The Vita has made some major, major strides this last year or so, in part by some of Sony’s incentives with the Cross-Buy program, and in part with the ongoing amount of high quality, original, Vita-only games, like Gravity Rush, Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation and Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward. But one thing that the Vita has yet to nail down is the FPS genre, with last year’s Resistance: Burning Skies receiving too many mixed reviews to be considered a complete critical success. After shooting, stabbing, and sneaking my way through a level of Guerrilla Cambridge’s Killzone: Mercenary, one has to ask: has the Vita finally received the FPS it’s been looking for?
Take a look at history of Killzone: Mercenary‘s developer Guerilla Cambridge (previously known as SCE Cambridge Studio) and you’ll see that they’ve had a long past with Sony, creating a wide range of games. They’ve done action adventure games like the MediEvil series and Primal, handheld ports like LittleBigPlanet on the PSP, and contributions to other projects (in varying degrees), like the EyeToy franchise, Heavenly Sword and Killzone 2. Killzone: Mercenary seems like a perfect project for Guerilla Cambridge, the chance to carry over the Killzone legacy from console to handheld, while getting the chance to tell their own story and create their own game.
Killzone: Mercenary, in fact, revolves around Arran Danner, the titular mercenary protagonist, who – over the course of the single player campaign – will take contracts from both the ISA and the Helghast, a first for the series. It is this idea, that Danner – and you the player – is a mercenary, and just in it for the money, that permeates into the design of the rest of the game. Everything revolves Valor: every action you take during gameplay results in some kind of monetary reward for Valor, and you’ll receive points for successful melee kills, for scavenging ammo from your enemies’ corpses, for headshots, and more. Players can also lose Valor: dying, for instance, assigns a small penalty called “life insurance,” making Valor function as both a currency and a ranking system. Rank and performance, in fact, are embodied with Valor Cards, one of which are given each day. These cards are a measure of ability, a way to earn more cash, and a way to compare to other mercenaries; and since it is based on your daily performance, players will want to keep their skills sharp to get rewarded more.
For all this talk of money and missions, that’s not to say that there isn’t some kind of actual narrative to experience, or hollow story to follow. The events of Killzone: Mercenary take place just after the ending of the original Killzone, and revisit many of the events from the trilogy there on. While the game is said to center around a “routine mission gone wrong” scenario involving the kidnapped son of the Vektan Ambassador, the demo I played seemed to be an earlier mission that didn’t directly tie into any larger story arc. Danner was tasked with infiltrating a facility that had control over Arc Cannons, cannons that had previously been used by the Helghast to destroy the ISA’s space fleet. Once inside, Danner and his team would have to find their way to the main terminal, hack it, and give power over to the ISA, so they could use the cannons against the Helghast in retaliation. This is where the action started.
After my mission briefing, I was thrown right into the mission, literally, as Danner and his team skydived down to the Helghast base. Unfortunately for me, the Helghast blasted the entire team out of the air on the way down, leaving Danner all by his lonesome to accomplish his goals. Danner is a mercenary, so he’s already used to poor odds, and he soldiered on. Immediately I noticed two things: Killzone: Mercenary doesn’t look like the prettiest PS3 game on the market put into your pocket, because, frankly, that’s not currently possible. But it doesn’t need to be. More important than looking like a perfectly ported PS3 game is that Killzone: Mercenary certainly feels like a console game in your pocket.
Aiming and targeting on handhelds have often been a poor experience, but Killzone: Mercenary felt very natural. I personally altered the sensitivity settings just a tad to get it to how I preferred, and within that short time, I found my groove and got to shooting like a pro. While the Helghast weren’t incredibly hard to eliminate on the Normal difficulty setting, there were moments when the enemy A.I. took advanced steps to circumvent my efforts to sabotage them. What made this experience a little more unique on the Vita was how the Vita’s touch screen options come into play. Thankfully, most of the touch screen features are optional, although some, like melee kills, are mandatory and cannot be swapped for the button controls. But, some options are actually helpful, like having a weapon swap, grenade and Mantys Engine icon near the edge of the screen for quick access.
Speaking of Mantys, the Mantys is a new remote-controlled covert killing device that can float ahead and kill enemies with Danner behind the safety of cover. To aid Danner in his missions, there are also Blackjack stations all around the game, vendor caches that allows players to buy ammo, purchase new ammo, refill their Mantys engine, and acquire new armor while on the go.
The level ran along at a great pace – there were moments that allowed you to use stealth to dispatch foes silently one by one, and to destroy cameras to avoid setting off alarms; moments that forced you to survive an onslaught of enemies while you defended an important mission objective; moments where you were encouraged to try out different weapons, like shielded mounted turrets or a missile launcher. The mission itself climaxed with a fun hacking section which required players to match incomplete segments to the nodes in a terminal within a certain time limit, bit by bit. Once you bypassed the firewall, you still had to get to the extraction point in one piece while soldiers on jet-packs tried to get revenge. All in all, there was action, there was tension, there was danger, and there was fun.
Killzone: Mercenary isn’t without faults though. Checkpoints can at times be a little unforgiving, but never to the point that you feel like you’ve lost ten minutes of your life. The melee kills can also take a little long to complete, and left me wide open for attack by nearby foes because it just took too damn long to finish. In an era where most games’ stealth kills take but a moment to do and move on, there were several times where I had to keep swiping and watching Danner struggle with a soldier, a soldier I had completely caught off guard. These didn’t mar my entire experience, but it was a little frustrating to deal with, and made me stray away using melee to take down enemies.
With the game set to release in a few months – September 4th in Europe and September 10th in North America – there’s still much to be seen about Killzone: Mercenary (like the multiplayer). But, I can say from my time on it that I am excited to see what else Guerilla Cambrdige will do with this game, and even more so, how it will change the perception of FPS titles on the Vita.
For a closer look at the game, check out the screenshots in the gallery below. For more details on the Killzone series, check out all of our Killzone news.