Killzone: Mercenary Review
It’s All About the Money, Money, Money
Killzone: Mercenary is being touted as the game that will put the Vita on the map; a true twin analogue stick first person shooter on a portable platform that rivals its home console counterparts. Despite its only peers in the FPS market on Vita being the utterly atrocious Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified and the inoffensively competent Resistance: Burning Skies, Killzone: Mercenary has nonetheless had a lot of weight thrust upon its shoulders.
Taking place alongside – and retelling many of – the events of Killzone, Killzone: Liberation and Killzone 2, Mercenary places you in the shoes of Arran Danner, a mercenary who has been hired by the ISA to carry out covert, less publicly acceptable missions. The story being told here isn’t exactly intricate, in-depth or memorable by videogame standards; Hell, it isn’t even intricate, memorable or in-depth by FPS standards, save for a twist that sees Danner’s loyalties tested and the source of his paychecks switching.
Speaking of paychecks, Mercenary goes to great lengths to reassert the fact that you’re a mercenary as opposed to a military grunt by constantly reminding you of the fact. Your boss, a grizzled and money-obsessed guy by the name of Anders Benoit, makes a comment about how failure to complete the mission will mean no payment – although personally, if I were in his shoes I’d be more concerned with failure to complete the mission resulting in death – at every given opportunity. It grates quickly, truth be told.
Mercenary, at its core, plays exactly how you’d expect. You run around, shoot at whoever the game dictates you should be shooting at and you can either fire from the hip or use the left shoulder button to look down iron sights for more precise aiming. So far, pretty much every FPS you’ve played in the last decade. Where Mercenary deviates most from this well-worn formula is when it utilises the Vita’s other, less traditional, input methods. The front touch screen can be used for everything from switching weapons and collecting ammo to hacking terminals and carrying out melee executions on enemies; motion controls are primarily used to arm explosives; while the rear touch pad is used for sprinting.
Most of these maneuvers and actions can be switched back to more traditional button controls if you desire, although the non-button functions that are present in Mercenary all work well. Longtime Killzone fans may find themselves slightly thrown off by the absence of the series’ slower, more weighty feel – Mercenary feels lighter and less plodding by comparison – but on the whole, this is a game that does shooting from the first-person exceptionally well, exhibiting tight, responsive movement and aiming which makes picking off the Helghast a cinch, although if you crank the difficulty up there’s still a stiff challenge to be overcome in the nine missions on offer.
Playing on higher difficulty settings is definitely something you’ll want to try out, as this is how you’ll benefit most from Killzone: Mercenary‘s most defining characteristic: money. Yes, as Benoit insists on reminding us, unsuccessful mercs don’t get paid; successful mercs who complete missions on higher difficulties, however, will rake in a great deal more moolah than those who take the easier route. Money isn’t something you merely earn for completing objectives either. Literally everything – and I mean everything – you do in Killzone: Mercenary nets you cash. Killing guys, killing enemies at long range, getting headshots, getting multi-kills, killing enemies with explosives, performing melee executions, interrogating enemies, picking up ammo, hacking terminals and basically anything you can think of that you might end up doing in a FPS game will reward you with more money.
But what good is all that money without anything to spend it on? Mercenary has you covered, with a ton of weapons – assault rifles, SMGs, shotguns, grenade launchers, RPGs, sniper rifles and grenades – as well as different sets of body armour that affect your movement speed and stealthiness. By far the most interesting set of toys, however, are the VAN-Guards; special pieces of tech that allow you to even the odds in Mercenary‘s more intense firefights. These come in a variety of flavours, from air strikes and shoulder mounted missile launchers to cloaking devices and attack drones. They’re all a blast to take advantage of and spice up Killzone: Mercenary‘s otherwise by-the-numbers shooting.
Graphics and Sound
To say that Killzone: Mercenary is impressive from a technical standpoints would be underselling it exponentially. This is a stellar looking game that takes the Vita’s innards and utilises them to their fullest potential. The lighting and visual design work on show are nothing short of astounding, especially when you consider that Mercenary maintains a steady framerate throughout even the most populated and heated skirmishes. Poking around a little too closely might unearth the odd muddy texture or jagged edge here and there, but Mercenary otherwise raises the bar to an impossibly high level in terms of how gorgeous a Vita game can look. In fact, it’s kind of eerie how closely Killzone: Mercenary resembles Killzone 3 on PlayStation 3.
On the audio front there’s little to complain about; the musical score is rousing and sets the tone well, while the gun and explosion sound effects go a long way to make every weapon in the game feel weighty and powerful. Only the voice acting leaves anything to be desired. There’s nothing drastically wrong with it, but it’s not going to win any awards either.
By far the most surprising aspect of Mercenary‘s overall package for me was the multiplayer. After the buggy as Hell, glitchy mess of a multiplayer present in Black Ops Declassified, booting up the online mode in Mercenary was akin to the first time I ever experienced online multiplayer in a console shooter. Everything just works. I’ve experienced no lag – even on my temperamental Internet connection – and issues such as connection errors have been minimal. It’s clear that Guerilla Cambridge have gone to great lengths that multiplayer in Killzone: Mercenary runs as smoothly and as hassle free as it should.
In addition to exceptional online stability, Mercenary boasts a set of impeccably designed maps in which to take on the world. Every map feels like it was intricately designed to accomodate the modest eight players the game allows in a match; you’ll rarely find yourself spawning right on top of opponents, nor will you be walking around for minutes at a time without even the faintest whiff of an opponent to engage with. The fact that all the maps also feature multiple tiers and opportunities for both snipers and short range specialists to play to their strengths in either deathmatch, team deathmatch or Killzone‘s signature mode, Warzone – a five-round match in which every round tasks the two teams with different objectives – is no small feat either.
Last of all, multiplayer ties itself neatly into the single player campaign in that all the money you earn and equipment you purchase in one mode all applies to the other. Had a killer round online and bought yourself a cool new – and I’m totally, one hundred percent being genuine here – fire-spitting shotgun? Equip it and rain down fiery death upon the Helghast troops in the campaign!
Killzone: Mercenary‘s only real drawback is its relatively short campaign. I managed to finish it on the medium difficulty setting in around six hours; not criminally short, granted, but it would have been nice had Guerilla fleshed it out a bit more.
This is a moot point, however, when you take into account Mercenary’s incredibly well structured and satisfying multiplayer, along with the ability to play any mission you’ve previously completed again, only with entirely different objectives. Every mission has three extra sets of mission parameters – precision, covert and demolition – that shake up how you need to approach the mission and add some longevity to the otherwise bare-bones campaign.
Killzone: Mercenary is the first of its kind: an exceptionally well crafted, twin analogue stick first person shooter with ridiculously high production values and an online multiplayer mode that rivals even its home console counterparts. If you’re into FPS’s and you own a Vita, you definitely need this game.