When the PlayStation Vita was first showcased, its inclusion of two thumbsticks became a major talking point. Since Nintendo hadn’t upgraded its less powerful 3DS with a second stick, its competitor quickly ended up being something that fans of the shooter genres became interested in. After all, camera control is important, and using a handheld’s face buttons for that purpose is always more of a hassle than anything else.
Unfortunately, though, the OLED slash touchscreen-based Vita hasn’t really lived up to gamers’ lofty hopes, as the result of an expensive starting price point, as well as the lack of a great content library. That includes shooters, as the promise of fantastic, dual-stick controlled bullet-filled experiences hasn’t really been fulfilled. Hopefully some will appear in the relatively near future, as well as in the years to come, but right now the pickings are slim. That is, even though Sony and Guerilla Cambridge recently teamed up to bolster the aforementioned library with Killzone: Mercenary, a take-off of the triple-A console series.
Aptly, but not creatively titled, Killzone: Mercenary puts players into the combat boots of one Arran Danner, a grunt for hire who’s looking to make money off of the ongoing war between the Helghast and the ISA. The two factions are still fighting over a planet, and past grievances, but it’s eventually proven that there’s more to the main players than their basic motives. Forced to pick between both sides throughout his journey, Danner must navigate the treacherous waters, while trying to make an incredible bundle of cash, or Valor as the game dubs it.
Frankly, although it includes some OK twists, the included storyline is rather uninspired. It’s fine, and does the job, but that’s all. There’s no real intrigue, and nothing to really care about, meaning you’ll quickly forget about it after moving on to more interestingly written games. Plot isn’t why this experience exists, though, and this isn’t meant to be an award-winner for Best Writing. Instead, the focus of Mercenary is on how many bullets one can fire into hordes of angry foes – an adherence that becomes an issue as the four to five hour-long campaign plods along.
In truth, I’ve never found anything too interesting within the narratives of the Killzone games I have played. Still, I enjoy them because of their action-packed gameplay and beautiful visuals. Mercenary includes both of those things, thanks to a modified version of the Killzone 3 engine, but its bullet-riddled gameplay still leaves quite a bit to be desired when it comes to the single player part of things.
Throughout the nine mission-long campaign, heavy repetition regularly rears its ugly head. Sure, first-person shooters, of which this is one, tend to be somewhat repetitive in nature. However, this genre addition takes things a step further, because it’s devoid of variety. Most of the time, it’s kill or be killed, as the player goes gun-to-gun against large amounts of enemies within the insides of futuristic ships and buildings, as well as caves. There’s not much more to it, other than occasional bouts of geometry-based hacking and a turret sequence or two. So, if you enjoy going back in time and experiencing a modernized take on classic FPS design, then you’ll be in love. Just note that you can’t save your progress during the middle of an operation, making this portable-based title a bit of an anomaly.
Of course, like any shooter fan, I enjoy moving throughout rooms while taking out evildoers, and also like the idea of hiding behind cover to avoid bullets and regenerate vitality. It’s a very standard and enjoyable design, but it’s one that needs to be infused with a change of pace more often than what’s found on this cartridge. After two to two and a half hours, it became boring doing the same thing over and over again, without reprieve. Add in the fact that one environment is used for two separate missions, and that most of the game’s main objectives are based on going into enemy-controlled territory in order to rescue someone and bring them back to a landing zone, and you have a recipe for something uninspired. It’s too bad, because the actual shooting is handled well, and there are different guns, grenades, special abilities and armour types that fans can purchase with their earned Valor.
Speaking of Valor, it’s important to make note of the way it’s used. You see, like an arcade game, Danner earns points for each soldier he takes out. Every kill, be it a headshot, swipe-controlled stealth takeout or an explosive demise, is scored differently. Making varied use of that well-travelled design would be of major importance if Killzone: Mercenary‘s black market gun seller’s shops ever became more important than merely being somewhere to refill ammunition. Instead, one can easily get through each level without buying a new gun or bonus, and the game’s lack of variety never really forces its players to experiment much. However, if you want to boost your arsenal like you’re supposed to, you can do so. Bullets are constantly flying from many directions, though, so you’ll most-likely want to stick with an assault rifle as your main weapon, and pair it with a shotgun.
If the single player campaign made up the entirety of this release, it’d be tough to really recommend Mercenary – at least to those who aren’t diehard fans of the series. There’s some fun to be had with the story mode, but it’s buried underneath a complete lack of inspiration. Thankfully, though, the additional multiplayer arena and its three different scenario types do a good job of making up for the mediocre, but great-looking solo quest. Granted, both options have a couple of things in common: relatively basic designs and aiming controls that are brought down by the Vita’s very sensitive and sometimes finicky thumbsticks. What’s noticeably different, however, is that the online engagements remain quite fun, providing hours’ worth of challenging gameplay.
After selecting multiplayer from the start menu, users may decide to play traditional free-for-all and team deathmatch engagements, both of which last up to ten minutes and allow for a total of eight unique players. Taking place across several decent maps, those competitive firefight options offer enjoyable and somewhat addicting content, but they lack any real creativity. Their peer, a more objective and round-based setting, infuses a bit of variety, but still features a lot of the same tropes, such as “Kill this amount of enemies.” For instance, one round may ask your team to capture the most Valor cards, and those are only earned by killing foes and walking over their bodies. At least fans of more strategical modes can take solace in the fact that other round types require a bit more of that type of thinking.
Custom classes can be created, once again through earned Valor, and picking up the aforementioned cards helps to fill one’s wallet. Furthermore, Valor Cards, which resemble Killzone-ified takes on real life playing cards, act as collectibles, with the idea being that devoted fans will want to pick up a full, fifty-two card deck. That’ll take a while, though beating the campaign should net players several, based on skill or progression. It’s tough to tell on that front.
In my experience, the multiplayer ran very well, though it was surely aided by the release of an approximately 1.1 gigabyte large day one patch. There weren’t any glitches, connection issues or anything like that, but that’s not to say that others haven’t experienced them. It’s also not indicative of my time with the main campaign, because that thing pissed me off twice due to its problematic nature. The first of those occurrences came up during the second mission, which I had to restart, because my ally wouldn’t follow me to a door that we needed to open. Then, a similar thing happened at the half-way point of the story mode, as I once again had to restart a level because of a glitch. At that specific time, I couldn’t get on an elevator and go upwards, because a few gunships full of enemies didn’t show up. Boy, was that fun!
Outside of the above, however, Killzone: Mercenary looks and sounds really good. Its texture quality is impressive, as are its lighting and both visual and audio effects. The voice acting is also pretty good, and the same is true of the score. Actually, the only true performance negative, the glitches notwithstanding, happens to be a tiny bit of framerate slowdown.
Unfortunately, Killzone: Mercenary doesn’t live up to its lofty promise and the hopes that Vita-owning shooter fans, such as myself, have levied against the device. Still, it’s a good pick-up for those who would like an above-average multiplayer game to take on the go, or to even play at home. The campaign is also worth one play through, but it won’t entice you to return, even though it advertises replay value by listing new objectives based on different play styles, such as stealth. Trust me when I say that they’re nothing to get excited over, like the mode itself. Thankfully, its peer is quite a bit more thrilling, and offers a lot more bang for gamers’ hard-earned dollars.
This review is based on the PlayStation Vita exclusive, which we were provided with.
The aptly titled Killzone: Mercenary is a hit and miss experience, which fails to deliver the Vita's first top-notch shooter, despite including an above-average multiplayer mode.