Despite the dual analogue sticks the PS Vita has yet to host more than a substandard first-person shooter. Can Sony’s misfiring Killzone series be the one to land the killer bullet on the system?
Let’s start with the most notable thing about Killzone Mercenary: from a technical standpoint it’s applause worthy. Coming from someone whose eyes bulged in amazement when playing the limited and pixelated FPS Ecks vs. Sever on the Game Boy Advance back in 2001, it’s amazing to blast through such detailed – if somewhat generic – locales on a handheld device.
Fortunately the game isn’t all gloss, but this is still a largely solid rather than stunning shooter. Something that’s most apparent in the singleplayer, where the game runs you through nine missions in your quest to become the most minted merc around. The environments themselves may be nothing special – you’ve likely seen these wrecked factories, buildings and testing facility stages before – but the saving grace is the game’s brisk pace, giving you little opportunity to get bored.
You’ll be protecting a child, taking down snipers and fighting alongside an allying Helghast Heavy Trooper in the matter of minutes in one stage. And although none of these elements are exciting when looked at in isolation, the pace at which they’re introduced gives your adventure a breathless quality.
Something which supports this are the controls, which are well-judged and don’t feel fudged on Sony’s handheld. There’s no option to strafe with the shoulder buttons assigned to firing and aiming your weapon, but never do you feel as if your hands are being stretched into knots in order to play the game. The occasional arbitrary touchscreen flourish – such as setting a bomb – does threaten to ruin things, but these fortunately only make fleeting appearances.
Importantly, for a game where you mainly shoot things, the guns are solid too. There are no wildcard weapons here, but the range of machine guns, shotguns, snipers, and rocket launchers all pack a punch – and wiping out a onrushing hoard of red eyed Helghast troops with a few well placed shots is suitably satisfying.
This is my rifle. This is my gun
Upgrading your armoury is where the titular Mercenary subtitle comes into play too, in what is probably the game’s finest touch. You can buy new weapons for both the single and multiplayer modes (although you can only equip two at a time) with money you earn from missions. You can complete each of the game’s nine missions on any of the three difficulty levels you wish, for example, but you’ll receive more of a reward if you finish it on the highest difficulty. You also gain funds for headshots and chaining together kills – and lose some when you die. It never feels like a mechanic that has much of an impact on how you play through the campaign, as you can complete it on the easiest difficulty with a solid suite of weapons and a stockpile of cash to spare, yet it’s an interesting addition all the same.
The campaign does have some problems of course – such as substandard enemy AI and some overly difficult segments – but it’s a surprisingly exciting ride for the most part – it even features some characters that don’t entirely dissolve from your memory once you’ve stopped playing. A very surprising discovery considering it’s another space marines escapade.
There’s no question many will be solely interested in Mercenary’s multiplayer, though, and after a brief taste of the beta version it looks like those folks won’t be disappointed. Like most of the game it’s nothing groundbreaking, but does the job with some admirable brio.
You can fight across six arenas, all but one recognisable from the singleplayer campaign, each of which are tightly designed yet allowing for all types of players – from fans of close range weapons to snipers – to see success. There are also three modes of play, including Mercenary Warfare (standard deathmatch), Guerilla Warfare (two teams) and the complex Warzone (which has players going through five phases of objectives such as killing and interrogating your enemies). Again, all of this is nothing new, but it’s been put together with confidence. The ranking system – inspired by the aforementioned mercenary mechanics – is actually quite rewarding. It’s hard to guess how busy the servers will be at this stage, but the basics are in place to make sure it succeeds.
Much like the mercenaries the game is based around, then, this entry in the Killzone series may not be doing anything out of the ordinary. It simply gets the job done, and done well, with some explosive touches thrown in.
Killzone: Mercenary, by Guerilla Cambridge and SCEE, is available now for PS Vita.