The Playstation Vita is a fantastic piece of hardware that is screaming to be taken advantage of. I'm sure I'm not alone in feeling that the handheld lacks star power. Indie and retro games have become my go-to choice of Memory Card filler on the platform, but Ive been waiting for a more current IP to spark my interest with a Vita offering. So It's now my pleasure to crown Killzone: Mercenary as the best big budget IP to bless the device.
Killzone: Mercenary sees you assume the role of Arran Danner, a mercenary contracted by the ISA to assist them against Helghast forces. What does this game justice is its lack of a convoluted plot line. All you really need to know is that you're a mercenary accepting a number of different contracts. Not everybody wants to focus on story developments when playing a handheld shooter, and Guerrilla Cambridge has understood this. Cutting down on storyline narrative actually helps you get into the mindset of a merc. You'll notice the disconnect between yourself and the ISA, and soon enough you'll be frequently glancing at the money you've earned as if it's your life savings.
The first thing you'll notice when you play Killzone: Mercenary is that the visuals are surprisingly detailed for a handheld game. Killzone: Mercenary could easily pass as a Playstation 3 game, I would even go as far as saying its on par with many current-gen console games. Secondly you'll realize how good this game controls. The button layout is perfect, and the touch prompts are used logically. Touchscreen QTE take-downs are highly satisfying, and switching to grenades via touch isn't as disengaging as it seems.
If you're used to quick scoping in first-person shooters then you may have difficulty with this game as the analog sticks aren't as flexible as the console controllers. I've also found that it's easy to accidentally fall out of aim by misjudging the amount of pressure to put on the left shoulder button. Aside from that controlling Danner is a seamless experience.
You'll begin the game with a companion who will help introduce you to the gameplay mechanics. He'll also subtly introduce you to playing stealthy, which is a completely optional style of play. The game compensates you financially for everything you do in game, and you'll find that playing stealthy is the most profitable way of playing. The A.I can often let down the stealthy experience as enemies are either blind as a bat, or have superhuman hearing. This is forgivable because stealth isn't shoved in your face. If you enjoy being ambushed by packs of Helghast constantly, then you can by all means get trigger happy and shoot on sight (I did). But taking the time to go stealthy is more rewarding, and silencers with sound proof armor can aid you. By going stealth you're able to take out security cameras, sneak up on unsuspecting foes and take them out silently and occasionally you'll even be able to interrogate them for Intel.
Your equipment is an important part of how you chose to play, and you'll have frequent access to the arms dealer should you need to resupply or purchase new equipment. The fact that the arms dealer is so accessible is a good thing, because the pace of combat can change rapidly. Your equipment might have stealthy benefits, but each mission has points where direct conflict is unavoidable. Meaning you'll have to re-equip yourself to deal with the changes.
Danner can equip a primary and secondary weapon, along with grenades and vanguard systems. Vanguard Systems are special devices that can aid you in different ways. There's homing missiles, particle beams, drones, stealth camouflage and more. It's fun trying all the different vanguard systems in combat, but they're costly.
Killzone: Mercenary is a tough game so you should expect to die a lot, especially if you go straight for the harder difficulty. Dieing is frustrating in any game, but seeing your funds deplete every time you go down is enough to force improvement. It's the psychological struggle with thyself to improve and increase profits that grips me the most about this game. When I die I don't think about how tedious it is to get past this room full of Helghast soldiers, I think about the money I've lost on life insurance and how I can make it back. It's a very subconscious thing but it's enough to keep you playing even through difficult moments.
Killzone: Mercenary is a very short game, but it makes up for that with it's multiplayer mode. I went into it not expecting much from a handheld multiplayer shooter, and my doubts were enough to make me thoroughly impressed by how fun the experience was. It's split into three modes: Mercenary Warfare (free-for-all), Guerrilla Warfare (team deathmatch) and warzone (objective). I did experience some unpleasant latency issues at times, but hopefully these issues can be resolved with a patch. What's great about Multiplayer is that your rank and balance is shared with the campaign mode, which means if you're going for wealth then its useful to play both campaign and multiplayer. Your loadouts are of course managed separately, ensuring that you'll always have a need to spend all of that hard earned cash.
With Killzone: Mercenary, Guerrilla Cambridge has delivered a definitive FPS experience on the Playstation Vita. Before this, handheld shooters were always off-putting for me. But somehow Guerrilla found away to make Killzone: Mercenary an experience that's both fun to play and shows off the capabilities of the hardware. Its short campaign mode may cripple the game in the long run, and there's a very confusing twist that will have you questioning Guerrilla's decision making. But all things considered, this is a game that every Vita owner must own. Whether or not you're up to speed on Killzone's lore, you owe it to yourself to know the potential of your Vita. Guerrilla Cambridge has given us one of the best Vita experiences yet.
This review was based on a digital copy of Killzone: Mercenary provided by Sony Computer Entertainment Europe.