I think the advantages to the PS Vita are obvious upon looking at the device. The system is built to support console-like experiences on a handheld, which is evident mainly by its use of two thumb stick that were put on the device almost entirely for the purpose of playing FPS games. So far, two surprisingly adept FPS titles have graced the system, proving its worth as a platform for the genre. One of those games was Resistance: Burning Skies, and the other is Killzone: Mercenary.
Throughout the years, I’ve had a love/hate with the Killzone franchise. Killzone 2 introduced me to the series on the PS3 and I thought it was incredible. From start to finish, Killzone 2 was an experience that was just fantastic. Killzone 3 was a big disappointment for me after the stellar Killzone 2, and so I went into Killzone: Mercenary not really knowing what to expect, but I came away pleasantly surprised.
Mercenary takes place in the middle of the war between the ISA and the Helghast. Players control a mercenary for hire named Arran Danner that fights for whoever has the most money to pay him. The campaign is a brief one, but it hits all the right notes and is a very engaging experience throughout. Honestly, most FPS games would be this long if they trimmed out the filler, so despite Killzone on Vita feeling fairly short, the campaign still felt as long as it should be and was satisfying.
The missions offer a lot of variety. But of course, the primary gameplay mechanic is the shooting of enemies, as this is an FPS. Killzone: Mercenary is just so purely fun in this regard, with extremely tight controls and a satisfying combat system that helps solidify its spot as one of the best FPS games on a handheld to date.
The game is surprisingly deep. Players earn cash for getting kills, playing through sections without being spotted by enemies, and completing mission objectives. These credits can then be spent at Arms Dealer boxes to purchase new weapons, armor, and Vanguards. All the weapons in the game are useful and serve a purpose, and part of the fun of the game is unlocking every weapon so that Danner can be sufficiently prepared for every situation he comes across in the game.
The Vanguards are also a lot of fun to use. There are stealth-based Vanguards such as the Mantys drone. When deployed, this drone can be controlled directly to patrol areas ahead and then eliminate all the guards there using its spikes to stab them through the skull. There’s other Vanguards as well that are not focused on stealth, such as a missile-based one that allows you to use the touchscreen to target enemies and blow them away.
Overall, I thought Killzone’s use of the Vita’s unique features was executed very well. The touchscreen is used for a couple of different mini-games, such as hacking and arming bombs. The touchscreen can be used for a lot of optional input as well, but that optional input can also be accomplished with the face buttons, and it’s a lot easier to just stick with those. The rear touchpad is mainly used for zooming in and out with sniper rifles, and while accidentally touching the touchpad is an issue with virtually all Vita games, it does feel very intuitive and is very satisfying at the end of the day.
Players are going to find that the campaign in Killzone: Mercenary is surprisingly deep and nonlinear. There’s plenty of extra content to explore, trophies to collect, and challenges to accomplish, but I was surprised at how many different ways certain objectives can be handled. For example, there is a part in the first mission where there is a locked door with a guard on the other side that needs to be taken out. The options are to either blow up the door with explosives or throw sleeping gas into the vents to knock out the guard and gain access that way. The best part about it is these other options are hidden, encouraging player experimentation and using all the tools at their disposal to discover new ways to play the game.
When finished with the campaign, players can dive into the multiplayer. The multiplayer is good, though the maps are boring and uninspired. The tight gameplay mechanics migrate to the multiplayer, which is extremely impressive being on a handheld and all.
Killzone: Mercenary is easily the best-looking game on the Vita. The detail, the textures, the atmosphere is all designed extraordinarily well. In all honesty, the game could pass as a full PS3 title. The Killzone games have always been extremely impressive graphically, so it was expected from this Vita title anyway, but where the quality drops off are in two key areas: audio and story.
Voice acting was obviously a second thought here. The music is uninspired, and there’s a lot of bad audio quality in certain missions. The story is also very, very weak, with cookie cutter villains that add nothing to the experience except cheesiness, supporting characters that are impossible to care about, and plot threads that lead nowhere. The only saving grace of the story is that it shows the Helghast in a different light, allowing there to be more moral ambiguity between the two warring factions than before.
Killzone: Mercenary is easily one of the, if not THE, best handheld shooter to date. The graphics are mind-blowing, but more importantly, the gameplay is tight, fun, and hopelessly addicting. The progression system is implemented into the single player with fantastic results, and the multiplayer is a blast as well. It does have a few missteps, namely in regards to the generally poor audio quality and the laughably bad story, but overall Killzone: Mercenary is one of the few games that has made me not regret my purchase of the Vita.
Tested on PS Vita. Final Score: 8.75/10