Killzone: Mercenary is the latest game in the Killzone series and only the second instalment for a handheld console; however unlike the third-person iteration that was Killzone: Liberation for the PSP, this is another first-person shooter from a series renowned for them… but does it live up to the legacy?
You play as Arran Danner, a former soldier now working as a mercenary for a PMC contracted to the ISA forces (traditionally depicted as the good guys in the series); you do the dangerous and dirty jobs that the ISA haven’t got time for as they repel the initial Helghast invasion and launch an assault on the Helghan homeworld later on in the game. The game straddles the end of Killzone and opening of Killzone 2 weaving some of the events of those games into the story and for the first time in the series, you will also get to fight for the Helghast as you take contracts against ISA forces.
The good news is that the game is a solid first person shooter with great visuals, accurate controls and great gunplay! It should be too, as it’s built using the Killzone 3 engine which was designed to be scaleable and run on different platforms; the team at Guerilla Cambridge changed the way lighting was handled in-game and introduced a rather clever dynamic resolution system, so that the game can run at native resolution using the reduced processing power of the Vita compared to the PS3. The dynamic resolution system basically works thus: When you are stood still the game maintains native resolution and allows frame-rate to drop; when you move it allows a reduction in resolution to maintain frame-rate. This means that you can see the image quality when you are most likely to observe it (i.e. stood still, taking screenshots etc.) but the frame-rate is maintained when you are moving and shooting. The system works well and I didn’t observe any noticeable drop in frame-rate, even when swamped by enemies and deep in action!
Speaking of action, each area you enter has the guards patrolling blissfully unaware of your presence and ghosting through, using brutal melees and silenced weapons is both satisfying and profitable (more on that in a moment). When alerted to you however, the enemies are challenging and the AI is good (again based on the fact that the system uses a version of the Killzone 3 engine); they will actively hunt you, try to out-flank you and often avoid playing peekaboo out of cover when you’re shooting in their direction.
Guerilla Cambridge have added a few game mechanics to spice things up for the Vita, in the form of a monetary system rewarding your actions and the obligatory touch controls. The monetary system rewards you for kills with extra bonuses for brutal melees, skilful shots, gathering intel and successfully completing sections using stealth, amongst other things. You can then use these credits to purchase weapons and gear from the black market; some of these special VAN-Guard weapons are overpowered but their high cost and long recharge times mean you won’t become overly dependent on them. The touch interface is really well implemented with most functions mapped to buttons on the console (I personally preferred this); exceptions are when the VAN-Guard weapons use the touch interface to mark targets and when performing brutal melees and interrogations you have to perform a touchscreen swipe QTE, thankfully I found these to be accurate and forgiving (considering I nearly threw my Vita across the room after the awfully implemented QTE finale in Uncharted: Golden Abyss). There is also a hacking mini-game, which is fun once you get the hang of it but it is poorly explained in the game.
The single player campaign on Trooper (normal) lasted just over 5 hours, which is short but sweet. There is replay value to be found in collecting the intel contained within levels; these are often off the beaten track or found on enemy officers, meaning I missed quite a bit as I initially blasted through the campaign. The intel is worth a read, as it fills in a lot of the backstory surrounding the story of the Killzone series. There is further replay value in the Precision, Covert and Demolition contracts for each of the single player levels. These require a specific loadout and give criteria you must achieve during the mission (i.e. beat a certain time, 20 headshots with a specific weapon, or blow something up with a particular VAN-Guard system).
Multiplayer supports up to eight players and has three game modes across six maps; Mercenary Warfare (deathmatch), Guerilla Warfare (team deathmatch) and Warzone (five team based missions). The multiplayer gameplay is great… not ‘good for a handheld’ great, but ‘stands up next to Killzone 3 on the PS3 as far as I’m concerned’ great. It’s what CoD on the Vita should have been. The weapons feel as good as they do in single player, meaning I had an idea what loadout to approach the games with; all the mechanics from single player are present and well implemented with some balancing in the form of brutal melee counters and having to capture a VAN-Guard pod before you can use the special selected for your loadout. Weapons you’ve unlocked in the black market are available in all game modes and additional loadouts can be unlocked as you level-up in either single or multiplayer campaigns.
Despite the short campaign I rate this game highly based on the variety offered by the contracts and variety of black market weapons, it’s at its best when you’re experimenting with the tools available to you to get the job done. A solid multiplayer experience for the Vita is a huge bonus! What really sold it for me though, was the fact that the game arrived the day before I went on holiday; for the first time, I truly understand why I bought a PS Vita. I completed the game sitting by the side of a pool on a sun lounger, sipping Spanish beer and working on my tan. There’s nothing quite like taking on a Helghan horde with waiter service!