Reviewed on: PlayStation Vita
Reviewed by: Bracken Lee-Rudolph
Guerrilla Games’ Killzone franchise is one that has featured on five different PlayStation consoles, including both of Sony’s handhelds, and on every major home PlayStation console since the PlayStation 2. While the franchise didn’t originally start so brightly on the PS2, it has only climbed since then, with both Killzone 2 and 3 critically acclaimed, and Shadow Fall being the pick of the PS4 launch titles. So does Killzone Mercenary – the second foray into handheld gaming – manage to be as impressive as its recent console counterparts?
Killone: Mercenary is certainly its own experience, as for the first time, you play alongside both Helghast and ISA in the singleplayer, as opposed to the other Killzone titles, which – barring a few tutorial sequences – have been largely ISA-riddled. In this case, you’re actually playing as an external contractor – a mercenary by the name of Danner. Chronologically, the title takes place during the first 2 Killzone titles, with the player visiting Vekta, in the original Helghast invasion and Helghan, during the Vektans counter-invasion. This extends up to the bombing of Pyrrhus, at which point the game ends.
Playing as a Mercenary, the title is filled with all sorts of machismo and clichéd dialogue, but amongst this, the title manages to retain a few interesting twists and turns, as well as an interesting approach to the Killzone universe. While the story itself may be nothing to write home about, it’s an enjoyable, fairly lengthy return to a vast universe.
The dual-analog system of the Vita, as well as the touch pad and touch screen, are used to providing a comprehensive first-person experience on the Vita. While nowhere near as accurate as the controllers of the consoles, Guerrilla Cambridge have done well in ensuring that the Vita’s diverse control scheme has been fully utilised, whether it be in using the touch-screen for brutal melee, or the reverse touch pad for contextual actions, much like how professional SCUF controllers are used.
The AI, while not terrible, is certainly nowhere near as challenging as the console Killzone’s malicious, tactical soldiers, but still manages to perform decently in a fight. Since you’re a mercenary, every kill counts for money – more so when you perform headshots, stealth kills, and melee kills. This money is used to buy upgrades in the form of different armour, weapons, and VAN-Guard perks (special items which can change the course of battles). This process of levelling is quite interesting, although it becomes redundant when you find a set of weapons that work well for you.
Levels become quite repetitive, despite the variety in their design, due to the fact that every mission takes basically the same structure. In addition to this, it’s often favourable to play the entire game in one way (stealthily) due to the fact that bonuses are given for that style of play. The game is quite a lot of fun, but when played in lengthy sessions, becomes tedious and repetitive.
Visually, the title isn’t fantastic, by console standards, but is certainly more than acceptable on the limited hardware of the Vita. Facial models may be slightly lacking, but the character models, particularly of the iconic Helghast soldiers, are fantastic and quite detailed. Environments are quite drab, as war and conflict tend to make formerly vibrant environments into ruined areas and Helghan is by default quite a drab place, but there is also a fair amount of detail in these, especially in the architecture of the buildings. Lastly, the animations are quite smooth, with reaction animations like explosions and blood splatters looking convincing.
The audio is quite a mixed bag. The voice acting lacks, due to the insistence on macho characters in the form of fellow mercenaries, and ISA agents, but this is redeemed somewhat by the diabolical sounding Helghast troopers and their British accents. The soundtrack is occasionally overbearing, but tends not to disrupt in-game scenarios, where the sound effects are absolutely spot-on.
The multiplayer, pre-patch, had quick matchmaking, frenetic fighting and quite balanced gameplay. However, since the recent mandatory patch, I have been unable to find a match. The maps are quite well constructed and entertaining to play, but if you can’t find a match, it’s ultimately pointless.
There are some collectables in the game: documents with additional information about your missions, targets and locations in the game. This adds a little more lore and information to the Killzone universe and allows players to explore the hacking and interrogation dynamics with a little more depth. This also adds some lasting appeal, as players are quite likely to want to go back and explore levels for missing collectables and information. The rest of the lasting appeal falls to the multiplayer – if it works, it’ll add a lot to the game, but it doesn’t seem to at this point. This is unfortunate, as it denies players an entertaining mode to explore; especially with friends involved.
Killzone: Mercenary may not quite hit the heights of its console predecessors and successor, but it is certainly worth a playthrough for Vita owners. A fun, if repetitive gameplay mechanic, passable story with tons of lore and detail and fair graphical performance means that if you’re a fan of shooters and own a PS Vita, Killzone: Mercenary is not to be missed.
It’s not all smooth sailing, as the average soundscape and entirely non-working multiplayer aspect somewhat limit the title at this point, but hopefully the latter can be fixed, while the former only has minor issues. Killzone: Mercenary is a great Vita title, and probably the best shooter on the platform at this point.
Lasting Appeal: 8/10