Killzone: Mercenary Review

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A mobile version of Killzone has been a long time coming. On the PSP, Killzone appeared as a sort of top-down third-person action game in the form of Killzone: Liberation and it was, with the limited hardware the PSP had, quite an accomplishment in and of itself. It wasn’t exactly the Killzone we all loved but it wasn’t bad.

But here, with Killzone: Mercenary, Guerilla Cambridge has done it. The very thing they have been working towards all this time – a real, honest to goodness Killzone experience on a handheld. The game also happens to be the first truly great FPS on the Vita. It all lines up perfectly. The power of the PS Vita, the dual analog sticks, the touchscreen, this is a game designed for the Vita and it shows.

Gameplay

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Killzone: Mercenary’s story revolves around a particular Mercenary named Arran Danner who, like his various partners throughout the game and as his title suggests, works solely for money. This particular story element actually becomes an interesting gameplay mechanic as everything you do in the game earns you money. Just got a headshot? Here’s some money. Blew up that drone? Here’s some money. Scavenged some ammo? Here’s some money. You get the idea. Also worth noting but this applies to single player and multi-player, so your always finding ways to make money.

Now what do you do with all this money? Well, you can use it throughout the game at Blackjack’s store. Blackjack is a mysterious arms dealer who is happy to keep war going and will sell you various guns (primary and secondary weapons), armor, grenades, vanguard systems, and even has special discounts on certain weapons at different times. The store is packed and not even a single play through will net you everything which means you’ll want to come back and keep earning money to unlock every weapon.

Controls

The game plays like a console-quality Killzone and that is exactly how it should be. Aiming is precise and I never felt betrayed by the Vita’s low throw analog sticks. Touchscreen usage is also well done here as melee attacks are done via the touchscreen playing out a sort of mini-game where you swipe in a particular direction to take out an enemy. Otherwise, touchscreen usage is limited to selecting from menus and leaving the rest to the buttons on the system.

However, I will say that Mercenary adapts a confusing control scheme choice in that it maps running to the Circle button which makes throwing grenades a little bit harder and ducking under cover just a bit more finicky. It isn’t game breaking and you’ll certainly get used to it but I do wish there was a better way.

Graphics

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Mercenary is gorgeous and easily one of the better looking games on the Vita. Supposedly the game runs using Killzone 3’s engine and I wouldn’t doubt that at all. It really is great. The world is alive as dropships hover overhead, the enemies blaring out commands to find you, and plenty of effects to astound you. You’ll almost forget your playing on a portable system. And I really do mean almost. Despite the great visuals, Killzone: Mercenary does suffer from some dropped frames when a lot is happening on screen and there are a few textures here and there that are very very muddy. This isn’t exactly a PS3 but it is close, or at least it feels that way.

Sound

The voice acting is well done and the soundtrack offers a nice backdrop to you and your enemies’ blaring guns. The guns themselves sound good enough and when explosions happen, you’ll certainly feel it from the audio department. The sound isn’t going to blow your mind but you’d be hard pressed to find fault with it.

Game Length

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And here we hit the worst part of Killzone: Mercenary…its length. The main campaign will only last you a measly 5 hours, and that’s if your taking your time. It is surprisingly short. There are only 9 missions which marks Mercenary as the shortest Killzone yet. The good news is that there are special “contract” missions that basically allow you to replay missions with different parameters such as save this person, only use this weapon, etc. that do help elongate the game as they are challenging. But at the end of the day, you’ll be stuck replaying the same levels over and over again which could get old fast if your only playing Single Player.

Luckily, of course there is multiplayer…

Multiplayer

In Mercenary, on top of the money you get from just about everything, you can also earn “valor” cards that come from defeating opponents in multiplayer. Usually they’ll give you a nice cash bonus if you collect enough of them. Up to 8 players can play against each other with 3 different game modes: Mercenary (free-for-all), Guerrilla Warfare (Helghast vs. ISA team based mode), and Warzone (objective based mode). However there are only 6 multiplayer maps and while they are nice and varied, I do wish there were a few more.

Matchmaking was relatively quick and painless and I was able to jump into a game with next to no lag within a minute or so. The meat and potatoes of this game is clearly going to have to come from multiplayer and I could easily see someone sinking multiple hours into Mercenary’s.

Overview

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Killzone: Mercenary is a great game. In fact, it not only proves that a great FPS can be done on the Vita but also shows us what Killzone could be on a handled device. It is a technical feat worth praising being able to take a game like Killzone and making it portable enough to take with you anywhere. This does come at the cost of a little downsizing. With such a short campaign, few multiplayer maps, and some slightly awkward control placement for running, it does smear the otherwise fantastic game. However, the few complaints aren’t enough to ruin the experience and honestly you can’t get a better looking and better playing FPS on the Vita. This is the Vita’s best FPS and it is deserving of that title.