The PlayStation Vita has been plagued with a string of failed first-person shooters since its release that nearly made me lose faith in the future of handheld gaming. Big names like Call of Duty: Black Ops – Declassified and Resistance: Burning Skies were given to smaller developers who did them no justice and both fell very short of their console counter-parts. Finally, it seems that Sony got the right idea and got Guerrilla Cambridge, the sister company responsible for the critically acclaimed Killzone franchise, to craft what is not only one of the best titles on the Vita, but one of the better shooters I have played in a long time.
Killzone: Mercenary uses a scaled down version of the Killzone 3 engine and it looks absolutely amazing, especially for a handheld game. The controls feel almost exactly like playing on console, with each weapon having that familiar weighty feel that Killzone fans love. Because of the premise of the game, Guerrilla Cambridge have added many more weapons, the new VAN-guard accessories (upgrades that can swing the battle in your favour when facing a huge amount of enemies) and armour types into the fray, meaning that your plan of action is so varied you will never play a mission the same way twice.
A fast-paced FPS game, Mercenary sees you play as Arran Danner, a mercenary fighting for both the ISA and Helghast in order for a big pay-out. In the snappy five-hour campaign you travel across Helghan trying to protect a young boy from both the Helghan and the ISA leaders. The story of the game is not massively exciting and it could be much better scripted, but it also wasn’t what I was looking for in this handheld title.
The ability to go through each mission in your own style means that you have the freedom to properly turn the tide of the battle. This is achieved by the well-placed black market shops, which allow you can change your load-out completely mid-mission. I found myself going from heavy armour and a LMG into stealth armour and a silenced sniper rifle – thus providing wildly varying options. This customisation makes the game more versatile than the console copies and allows for a much wider range of weapon selection, instead of picking up guns from dead enemies.
The controls for Killzone: Mercenary are perfectly on-point; aiming and movement feels reactive and satisfying, and whilst having to use the touch screen to switch weapons can sometimes be a hassle it all links to make a near seamless experience.The touch screen is well utilised via the brutal executions of enemies when in close combat, swiping in specific directions to either kill or interrogate your opponent, and hacking mini-games in which you have to match the shapes in the corner to the shapes in the middle of the screen.
Throughout the game you earn money for doing almost anything; from picking up ammo to getting a silent melee kill. All this cash goes towards new weapons, armour and special abilities like cloaking devices that aid you in the theatre of war. This is one of the greatest qualities of the game as once you’ve finished the main campaign you can go back and earn extra credits for doing the mission again with precision, covert tactics or demolition goals. These play styles can be very difficult and add a real challenge into the short campaign, fleshing it out quite a bit. This adds a massive replay factor and I found myself constantly returning to earn more money, find all the intel and get all of the guns. Each play style rewards you with ‘valor cards’; with 52 to collect by playing using certain weapons and getting certain kills. This encourages players to vary their game much more than your average shooter.
Mercenary is also the first Vita shooter that has good online capability (over Wi-Fi only however) with three modes: Mercernary Warfare (Deathmatch), Guerrilla Warfare (Team Deathmatch) and Warzone (Objective). These modes are very similar to what you would find on console version yet they work so well on the Vita that you forget that you are playing on a handheld. Even after completing the main campaign you will find yourself returning to the online multiplayer thanks to its responsive combat and the online utilisation of the money system – allowing the player to use weapons bought in the campaign to be used instantly online. Throughout matches, VAN-guard systems are dropped around the map, with the ability going to the person who hacks the drop-pod first. This is a nice touch and can players the upper hand that is vital towards the end of matches.
With a fantastic control scheme, jaw-dropping visuals and that much-needed gameplay hook, the PlayStation Vita finally has a shooter to be proud of. What makes Killzone: Mercenary great is that it epitomises the pick up and play ideals that the handheld originally had. You don’t need to save at checkpoints or finish missions, you can just put down your Vita and take a break, coming back when you want. And trust me, you will be coming back.