Killzone: Mercenary Preview (Hands-on)

Missing out on E3 this year due to personal reasons, I was ecstatic when Sony set over the latest preview build for Killzone: Mercenary. From what I was told, it features the same mission as previous preview builds, but has been fleshed out with cutscenes setting up the mission, a complete menu system and polish that proves Guerrilla Cambridge is heading in the right direction with Killzone on the Vita. The story for Killzone: Mercenary doesn’t follow the ISA (scum) or the Helghast, but instead you are put in the role of a mercenary for a PMC (private military company) with no allegiance to either side. It will be interesting to see if it explores the nature of the conflict as the narrative unfolds, as you try and capitalize on the engaging conflict.

Featuring more than run-and-gun gameplay, the single mission preview included stealth elements, branching pathways and a surprisingly fun hacking mini-game. Gliding down from the drop ship just before it explodes, you are given seemingly a single entry point to infiltrate the complex with the goal of disabling the arc cannons. Taking time to scour every inch of the environment, I found a shimmering pipe that allowed me to climb my way into the base, eventually leading me to the perfect sniping position.

As you would expect to find, the L and R button allow you to aim down the sights of any weapon and fire respectfully. Face buttons allow you to reload, jump, crouch and interact with the environment, as well as perform various melee attacks. The touch screen can be used to control various HUD elements, such as changing weapons, tossing grenades or activating the Van-guard system. The only caveat to the current controls is using the back touch pad to run. I ended up using it more so after battles to run to the next area than during battles to avoid getting hit. Just like the shooting mechanics in Uncharted: Golden Abyss, after aiming down the sights, small motions with the PlayStation Vita can adjust the aim. Those of you that enjoyed the PlayStation Move control scheme of Killzone 3 may enjoy it, but for the three times I ran through the preview build, I stuck to the dual-stick method.

Performing melee attacks after activation them with “triangle” can be accomplished by swiping your finger across the touch screen, matching the indicated arrow. When I wasn’t fast enough, the enemy will knocked me down and fired relentlessly at my helpless body. The nature of these executions (when pulled off) is absolutely gruesome. Depending on your positioning on an enemy, you may simply snap their neck or stab them under their arm, neck, chest, head and even groin.

The best compliment I can give to Guerrilla Cambridge, is that Killzone: Mercenary feels like aKillzone game. The gameplay feels like a mixture of the previous titles, with the weight of the weapons somewhere in the middle of the heavy feel of Killzone 2 and the “floaty” Killzone 3. The cover system carries over from the console versions, allowing you to hide behind walls and avoid incoming enemy fire.

Progressing through the mission, I find crates that belong to Blackjack, allowing you to change your loadout on-the-fly, purchase new weapons, or simply resupply your current ones. Depending on how you perform during the mission, currency is earned allowing you to spend them at these crates. As a merc, all you care about is money and out performing other mercenaries. Head shots will yield more currency than a run-and-gun approach, as well as using stealth mechanics and avoiding any alarms.

Visually, Killzone: Mercenary is the current showcase title for the Vita, pumping out impressive visual effects and character models. I didn’t think the PlayStation Vita would be able to pull off some of the advanced real-time lighting effects and reflections found in the preview build. All of the little details that make Killzone, Killzone have transition to Mercenary, including shooting helmets off, as well as the “chirp”. I couldn’t help but crank a smile at all the little touches that go a long way. The frame rate on the other hand was not as hot, consistently chugging along anytime the action heated up on-screen. With an early September release (the 10th to be exact) on the horizon, hopefully Guerrilla Cambridge can smooth out the frame rate prior to the game’s release. The preview build didn’t feature multiplayer, but having a smooth multiplayer experience is a necessity for Killzone to become a success on the Vita.

Note: All of the included screenshots were captured with the PlayStation Vita’s built-in screenshot functionality.

Killzone: Mercenary