Killzone Mercenary is the latest big name title to arrive on Vita, bringing with it hope that Sony’s handheld will finally have a decent big budget shooter to call its own. Well, it may just live up to the hype.
Developed by Guerrilla Cambridge, Killzone Mercenary sees you play as a mercenary named Arran Danner. Danner is a former UCA-soldier who is just as happy to take on contracts from the ISA as he is the Helghast. It’s this attitude which will see you take on both sides in an adventure which not only boosts his bank balance, but sees him having to make some tough decisions along the way.
Killzone Mercenary uses a modified version of the Killzone 3 engine and it sure shows. This is probably the best looking Vita game yet, bringing with it some fantastic lighting and smoke effects, as well as high-res environment textures, gleaming metal, and realistic-looking shadows. This is the first time, for me, that playing a game on Vita has felt like having a PS3 in my hand, both in terms of action and presentation.
As you’d expect, the combat is quite tough in Killzone Mercenary, whether you are taking on the Helghast or ISA. Generally you’ll be up against the odds as a countless amount of grunts coming running at you, all trying to take you out from whatever vantage point they can get into. One of the most noticeable thing about these enemies is just how intelligent they are. Often they’ll scramble for cover, or try to flank you with sheer numbers. There are ways to trick them though, such as hiding around stairwells or around corners, which will generally see them come after you, making for an easy kill when they come into view.
It’s not all about melee or shooting enemies, as on occasions you will have the opportunity to sneak up and take them out from behind. In fact certain characters can provide you with valuable intel, so look out for these guys because the only way to interrogate them will be to take them out while no-one else is watching you.
To help dispose of enemies, you have help in the shape of the numerous available weapons. There are both primary and secondary weapons, as well as other equipment such as grenades, armour, etc. The guns includes the likes of the M82, STA-52SE and STA-18SE and all have limited ammo, meaning you’ll have to scavenge between kills or even get up close and personal with some swipe screen melee combat.
On occasion you can get particularly overwhelmed by enemies, so it’s probably good to know that you also have access to Van-Guard systems which give you that extra boost where a gun just can’t cut it. These weapons include the likes of Manty’s Engine, a remote controlled device which flies towards the enemy for an instant kill and Porcupine, a shoulder mounted missile system which has you tap multiple enemies using the Vita’s touch screen in order to blow them to pieces. There are other interesting Van-Guard systems too, such as the Carapace, a protective shield that absorbs damage and The Vultur, an aerial drone that pinpoints enemy targets on your radar, although these are just a few of the available options.
All weapons, armour, Van-Guards and equipment can be accessed from the Arms Dealer points which are spread throughout the levels, generally before or after a large scale battle is about to take place. You’ll earn cash for kills, head-shots, scavenging and gathering intel, so the more you explore, the more you’ll be able to spend during your shopping trip.
As well as earning cash, as you progress through levels there are other rewards too, such as your rank increasing and the ability to collect Valor cards, which is the games way of identifying your skill level. The higher the card, the more deadly your character is presumed to be. Although be warned that your card changes ever day you log in, so you'll need to keep on playing the game in order to stay deadly.
So we have combat, searching for intel and the ability to earn cash. But how does the game stack up as a shooter on FPS and just how do touch controls come into play? Well, in terms of controls, Killzone has it pretty spot on. The shoulder buttons are used to aim and fire, while the face buttons are assigned to jumping, switching weapons, crouching and running. The touchscreen meanwhile allows you to interact with objects, be it entering the Arms Dealer, climbing a ladder or for melee action. You can also use the touchscreen to take part in the mini-puzzles which require you to match up the correct shapes in order to disarm bombs and unlock doors.
All in it has to be said that the single player campaign is a very entertaining and polished experience. It smacks of ‘AAA’ quality and in this respect is very hard to put down.
So what of the multiplayer? Well, with six multiplayer maps and three gameplay modes, Killzone Mercenary seems to have enough going for it online to keep the most demanding shooter fan from complaining. I’m not the biggest online shooter fan in all honesty, but with 8-player multiplayer matches and both deathmatch and objective-based modes as well as the stunning presentation of the single player campaign, this is an area of the game that can’t fail to impress.
What’s even better is that Mercenary's single player and multiplayer modes are unified, meaning that any accolades awarded while progressing through the single player campaign are carried over in to the multiplayer and vice versa. This means you can purchase new weapons, armor, grenades, and VAN-Guards even if all you’ve managed to do so far is play the campaign. This is a pretty brilliant incentive for me at least, since I’m a bit rubbish at shooting people online, so any help is greatly appreciated.