Genre: FPS Platform: Playstation Vita Publisher: SCE Developer: Guerilla Cambridge
I love the Killzone series. I’ve never been much of a military shooter person, I don’t play Call of Duty or Battlefield as fun as those games may be. I just like sci-fi and fantasy way too much to give myself over to real settings. For a Playstation gamer who can’t play Halo, Resistance and Killzone are our big sci-fi FPS centerpieces. Both great franchises, Killzone has just released Killzone: Mercenary which marks the series’ debut on the Playstation Vita. For those new to the series, the main story revolves around an interplanetary war between the ISA who are based out of the colony planet Vekta and the Helghast Empire, based on the planet Helghan. Mercenary is the fifth installment in the series known for its intense cinematic sequences and OMG moments. The game spans several years of that conflict, following a mercenary group that takes contracts for missions of importance to the interested parties.
The game’s premise revolves around a mercenary group for hire who takes contracts for pay from the ISA. A twist as the story progresses gives the player a chance to experience things from the Helghast side of the conflict. The ISA is presented loosely as the “good guys”, but fuck those guys. The Helghast may be tyrannical fascists but at least they fight for a purpose. As for the ISA, can developers please, please, please stop offering us Jarhead stereotypes as our playable protagonists (see Rico, everyone’s most hated asshat of the series)? I half expect my sidearm to be a can of Bud swappable with a Penthouse decorated rocket launcher that shouts “Oorah” when fired . The armed forces are made up of people from a diversity of mindsets and worldviews, let’s stop being lazy when penning our scripts people. Anyway, each mission begins with a briefing of the particulars, persons of interest, motivations behind the contract, satellite maps, architectural blueprints and profiles all cleverly guising the game’s loading. Despite being so well presented up front, the merc setup lacks the emotional gravitas of the prior installments and any attempts at dramatic impact are consequentially ham-fisted. It’s hard to become engaged in a story when you are constantly reminded that you are shooting for pay and pay only. Muddying of the waters or developing the mercenary group’s own story would have made for some more powerful moments. There is a linear story here which does add some new insights to the overarching lore, but it lacks the compelling characters and motivations to tell it properly. The mercenary theme does however, provide a segue to the multitude of replay and upgrade options which I will cover in a later section.
Looking good Vita, looking good. Not as good as the Killzone entries on PS3 , but few games can say that. It looks closer to earlier PS3 shooters, when developers were still getting a feel for the graphics. It is very sharp, clear and just lacking in some of the grittier details. But that’s being nitpicky. For a handheld, this may be the best looking game of this genre. Aiming down the sights looks beautiful and my beloved StA-52 Helghan Issue Assault Rifle looks and feels just as good in my hands as I ever remembered it. It plays great and handles a lot of action at once with mostly consistent framerate. Draw distance is very solid and the levels are believable.
Gameplay in this one is fluid, although a little different from what you might expect if you are coming from a Killzone background. There is a lighter feel to the movement, which is a change from the heftier bulk of the console versions. I am from the camp that enjoys the heft as it gives me a more realistic and thereby more immersive sensation. Moving onto the smaller screen, and lack of rumble makes things lean a little towards the arcadey. It’s not enough to ruin the experience but it is lacking the big cinematic feel of Killzone 2 and Killzone 3. That said, the control scheme behaves as expected. The twin sticks on the Vita are tight and feel almost more responsive than the Dualshock. It behaves like a shooter should and that is a good thing. As for the touch functionality the game can get in its own way, especially for melee. Getting up close and personal with an enemy is done via screen swipe in quicktime like events, which forces the player to remove their hands from normal playing position to perform the swipe. It’s clumsy, immersion breaking and in the heat of combat, a waste of valuable time. On several occasions I either died to gunfire during the act of completing the swipe, or being unable to move my hands around in time, failed the melee event. A true pain in the ass especially when attempting some stealth, as a failed melee triggers a pissed off Hig to alarm his other pissed off buddies. Other touchscreen functions are optional however.
There is more fun in the upgrades, unlockables and progression than in the actual gameplay and I think that is a conscious decision made by the devs, knowing that they may not have felt able to create the large scale experience people expect with the series. The fleshed out options give you more to do and that is the stuff that will keep you coming back. Medals, contract challenges, valor cards, and upgrades/unlocks to all manners of gear and weaponry give you a reason to keep launching into the missions long after the short campaign is done. Everything you do in the game registers with a satisfying little ching that puts cash in your pocket, from headshots to triple kills (but dying shakes your pockets out so stay frosty!). The toys you buy with your cash are a further reward and each step up is a treat in powerful explosive capabilities that adds versatility to your loadouts. Want a powerful VC32 sniper? Work hard for it, and drop the cash once you’ve earned enough. Then go back to those earlier missions and use it to earn some stealth achievements. Valor cards deepen the experience further and going into them in detail would take a whole other article. Trust me, they’re fun. It’s a nice positive feedback loop they’ve woven into the experience and it is to be commended. With not all Vita players able to play online multiplayer consistently, Guerilla Cambridge gave the players plenty to do on their no-internet bus rides and lunch breaks.
Multiplayer sticks to the hallmarks of the series with its game modes that include modes we all know and Warzone, a rotating objective based experience that really encourages team based play. I love Warzone and played it to death on the PS3 and I often touted it as the an alternative to self serving KDR play. To succeed, you must pay attention to the objectives, the terrain and your teammates. A hard won Warzone match is a very satisfying experience. You can link up with friends and party up and can join public or create private games. With it all being wireless, it performs remarkably smooth but be prepared for hiccups.
Hmm, what to say about this game. Had I not ever played a game in the series, I would be tripping over myself to recommend it to people. It’s a very good game. However, having played prior entries in the series it’s difficult to not compare this to them, as unfair as that may be. However, this is not a conversation that would transpire if the game was on PSP and I would be lauding it for making do on such an inferior platform. The prowess of the Vita brings the game close enough to the stratosphere of the PS3 versions that one dares to even start making comparisons, although I do suspect this game is at the limit of what the Vita can do. This may be a problematic issue for the bigger cinematic Vita games in the future as the console pumps out games that are just short of the experience of PS3 and PS4 games, and may make a case for the continued push towards quirky indie titles on the handheld or innovative portable re-imaginings similar to the Metal Gear Solid series on the PSP. In it’s current state, Killzone: Mercenary is an awkward tweener but it took certain steps in the right direction and definitely merits a look if you are a fan of the series or are just looking for a solid FPS on the handheld. If you are ready to take on the contract of this bitter war alongside me, head on over to our Shop and enlist! And check out our Game Review section for more gamer reviews, made by us, for us, what what! Oorah!