Killzone: Mercenary (PlayStation Vita)
Developer/Publisher: Guerrilla Cambridge/Sony Computer Entertainment
Released: September 10th, 2013
It was not so long ago that people thought there would never be a proper first-person shooter on consoles; the only way to accurately control a FPS was with the mouse and keyboard of a PC. Then came Goldeneye 007 for the Nintendo 64, proving that FPS could be done on a console and done well. Fast forward to the last decade, and a similar debate has erupted. Could handheld consoles ever be able to support a good first person shooter? Many had tried, and all have failed. I’m here to tell you today it can be done. Killzone: Mercenary is the Goldeneye 007 of portable FPS.
Beginning near the end of the original Killzone, players take control of Arran Danner, a member of an elite mercenary unit. Happily fighting for the ISA — so long as they pay the bills — Danner helps liberate the besieged planet of Vekta, driving the Helghast back to their home world. Two years later, a routine mission to extract the Vektan ambassador and his family from Helghan goes awry. Escaping only with the ambassador’s ten-year-old son, Danner learns the boy may be the key to winning the bloody conflict between the ISA and the Helghast, and both sides will stop at nothing to gain control of the child. Killzone: Mercenary features a campaign filled with questioned loyalty and betrayal, as for the first time in the series players will find themselves fighting alongside the hated Helghast. This was a bold choice that developer Guerrilla Cambridge made that really sets the game apart from the rest of the series.
The game controls amazingly well. I was a bit worried about using the small analog nubs, thinking they would be much too short to accurately function. However, I was pleasantly surprised how well I was able to acclimate to the control scheme. If I had not been staring at the relatively small Vita screen, I could have sworn I was playing a shooter on the PlayStation 3.
One thing I know many people will wonder about is touch controls: Are they gimmicky or do they actually fit the game? I actually enjoyed the touch controls for Killzone: Mercenary. A quick tap to switch weapons, a swipe of the screen to melee an enemy, using the rear touchpad to zoom a rifle scope; they all felt very natural and did not impede gameplay at all. Those truly uncomfortable with touch controls can turn them off in the settings, so don’t let the fear of touch controls keep you from this game.
As tight as the controls feel, the graphics look nearly as good. While I was surprised at how well the controls worked out, I was genuinely amazed by Killzone: Mercenary’s visuals; I honestly felt like I was playing an early to mid-gen PS3 game. That isn’t to say the game was graphically flawless. There were several cases of pixelation, usually revolving around fires of explosions. Characters also had a problem with their mouth movements matching the words coming out of their mouth outside of cutscenes, but this a problem not many are going to notice.
Speaking of cutscenes, most of the details are told to the player through mission briefs that feature static images of the characters speaking and a few 3D maps or videos, making actual cutscenes rare. Despite my story synopsis earlier, the campaign of Killzone: Mercenary is in no way story heavy, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The action is the focus of Killzone: Mercenary, and it is fun. Missions can be handled however the player sees fit. Enjoy fire fights? Go in with guns blazing and mow down the enemy. Prefer stealth and discretion? Equip a weapon with a silencer and sneak up on Danner’s adversaries. Stealth provides greater rewards than brute force, like cash bonuses and the chance to procure intel, but won’t be the same as running in with a shotgun. The need to alternate strategies keeps the combat from getting stale.
Cash is earned for performing certain actions. Killing enemies will earn a small amount of cash, while killing an enemy with a headshot or over a long distance will earn more. The amount of cash earned is used in the game’s progression system. The more cash a player earns, the higher their rank. Just like most progression systems, higher ranks means more perks, such as loadouts for multiplayer. I won’t get into the multiplayer yet, but I do love that experience, cash, and kit earned in the single-player campaign or multiplayer transfers over to the opposite mode. This way, if a player has gotten used to using one weapon, they don’t have to abandon it once they finally begin multiplayer or vice-versa.
Speaking of kit, cash earned is used to purchase new weapons, armor, and other kit from Blackjack, the in-game weapons merchant. This is important because there is no on-site procurement in Killzone: Mercenary. Players can pick up ammo dropped by enemies, but weapons must be purchased and equipped from Blackjack terminals. Luckily, the terminals are spread liberally through the world, making it simple to switch to a different weapon when one is needed…for a price, of course.
There is a wide selection of weapons, featuring the usual suspects: sniper rifles, assault rifles, light machine guns, SMGs, shotguns, and even a tranq pistol. The only complaint I have with the weapon variety is the lack of customization. If a player wants to go the stealth route by using a silencer, a weapon either comes pre-equipped with one or it doesn’t. Players can’t add silencers, scopes, or other upgrades to the weapons. While there is such a large variety I don’t think it ultimately matters, it would have been nice to be able to customize weapons just a little bit.
I briefly mentioned intel as one of the potential rewards for favoring stealth over action. Instead of just finding a briefcase lying around in the middle of no where, intel in Killzone: Mercenary is earned by either (a) finding a terminal and completing a hacking mini-game, or (b) sneaking behind an officer and “interrogating” them for intel. Be careful, however: Other enemies will still patrol looking for Danner during the middle of a hack or interrogation, and they aren’t nice enough to wait for him to finish before they start shooting, unlike some games. This intel serves as both background information and as collectibles to encourage replay of the single-player campaign. There are fifty-four pieces of intel to be recovered, many of them challenging to acquire. I felt myself driven to procure as much intel as possible and I’m actually aching for a chance to jump back into the campaign to grab what I missed my first time through.
Don’t think that intel is the only collectible in the game, however. Like many other shooters, medals can be earned for distinguished service. There are basic “earn 25 kills with this weapon” medals, to medals for completing the game on a certain difficulty, and even medals for completing levels without alerting guards or using demolitions more than a rifle. These earn bragging rights and extra cash to use on kit. Some will cross between single-player and multiplayer modes, while others are specific to one mode or the other.