It may have taken longer than Sony and gamers would have liked, but the PlayStation Vita finally has a must-have shooter for the platform. Resistance: Burning Skies fell short of expectations, but proved first person-shooters using traditional dual analog stick controls are a possibility on the Vita. Guerilla Cambridge brings Killzone: Mercenary to the Vita, with an impressive single-player narrative and addicting online multiplayer.
Players are put in the boots of mercenary Aaron Danner, whose allegiance lies with the highest bidder. Finding himself caught in the middle of the never-ending conflict between the ISA (scum) and the ruthless Helghast, Danner cares about one thing: getting paid. Luckily for him and the player, you get paid for everything you do in the game. Whether you are taking out soldiers in the single-player campaign, battling against others online, interrogating officers, destroying security cameras or picking up ammo, everything yields various amounts of cash. A prompt displays in the dead center of the screen and the action when you earn cash, but it rarely feels bothersome.
The action-packed nine single-player missions can be beaten in 5-6 hours (with my playtime falling just shy of 6 hour mark), but the inclusion of Contracts will keep you playing well after the credits roll. Each mission after being completed will open up three different Contracts, forcing you to complete the mission under special circumstances, such as assassinating a certain target, completing the mission in a set time or using a specific weapon. It certainly adds more single-player content for those not interested in the multiplayer offering.
Killzone: Mercenary will certainly impress those looking to show-off the visual abilities of the Vita. Looking significantly more impressive than it did in the latest preview build, Guerilla has smoothed out many of the glaring jaggy edges and improved the frame rate considerably. The environments feature impressive textures, reflections and gorgeous lighting. The framerate isn’t perfect, but the slight hiccups are very minor, which is an impressive feat when considering the amount of visuals effects on-screen.
All the visuals wouldn’t mean a thing if Killzone: Mercenary didn’t play as well as the previous titles. Thankfully, the gameplay is precise, although due to the Vita’s analog sticks, you may want to mess around with the sensitivity settings before you get too far into the game. The transition from hip firing to aiming down the sight is precise and still the best way to score a satisfying headshot. It isn’t however the best method to use when trying to target moving targets, as enemies can easily move faster than your aiming reticule. The cover system will save your life in moments of intense firefights, but enemies will try and flank your position. I’ve died multiple times in the campaign due to an enemy that was able to evade me and wind up directly behind me.
Using the touch screen you are able to switch to your grenades, secondary weapon or activate your VAN-Guard system. In the heat of a fight, switching to the grenades may not be the best idea, as you will still have to throw the item. I didn’t realize it until halfway through the game that using down on the D-pad will instantly throw a grenade and left and right will switch between your two weapons. Running in the game is mapped to both circle and the back touchpad. I found myself running unintentional throughout multiplayer matches, due to the edge of a finger slightly gracing the back touchpad. It can be disabled if you desire.
As you gain more and more currency, you must spend it on something, so this is where the loadout system comes into play. Either before or during missions, you can access one of Blackjack’s shops and purchase new weapons, armor or a different VAN-Guard System. Considering you no longer are able to pickup any items besides ammo, this will be the only chance to equip additional weapons. Weapons are broken down into two different categories, primary and secondary. Every weapon comes with varying stats and different effects, such as being silenced or armor piecing. The different armor sets tailor to your playstyle with stats focusing on stealth, protection and additional ammo.
The VAN-Guard systems recharge over time (or instantly if you pay cash at one of the scattered Blackjack shops). With the ability to provide a drone that will follow you around incapacitating targets or shooting missiles, it can also turn you invisible and provide a forward facing shield.
Killzone Mercenary wouldn’t be a Killzone title without a solid online experience. The offering for the Vita is stripped down to only the essentials, featuring a maximum of eight players per match across three standard game modes: Mercenary Warfare (Deathmatch), Guerilla Warfare (Team Deathmatch) and Warzone (Objective-based Team Warfare). As it was in Killzone 2, the objective-based game type is a blast, pitting teams of four to complete five different objectives. These objectives are set on a timer; requiring teams to interrogate enemies, hack the most VAN-Guard capsules that will drop down from the sky and more. The brutal nature of the melee kills adds an additional element of allowing the attack to be countered.
Killzone Mercenary finally delivers on the promise of having a console like experience on a portable platform. The inclusion of the Contracts to the single-player add additional content to the somewhat short campaign, while trying to complete Valor sets will keep gamers playing the online multiplayer for quite some time.
Note: The Killzone Mercenary review was written based on the Vita version game provided to us for review.