The PlayStation Vita is truly unique, offering the first dedicated dual-analog stick handheld experience. One would think this means there would be a plethora of quality first person shooters gracing the handhelds library, however this is sadly not the case. After some lacklustre entries released from Sony franchise Resistance and the ever-popular Call of Duty series, our hopes for a console quality first person shooter experience on the go looked slim. That is until now.
Killzone: Mercenary is being developed by Guerrilla Cambridge, bringing the franchise to Sony handhelds for only the second time. With the lack of quality first person shooters and Sony sitting on the cusp of next-generation gaming, this is an important time for the PlayStation Vita and the Killzone franchise. Sony Australia was kind enough to offer one of the single player missions available in Killzone: Mercenary, allowing me to test out many of the games upcoming features when it releases early next month. And let me just state right now, our hopes for a quality first person shooter may finally be fulfilled.
This was the first time I have seen Mercenary in person and it’s hard to describe just how gorgeous the game looks on the Vita’s OLED screen. I continuously found myself forgetting I was playing a handheld system, as it pushed the handheld to limits I haven’t seen before.
Playing as a mercenary named Arran Danner, our main objective throughout each mission is to earn as much cash as humanly possible. There are assigned objectives to complete as well, but as a mercenary, money always comes first and you will find yourself earning cash thick and fast while you take down enemies and complete objectives. Danner’s mission was to infiltrate a facility on Helghan and take over a series of Arc Cannons to turn them against the Helghast cruisers, leaving them open for ISA attack.
The mission was reminiscent of Unit 13, a bite-sized objective which allows players to re-play the mission to increase their performance; with the mission in question taking around 30 minutes to complete. It was hard to gather if there will be an overall narrative from only playing just one mission. Collectible Intel returns, offering more information on their objectives. These Intel pieces also made references to characters from Killzone 2, which was a small attention to detail that was appreciated.
Mercenary feels like Killzone. It seems like a simple statement, but it is one that is truly important to a Killzone fan. Shooting feels responsive, controls feel weighty and the brutal melee kills are here in abundance. I was also happy to see the inclusion of motion aiming, a feature that excelled in Uncharted: Golden Abyss. Motion aiming utilises the Vita’s gyroscope, allowing players to move the system to allow precise aiming controls; a feature that was lacking from Resistance: Burning Skies.
Players are also granted a special ability such as a vanguard drone, increased stealth abilities outside of combat, an electronic jammer and more. The array of abilities allowed me to find an skill that worked for my play style, if you want to go in guns-blazing the portable shield may be for you, however if stealth is your game the ghost ability might be your bread and butter. It gave a personalisation to Killzone combat that I haven’t seen before, keeping combat fresh as you change-up abilities on the fly.
Combat situations also felt more varied compared to previous Killzone titles, instead of being given one linear pathway to complete an objective, we are given multiple routes to take down our enemies. After exploring with different methods, I was pleased to find I could climb to the roof of a certain building, allowing me to silently take down enemies through a skylight. This kept the mission constantly fresh, as I was always trying new gameplay methods to utilise the amount of cash coming to my bank account.
The Vita’s front touch-screen is used quite frequently, ranging from simple tasks such as pulling levers, to more brutal tasks such as melee combat. When initialising a melee attack an arrow will appear on the touch-screen, players must swipe in correct accordance otherwise their melee attack will fail. In this sense it is very similar to the melee combat of Uncharted: Golden Abyss, but far less intrusive. You won’t have to pull off crazy swipes to avoid death, it will be simple one directional swipes. I found these controls worked fine, they were responsive and never broke the experience. If swiping the front-touch doesn’t appeal, it seems like there will be no option to turn off this feature. However you can of course avoid melee combat, and still have a great experience.
Front-touch is also used to navigate menus, which was a feature I quite enjoyed. Watching as Danner looks down at his wrists touch-pad interface the game cohesively switches to our menu screen, giving the impression you are interacting with the object itself. Back-touch is also used for sprinting, however this option can be turned off and all sprinting actions (including a very handy slide mechanic) can be utilised using the circle button.
Overall Danner feels more agile in-comparison to previous Killzone protagonists, however the classic weighty controls of the franchise still exist. Danner feels like the best of both worlds, finding a nice balance between each style. Taking refuge behind cover is reminiscent of the Killzone series, offering a great sense of desperation and intensity; especially on harder difficulties.
Mercenary’s currency system plays a vital part of making everything you do feel connected, as your overall earnings increase while you scavenge ammo, destroy surrounding cameras and perform brutal melee kills. The more money you earn, the better arsenal you can bring into missions. Purchasing weapons and altering loadouts takes place in Blackjack’s Store, an individual we will no doubt come to love as he provides us with goodies to fuel our arsenal.
Blackjack stations are located throughout mission areas, meaning you can alter your loadouts during missions. There is nothing worse than building a loadout only to find it doesn’t work with your play-style. Meaning you must exit the mission, edit your loadout and start again; wasting time and creating a frustrating process that may limit your eagerness to step outside your comfort zone. This is no issue here, as you can always find a station during your mission, alter your loadout and start a fresh. This not only made me want to try out different gameplay styles, but encouraged it. The system provided an array of choice the Killzone series has previously lacked.
Though it is hard to tell how much effect the currency system and weapons on offer will differ in the final game, the sneak-peek on offer certainly has potential.
Killzone: Mercenary feels like the console quality first person shooter Vita fans have been begging for. Though I have only played one of the 9 main story missions and only a short glimpse into some of the potential systems in-place, the entree on offer has certainly left me excited for the main course. It’s great to see Killzone: Mercenary has been able to provide a Killzone experience that feels fresh, yet familiar at the same time.
Killzone: Mercenary is the biggest release for PlayStation Vita this holiday season, and so far it looks to deliver the best first person shooter experience the handheld has ever seen. Killzone: Mercenary will release September4 in Europe and Australia, and September 10 in North America exclusively for PlayStation Vita.