It has been said that the Playstation Vita, due to its more than capable hardware and convenient analog sticks, would usher in a console like experience on the go for its loyal users. While early adopters have enjoyed impressive titles which have taken advantage of the systems front and rear touch-screen, in addition to the systems eye-pleasing visual capabilities, the option of a must-have shooter has continued to elude Sony’s robust handheld device for quite some time now.
Sure, we’ve seen Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified as well as Resistance: Burning Skies make their way to the Vita however, let’s just say, those were unfortunately failed attempts with the intentions of only plugging a hole, not filling it.
As if to say, if you want the job done right we should do it ourselves, Sony has looked no further than their very own killer shooter app, in the form of Killzone, from first party studio Guerrilla Games. In fact, Guerrilla Games under their watchful care has commissioned their little brother studio, Guerrilla Cambridge to do what until now has been a lost cause. Fortunately, I can say with all sincerity, Guerrilla Cambridge has truly made a name for themselves with the development of Killzone Mercenary.
To say that Killzone Mercenary is the best shooter on the PS Vita may not be saying much due to the systems available first person shooter options. Yet, there is no doubt, the game has completely raised the bar, setting a standard by which incoming shooters on the PS Vita will be measured.
For starters, if you’re new to the Killzone universe you will be more than at home with Killzone Mercenary. While the story narrative does run in parallel to the events of Killzone 2 (which I highly recommend a play through of) with occasional hints borrowed from the games highlighted locales and occurrences, you are still in great hands with Killzone Mercenary as your initiation process.
As the game is entitled, you are a mercenary, driven by one thing, the paycheck! You play as Aaran Danner, gun for hire, thrown right in the middle of the warring conflict between the ISA and Helghast forces. Whoever is footing the bill, their enemies will eventually find themselves on the wrong side of your barrel or blade, it is that simple.
Killzone Mercenary wastes no time placing you in harms way, quickly offering players a crash course with helpful gameplay know-how hints, assuring your survival. Like its console counterpart, Killzone Mercenary take players on a rollercoaster ride experience, consistently pushing the envelope with exhilarating set-pieces tailored to an aggressive approach to combat as well as stealth however, that all depends on your chosen tools for the job. Players are literally paid for everything they do, shoot out an enemy camera, you get paid! Brutal melee an enemy, you get paid! Gain intel, you get paid! Go stealth through a level, you get paid! Racking in all this cash makes for a grand time across the games nine missions, allowing players to customize their load-outs via Blackjack’s many weapons caches conveniently placed across each combat zone.
While Danner is at the heart of each mission conflict, thwarting off evil intensions and increasing his cash flow along the way, Danner isn’t the only one making a profit. Anonymously placed behind the eye of scrutiny, our friendly neighboring arms dealer known as Blackjack and his somewhat bargain basement weapon and equipment deals are sure to keep players well equipped. Not just an arms dealer, Blackjack every once in a while sheds brief insight on Danner’s predicament. Seemingly an informative good guy, ultimately, as long as there is a war for profit, there is a smile on Blackjack’s face, or so it would seem.
Each of the nine progressive missions offers a unique console like experience, while having a high production value. Yet, that is not to say Killzone Mercenary would in fact make for a great console title, nevertheless the experience is perfect on the PS Vita. The game is without a doubt, a great shooter for the powerful handheld.
For the more experienced Killzone veterans, the game can seem a bit on the easy-side when played on the normal setting or ‘Trooper’ difficulty. I personally recommend players jumping into the fire on the ‘Veteran’ difficulty which offers a longer more engaging play-through as the enemy AI is noticeably more formidable. The game is fairly short however, that is not to say that it is a bad thing. With there being so much to be acquired, players will not be able to get their hands on all the cool weapon types on just one play-through. Thankfully, all the weapons and equipment which are purchased in the campaign including your player rank is brought right over to the games addictive multiplayer and vice versa, as one progressive increase. Having completed the game for a total of three play-throughs, the campaign has become even more enjoyable, as my options became more varied with available weapons and Van-Guard system options.
Upon believing you are a Killzone Mercenary master after completing a mission, players also introduced to the games ‘Mission Contracts’. Aside from the primary mission, Mission Contracts adds a new dimension to completing the previously completed missions with the addition of Precision, Covert and Demolition contracts. Each ‘Contract’ adds a new twist to how Danner is tasked with completing the mission. For example, choosing the Precision contract for the mission entitled “Lights Out” will require Danner to complete the mission in 25 minutes, avoid civilian deaths, destroy the AA Guns on the roof within 5 minutes of each other and shoot out and explode 2 flamethrower tanks. Contracts will allow players to choose their difficulty setting so the higher the difficulty setting, the higher the payout.
Killzone vets should be quite familiar with the Killzone Mercenary arsenal. Guerrilla Cambridge has brought back the standard ISA M82 assault rifle as well as the Helghast STA-52SE silenced assault rifle. There are a total of 12 primary weapons, 12 secondary weapons or sidearms with multiple rocket launchers on the sidearms list. Equipment comes in the form of 5 deployable weapons such as the standard M194 frag grenade to the STA-G2 pyro-triggered device which deploys a flash of fire over a substantial area, very brutal! Unique to this Killzone experience is the exciting Van-Guard system, which offers 8 unique weapon or system types, able to dramatically change the outcome of a battle. My personal favorite, simply based on its immediate effectiveness is the van-guard ARC missile. A Helghast prototype which equips players with a companion drone that discharges Arc electricity at nearby enemy targets, incapacitating them while running and gunning. It also destroys unforeseen nearby proximity mines, which is quite useful. The shoulder mounted Porcupine missile system was also a sweet new weapon experience to the Killzone universe. With this Van-Guard type, players only need to tap the screen of the enemies identified by the red circular targeting reticals and fire and forget about it. I must add that the smoke trails from fired missiles were more than visually impressive.
Despite the attractive options of weaponry, Killzone Mercenary demands that players play with fixed or chosen loadouts. Once you hit the combat zone, what you have chosen is it. Adding to the games realism, Danner is only allowed to carry one primary weapon, one secondary weapon, along with one deployable weapon type, a chosen armor option and one Van-Guard type. This can somewhat force players to aim accurately, as ammo can become scarce upon becoming a bit too trigger happy.
I would have liked the option to carry a second primary weapon in exchange for the one secondary weapon which was the case in the multiplayer mode of Killzone 3. In addition, despite there being multiple Blackjack weapons caches in a given warzone, it would have made for a more convenient experience if players were able customize their loadouts after each mission debrief. Upon completing a mission and receiving all your cool goodies and cash, players are given the option to check in with the arms dealers (Blackjack). While I understand the reasoning as you just received a payout for a job well done, I would have much preferred the option to entertain Blackjack after Benoit detailed my next mission objective approach. That way I can choose the best tools for the job. Instead, as soon as Benoit completes his mission update, players enter their next mission forced to locate a Blackjack weapons cache in the warzone, hoping to replace your previously used weapons which may not be the best tools for the new objective at hand. This was a bit annoying at times but easily forgivable due to the intense firefights and eye-popping graphical fidelity proudly flexing it muscle throughout the entire experience.
Once you’ve concluded your battle tested skills with the games campaign, a robust console quality multiplayer experience pleasantly awaits. Offering both public and private match types along with 3 games modes, Mercenary Warfare (Every Man For Himself), Guerrilla Warfare (Team Deathmatch) and Warzone (5 Mode Types Played In Sequence of Each Other) played across six distinguishable maps. Not quite as plentiful as its console counterpart, the games multiplayer offers an intimate 4v4 only competitive exchange. This may seem small upon hearing however, I assure you it is quite the contrary. Like the campaign, the gunplay in the multiplayer oozes with greatness and rewarding satisfaction with every kill or completed objective. The core of the multiplayer perk system is founded on the games Valor Card system. Players are incited to collect the cards of fallen enemies as well as quickly retrieve the cards of fallen comrades in hopes of keeping as many Valor cards for your team and yourself.
Keeping the warzone balanced, Mercenary’s multiplayer occasionally drops Van-Guard missile capsules in the middle of a battle which offer various advantages to either team which can quickly access the capsules. If a given player chose the ‘Ghost’ Van-Guard for their loadout, quickly gaining access to the capsule could enable the players Ghost type, allowing that player to move about cloaked (like the predator) executing vicious stealth kills. Of course, once you pull the trigger of your gun or melee an enemy the cloaking ability is temporarily disengaged before turning back on for a limited period of time. This multiplayer experience is the finest you will find on the Vita.
Both the multiplayer and campaign are complimented with what can be considered the most intuitive control setup for a shooter on the Vita. Players can sprint, slide and crouch with the same button option without it seeming like a clumsy chore. While the cover mechanic can feel a bit stiff and non-responsive at times, firing the various weapons and reloading while sprinting out of the way of incoming enemy fire makes for a fantastic exchange. If players want to test their sniper skills, a swipe of the rear touch screen of the Vita allows players to quickly zoom in or out through the scope of their chosen sniper rifle. The smooth controls keep the ride moving right along with ease, enabling players to spend more time focusing on the chaos on the screen instead of the looking down at their hands.
Ultimately, Guerilla Cambridge has answered the desperate call by offering a must-have shooter experience for the Vita. Utilizing the Killzone 3 engine, the game looks fantastic and more importantly feels like Killzone in the palm of your hand. Sure, the campaign is short-lived and may require multiple plays-through in order to purchase the more punishing weapons without entering the multiplayer, it doesn’t matter. Killzone Mercenary is simply too fun to miss. The multiplayer is really hard to put down. I hope new updates are in the works to continue supporting the experience in the form of new maps and whatever else can be added because it is truly a joy to play.
Killzone: Mercenary is the best handheld shooter on the market by a long mile and it knows it.