The PlayStation Vita seems to have found a comfortable niche with its recent deluge of superb indie titles, but there’s no denying that a distinct lack of native, triple-A games means it has yet to properly realise its powerful potential. Can KillZone: Mercenary change that?
The first thing you’ll probably notice about Mercenary is that it’s really, really good looking. Almost offensively good looking, in fact. The volumetric smoke and lighting, the extremely high resolution textures, the fluid character models, the epic skyboxes – if you didn’t know better, you’d swear you were just playing a PS3 game on a really small telly.
You’re not, of course. You’re playing a game that’s being born and bred to showcase the muscle that the Vita swore it could flex. To torture this metaphor further, I’d go as far as to say that the game is in fact so technically brawny that it couldn’t possibly have gotten there without some form of steroid abuse. So, for all its visual prowess, there are definitely some gameplay side effects.
Chief among which is its major Call of Dutyfication. Killzone’s regular single player setup has been abandoned in favour of load-outs and level-ups. Everything you do, from a skilful triple-kill to simply picking some ammo up off the floor will somehow earn you cash. This can then be spent at any of the numerous vending machines throughout each level. As well as your primary and secondary weapons, grenades and armour, you can also fill one slot with a “Van-Guard system”, which roughly equates to a Kill Steak reward from that other game I just mentioned.
They are varied and fun to use though, and see you remotely guiding stabby assassination bots or touching locked-on enemies on the screen to launch shoulder-mounted missiles at them. As you would expect, the Vita’s touchscreen actually makes several appearances, and although small, they do work. Using it to pull levers and press buttons is almost obligatory, as is changing weapons, but it gets a bit more interesting when performing an up-close kill, where the correct direction must be swiped in order to perform different finishers (including a headbutt, which you just don’t see enough of in games these days). Glamorised QTEs they may be, but they fit.
That said, having the touchscreen act as a “skip cutscene” button is kind of annoying, mainly because, on more than one occasion, I accidentally skipped some whilst trying to rub a smudge off the display. You aren’t destined to miss all that much though, as easily the game’s biggest weakness is its vacuous characterisation, and having the textbook “angry commander” barking his hackneyed fight-banter into your earpiece every 10 seconds does grate a little.
But then, that’s the nature of the beast. Space marines are never going to recite one of Shakespeare’s soliloquies – Killzone is about shooting things. Its success will rise or fall simply on how well it plays and thankfully, in this department, it doesn’t disappoint. The controls are slick and logical, the guns – of which there are a particularly large array – feel punchy, and action clips along nicely. The option to take a stealth approach only adds to the enjoyment, and even opens up a few play alternatives, such as the ability to interrogate unsuspecting enemies.
The solid AI is particularly noteworthy, too. Get spotted by a camera or trigger an alarm and a fresh wave of them will flood your position, fan out and find cover. Tossing a grenade in their direction will cause them to bolt, hurdling any scenery in their path like Olympic gold medalists. Using the motion sensor to physically fine-tune your aim is the icing on the cake as you systematically take them all out again, although for some reason this option is switched off by default.
So, is Killzone: Mercenary the game Vita owners have been waiting for? Well, in a way. ‘Waiting’ is the key word really, it’s a shame to only be getting a title like this now. It’s advanced for its diminutive size, but with next-gen consoles mere months away – and Killzone: Shadow Fall the launch title in the wings – is it really worth trying to get that big-screen experience on a small screen at this stage? Certainly it’s fun, and will bring joy to your retinas, but one wonders if it may be too little too late.
Killzone: Mercenary, from Guerilla Cambridge and Sony CE, is due out September 4th for PS Vita.