Nailing the Handheld FPS
The arrival of a quality first-person shooter for the Vita has been a long time coming. The PS Vita gave developers the platform to design a true FPS experience on a handheld, but games such as Call of Duty: Black Ops – Declassified and Resistance: Burning Skies failed to deliver for gamers, leaving a desolate void in the handheld market. Until now.
The release of Killzone: Mercenary marks the beginning of what we can only hope is a trend of excellent shooters for Sony’s handheld. Guerrilla Cambridge has absolutely nailed every aspect of this game, and the attention to the minutia of playability really sells the experience.
Killzone: Mercenary kicks off with you taking on the role of Arran Danner, a mercenary fighting against the Helghast in Vekta City, on planet Vekta. Danner is a capable merc, and it won’t take you long to settle into the control scheme that Guerrilla Cambridge has set so lovingly into place. As you gain your bearings, you will be tasked with mission objectives while fighting off the Helghast horde, pretty much standard fare for an FPS.
But, after Danner saves a key leader of the ISA (Interplanetary Strategic Alliance), a plot unfolds that will change the course of the war on both sides, with you left smack-dab in the middle. Beyond this, I won’t say anything else, simply because it is quite a well-constructed story, complete with a few twists and turns that will keep you playing until the end. The campaign isn’t all that long, probably about 6-8 hours depending on your skill level, but it is a high-quality story, something sorely missing from most shooters–console and handheld alike.
Though fighting through the worlds of Vekta and Helghan are fun, to say the least, the entertainment is compounded by the fact that you can play Killzone: Mercenary your way. Do you like the stealth approach? Do you prefer to run in guns blazing? Are you a sniper, or do you like to get up-close and personal? Well, Killzone: Mercenary has you covered.
You have the ability to customize your Merc how you see fit, with an arsenal of diverse weapons, armors, and, my personal favorite, Van-Guards. Van-Guards change how you play your Merc, and a wide range of different upgrades are available. For instance, if you’re into being stealthy, you can buy and equip the Ghost Van-Guard and enjoy the ability to render yourself invisible for a short duration. However, my personal favorite is the Porcupine, a shoulder-mounted, mini rocket-launcher that targets foes within range, prompting you to tap the reticle on the Vita’s touchscreen for a kill. This got me out of more than one sticky situation and, if you get the chance, buy this as early as possible. You won’t regret it.
To outfit your Merc, you will need Valor. Valor is the currency of Killzone: Mercenary , and you gain Valor for every action you complete in the game as well as for medals earned from specific challenges. Killing enemies with headshots or melee attacks earns you extra Valor as well, so do this whenever possible to become more “valiant.” Valor also doubles as the experience system, so the more you gain, the faster you will level up. This was a brilliant design choice, and it keeps the player’s mind on what a Merc should be thinking about–money.
Perhaps the most ingenious part of Killzone: Mercenary is the ability to take what you have acquired in the single-player campaign directly into the multiplayer arena. Everything you earn throughout the story mode is carried over to multiplayer, keeping you from having to start all over on your character’s progression. So that Van-Guard you love so much in Campaign mode will be available when you go to start playing multiplayer, and vice-versa. Your character’s level is also persistent between the two game modes, so playing the campaign first to give you an edge with gear for your Merc is a good idea, because it’s much easier to gain Valor in the single-player mode, especially if you don’t have any decent weapons to defend yourself with in multiplayer. Hopefully, this will draw more players who would normally only play the multiplayer to the campaign of Killzone: Mercenary , which is definitely worth experiencing at least once.
The control scheme of Killzone: Mercenary truly shines on the Vita. It takes advantage of the touchscreen compatibility for hacking mini-games, target designation, zoom functions for scoped weapons, and the excellent melee combat system. Melee combat with the touchscreen is ridiculously fun and easy to use, and the simple and intuitive integration of timed directional swipes on the screen is wholly gratifying. So much so, that I would sometimes go out of my way to use a hand-to-hand attack on an enemy that I could have easily taken out with my rifle. Don’t judge me. Otherwise, the FPS controls are surprisingly tight for the handheld, and this game does a great job at making you forget that you aren’t playing it on a console, something that’s never really been accomplished on the Vita before.
To add to the gameplay, the visual and audio aspects of Killzone: Mercenary are spot-on. This is easily the best-looking game on the Vita, seamlessly integrating polished gameplay environments with beautifully rendered backdrops and tying it all together with console-quality character animations. The level introductions range from simple insertions, to being air-dropped via glider-suit into sprawling battlefields of epic scale. The visuals never miss a beat, no matter how crazy the environment gets, which is a testament to both the power of the Vita and the developer’s attention to detail. For the handheld market, and the Vita specifically, this game is as close to visually perfect as I have seen on Sony’s handheld.
As with the graphical abilities of Killzone: Mercenary , the audio delivers something truly special to the handheld market–console quality. The orchestral score is engaging, enemies are voiced as they coordinate movement, and ambient noise, such as bullet ricochets, explosions, and aircraft fly-overs, round out this buffet for your ears. If you want to really experience it right, use a high-quality headset. The sound was what truly made me forget I was playing a handheld, and the headset completed the illusion.
Killzone: Mercenary could be the first step for Sony to finally secure its footing in this round of the handheld wars. Since the FPS genre isn’t something that the 3DS can really compete in, due to the lack of buttons and a second analog stick, the Vita could hash out a fanbase solely on FPS titles alone.
If you have a Vita and are an FPS fan, you would be doing yourself a disservice by not playing this game. The handheld FPS formula has finally been cracked, and not a moment too soon. I just hope this is the beginning of a growing trend and not just a flash in the pan. I don’t presume to know which it will turn out to be, but at least I can play Killzone: Mercenary until we find out.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.8 Graphics
Easily one of the best looking games on the Vita. 4.5 Control
Near perfect controls are responsive and intuitive. 5.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Pitch-perfect sound helps to bring Killzone: Mercenary to life fully, especially with a headset. 4.5 Play Value
The campaign is pretty short, but frantic multiplayer mayhem will keep your Vita in your hands long after you complete the story mode. 4.7 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best