Killzone: Mercenary Review: A Killshot

Killzone: Mercenary Review: A KillshotWhen Sony announced the PS Vita back in 2011, fans everywhere got excited because the handheld finally had two analog control sticks. This would make for a true first-person shooter experience on a handheld, on-the-go device. And then we waited for the game that would take this epic realization and turn it into what fans have been begging for since the announcement. Resistance: Burning Skies came and went with nary a bang. Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified was a mess in any way you looked at it, and it too failed to land a shot. But finally, Sony and Guerilla Cambridge Studios have unveiled the long awaited next title in the Killzone franchise–this one designed from the ground up specifically for the PS Vita–and the end result, I’m glad to announce, is a headshot.

Killzone: Mercenary takes place between Killzone and Killzone 2. You control Arran Danner, a mercenary who sells his services to the highest bidder. Danner works with a group of mercs known as the Phantom Talon Corporation (PTC), and the game opens with a job offered by the ISA to rescue a high-ranking Vektan official from a Helghast stronghold. This job, of course, goes bad and Danner finds himself embroiled deeply in the everlasting war between Vekta and Helghan.

What makes this story unique is that the Danner, a gun-for-hire, plays both sides throughout the course of the campaign’s nine missions. This allows the player to see the war from different sides. And if Killzone: Mercenary had one underlying theme, it’s definitely: “He who pays, plays.”

Killzone: Mercenary Review: A Killshot

Everything in Mercenary is based on cash. Each kill has a dollar reward. Each ammo pickup, lock decryption, even interrogations all come with a monetary prize. And you’ll need it. Killzone: Mercenary also contains one of the largest weapon loadouts in anyKillzone game, console or otherwise.

Each level is littered with stores ran by the mysterious Blackjack, who is eager to sell Danner new weapons, VAN-guards, and even supplies. The more you kill, the more money you make; the more money you have, the better weapons you can buy. You know the drill.

While the campaign is rather short in nine missions, each mission has three or more different contracts (objectives) to pull off. This includes securing specific intel, or using only a sniper rifle for the whole mission, and adds a unique level of replayability to the solo campaign as a whole.

Killzone: Mercenary takes full advantage of the PS Vita’s touch screen controls in interesting ways. Melee attacks, while initiated with the triangle button, evolve into a series of real time finger swipes to pull off incredible moves–up to and including stabbing a guy in the crotch.

Killzone: Mercenary Review: A Killshot

The back touch-screen is used primarily to sprint, as the circle button has both sprint and crouch mapped to it, and it can get confusing when trying to accomplish either. I quickly learned to use the back touch-screen to run and solved the issue, but early on it was a problem. This is the only time during the course of my playing that I truly missed the extra shoulder buttons. Mapping two distinct movements to one button sounds dumb on the surface, but the back screen saves the day.

The front touch-screen also controls all menu functions and even the decryption mini-game, which is a series of timed symbol matching. It sounds easy, but it is not; at all. And knowing that a failure will bring down guards, the intensity is pumped up higher. Switching from button pushing to touch-screen controls was very easy to adapt to, and now I can melee kill with a fluid motion of my hands as I manipulate my Vita. It’s incredibly intuitive.

Graphically, Killzone: Mercenary is by far the best looking game on a handheld game system. The 5″ OLED screen was designed for this game. This entire software could be adapted to the PS3 and players would barely be able to tell the difference. Lighting effects are simply incredible and the game runs at a full 60 frames-per-second with zero skip.

Killzone: Mercenary Review: A Killshot

I particularly enjoy the graphics during interrogations, which occur with certain enemies if Danner can sneak up on them. The interrogation is a series of finger swipes on the touch screen, but the images of torture and violence are harsh, up to the final move once you’ve learned whatever info the person had. It’s brilliant and fits perfectly in the greater world of this game.

Multiplayer is a full-featured online mode that includes three different games: deathmatch, team deathmatch and objective based games like capture the flag. Up to eight players–or four-on-four for team games–can play at any given time, and matches are intense and brutal, just as they are on the consoles. The maps are often huge, with tons of secret hiding spots, but in playing these massive levels does one realize that eight players are too few to really get into a fight. I have actually spent longer than a minute trying to find someone to shoot in one of the maps.

The Havok engine that Guerilla Cambridge modified for this game really shines in online multiplayer as there is zero degradation in the graphics or play physics, and I’ve only experienced slight lag a couple of times, and that was because of shoddy Internet by the host player.

Killzone: Mercenary Review: A Killshot

Multiplayer uses a unique card based ranking system, and players are awarded higher-valued cards based on how much they play. Card sets are handed out based on play style (run-in-gun, melee, longshot, etc.) as well, and there are four full sets of cards–52 cards in a set–to collect. Enemies that you kill drop their cards, which you can then pick up in an online game to add to your collection. This, in and of itself, is incredibly addictive and the main reason this review is a week late in being published.

Killzone: Mercenary is the first true must-own game for the PS Vita. Guerrilla Cambridge has crafted the best handheld FPS experience ever, and this is a perfect warm up to the much-anticipated Killzone: Shadowfall, the next chapter of the Killzone saga that launches with the PlayStation 4 in November.

With clean controls, gorgeous visuals, and a story that moves along at a decent–if not a short–clip, Killzone: Mercenary succeeds in almost every way. The campaign and multiplayer modes pack a ton of game in a small handheld package and the end result is the game that players everywhere imagined when the Vita was first announced. To put it bluntly, Sony has finally killed it.

Killzone: Mercenary is available now in both retail and digital versions.

Killzone: Mercenary was reviewed on PS Vita via a code provided by Sony Computer Entertainment America for this review. It was released on September 10, 2013.

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Killzone: Mercenary Review: A Killshot

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