.
It’s not as cut and dry as plain ol’ capitalism as the story progresses. Without giving too much away there’s a twist around the halfway point which flips your perspective and you’ll find that it isn’t always about the money but rather morals of right and wrong in the grand scheme of things.
The voice acting is of a sufficient standard; the Helghast have their gruff cockney accents and the ISA their American space-marine banter but sometimes the latter can be cheesy and unnatural at times. For example, your bearded, gruff AI partner can be a little too chatty and its annoying. However, it doesn’t detract from the overal experience.
You shouldn’t expect The Last of Us storytelling here, after all it’s an FPS. It’s enough to flesh out the situation and doesn’t keep you from what you want to be doing; shooting bad guys and blowin’ shit up!
Story – 0.75/1
Patty Cake Mother Fucker
Smooth, solid and works.
That’s what I’d say if I had to describe it in three words. Every part of the PSVita is utilised and the game is built perfectly to the controls of the handheld.
The face buttons, analogues and shoulder buttons are what you expect from an FPS, however the front and rear touch are used to compensate for the lack of L/R2 and “clickable” analogues (L3 and R3) as well as to switch weapons as triangle is used to perform melees and interact with levers and switches.
Sprinting can be controlled by tapping the rear touch, at first it’s hard to get used to and is often used accidentally by a slip of the fingers. Alternatively you can sprint with a tap of circle, which, in all honest is a lot more convenient than remembering to reach around the back and tap.
It’s nice that Guerrilla didn’t neglect the rear touch but it feels unnecessary.
On the other hand, the front touch will be giving your fingers a workout. The front screen is used to change weapons, equip grenades and perform the many, many QTEs you’ll encounter when killing with melee. I’m not criticising the QTEs, in fact the game encourages you to use melees as they pay out more money as a regular kill. You’ll also use the screen to solve many hacking puzzles that are littered throughout. The controls are in no way clunky and just seem to flow, my only gripe would be analogue sensitivity, which I’d recommend adjusting to your preference as I found the turn speed a bit slow.
You’ll get hacked off with the amount of these puzzles.
Controls aside, the level layout is fairly standard FPS, you’ll make your way through a room clearing patrols or waves and you won’t venture too much off the beaten path other than to find intel or hostages that need rescuing. As I mentioned earlier, money, everything you do pays out, after all a mercenary doesn’t work for free.
You kill and enemy, you score “Vektan dollars”, different enemies pay out more, head shots pay more than shots to the body, melees, “interrogations”, multi-kills, explosive kills, streaks, etc all pay more than just shooting from cover, and that’s great.
Earning money to buy better weapons, armour and gadgets is a great incentive to experiment with your gameplay, for example, I deliberately stayed in cover until a bunch of Helghast were in a group so I could multi-kill them with a grenade, which paid handsomely. It encourages you to be a badass, which I applaud. Dying or “suiciding” will however cost you money. I think it’s great that you can buy and customise your character in the campaign instead of having to settle with whatever weapons/equipment the game gives you. Money and your purchases carry over into your online career.
What’s in store for Danner?
No, seriously, what’s in the store for him?
In a lot of situations you are given a choice on how you wish to carry out a mission.
For example. Early in the game you have to get into a control room with an enemy in it and you’re given a choice, either breach the door with explosives or you can seek out an air vent into the room and lob a gas grenade in, forcing them out. It’s not just objectives but general gameplay can be carried out how you choose; you can be stealthy and take out all enemies in an area with a silenced weapon or you can go Rambo and decide to take on Helgan’s best head on. It’s up to you, however I found that you are awarded bonuses for being stealthy and being loud just brings in enemy reinforcements.
Speaking of enemies, AI is pretty decent, rather than just stay in cover, popping in and out, the enemies will actively seek you out, flank you and drive you from your cover, giving you a sense that you’re not safe anywhere, which is refreshing as so many other FPS games use the same tired formula of cowering enemies behind cover.
Partner AI (in the few instances when you have a partner) is good too, they’ll help you out and generally mirror your actions; you decide to be stealthy then they’ll sneak around with you, go guns blazing they’ll do the same. Your partner helps but doesn’t do all the work, it’s a good balance and at times you’re left on your own which I actually preferred.
I played the game on Veteran mode (hardest difficulty) and I found it pretty easy at times, even the large enemies like “Heavy” or Elite Helghast which are bullet sponges in previous games are laughably easy in Mercenary.
It’s a slight disappointment that I can pretty much run and gun without having to use any real tactics, I guess I was expecting the same difficulty level found in the PS3 games.
Gameplay – 1/1
Sight-seeing on Helgan
Have you seen this game?
To me it looks like a PS3 game playing on a lower-res screen and I mean that in the nicest way possible. Obviously the PSVita isn’t as powerful as the Cell architecture of its home console cousin but it does a damn fine job.
From the war-torn city vistas, weapons, all the way down to the textures on the ground are well-crafted. The shading, lighting and character models are very impressive on the small display, at times I’d stop and marvel at the level design whilst in the heat of a firefight.
Even the online multiplayer maps are of a very high standard and borrow environments from the campaign. There’s little to no lag in the gameplay other than connection-based.
Is that a bottle-opener on that combat knife?
At times there’s a drop of framerate especially during hectic battles and during “checkpoint” moments the game will lag for a split second or just when entering a room. It’s not game breaking but a little disappointing to see when everything else in the game seems to shine.
Other than that I experienced no glitches, freezes or console lock-ups during my time playing. Speaking of shine, sometimes there’s just a little too much lens flare for my liking but it’s merely a nitpick. Other than that, I really cannot fault the visuals of this game, the only way it could possibly look better is if the PSVita had an even higher resolution screen, say that of an iPhone Retina display.
Presentation – 1/1
Addictive multiplayer much?
I’ve made it clear on multiple occasions that I don’t care for online unless it has trophies, well firstly, yes there are trophies for online but that’s entirely beside the point here.
It boggles my mind how Guerrilla managed to put a console-quality online FPS on to a handheld. Now when I say “console-quality” I mean a fully-fleshed out experience with multiple modes, maps and games.
Oh, y’know, just hanging”
Multiplayer is 4 x 4, so it’s only a fraction of the Killzone 2 and 3 multiplayer size but that’s not a bad thing, in fact I feel it’s the perfect size for a handheld device and not speaking from a technical point of view.
More card collecting than a 90s Pokemon fan.
Smaller, more compact seems to suit it and almost makes it seem more personal when fighting enemies. You have a choice of three main modes: Mercenary Warfare (Free-for-all), Guerrilla Warfare (Team Deathmatch) and Warzone (objective-based games) I find Warzone is probably the most enjoyable mode to play as you’re given objectives to carry out over a series of rounds, each lasting around 5 minutes or until a team reaches the round objective.
A great addition to this is “Valour cards”
Each player has a playing card, just like a dog tag a player drops it when killed and another player picks it up in exchange for not just money or points (certain game modes require card collection to win a round) but it also contributes to your collection.
Each player’s card reflects their skill, everyone starts with a Joker and then, based upon how you play, the game awards you a number and suit. Play well and your card value increases, say from an six of spades to a king of spades, play poorly and your card depreciates in value.
Eventually you should have an entire deck of cards, collected from all the different ranks of fallen foes that lay before you, as well as doing certain things in the single player campaign.
This is just another great addition to the overall experience and you’ll likely spend many hours trying to complete your deck.
52 pick up
The main campaign can be replayed on different difficulties and specific requirements award you more money and valour cards, as well as seeking out all the hidden intel.
There’s also objective-based contracts where you’re given a set of tasks to complete, which are unlocked after you finish an initial play-through of the campaign.
Replay Value – 1/1
When the controls are solid, the environments are well-designed and the game has a very, very addictive online multiplayer, how can one not enjoy themselves?
The game is a fantastic, and frankly long-overdue addition to the PSVita.
Guerrilla Cambridge took a platform that’s had a rocky past when it comes to first person shooters and made a great game. They could have easily made a lesser product but they’ve taken their time and really taken a hard look at the system, especially regarding the controls.
Warm welcomes from the people of Helgan.
I genuinely feel like I’m having fun whilst playing, its the kind of game where you look forward to picking it up and getting involved.
Put simply, I see myself still playing in a month’s time as there’s so much to do; campaign, contracts, multiplayer and finally all the PSN trophies.
This game is currently making my PS3 redundant.
Enjoyment – 1/1
Story – 0.75/1
Gameplay – 1/1
Presentation – 1/1
Replay Value – 1/1
Enjoyment – 1/1
This game is of fantastic quality, both campaign and online have been expertly crafted for the hardware and paves the way for not only more FPS games on the PSVita but the “console” quality that Sony claims the system is capable of. It’s easy to imagine this game being played on a large HDTV, especially for hours on end with its addicting multiplayer.
I highly recommend Killzone Mercenary, treat your PSVita to some “console quality”.
Score = 4.75/5