Review: Killzone Mercenary
Killzone: Mercenary comes from a growing line of respected first-person shooters across PS2 and PS3. Killzone Liberation came out on PSP, not in an attempt to bring a console quality first-person shooter to a handheld, but to bring just the Killzone experience to the somewhat limited hardware – one analog stick. The Vita is the first handheld that has been marketed as having current gen visuals and a unique combination of controls most gamers are already familiar with; physical buttons, touch, and motion. So does Killzone: Mercenary quell the desires of gamers waiting several hardware generations for a true first-person shooter on a handheld?
Yes, by leaps and bounds. We’ve finally been gifted the FPS we’ve all been waiting for. But not without its shortcomings of course. I think Killzone: Mercenary succeeds while simultaneously incorporating the gimmicks of a touch screen device without being over the top. Killzone: Mercenary’s physical controls met my expectations with flying colors, it really does feel like a natural FPS experience on the Vita. Especially when I juiced up the turning speed.
Every touch screen HUD icon is also mapped as a physical button: d-pad left to deploy Van-Guard, right to switch between primary and secondary weapons, down to instantly throw a grenade, up to see next nav point. Press the triangle button instead of the screen to instigate a melee kill, but the actual swiping kill motion must be done on the touch. This has been done before in games and I personally have no problems with it as long as I am the one in control. I chose to CQC a bad guy, and therefore chose to touch the screen. I could just shoot the guy in the face and be done with it. The hacking minigame is a simple shape matching game that also requires the front touch screen. Touch the shape configurations around the edge of the screen to match the puzzle pieces in the middle until all are eliminated.
I felt nothing more satisfying than realizing between fits of killing the Helghan or ISA, I am after all a mercenary who is paid to kill, that I’m playing a Killzone game on my Vita. This feeling is the most prized feeling I’ve taken away from the past two weeks I’ve been playing Killzone: Mercenary, and I don’t want it to end. The most recently released patch to improve online stability for the multiplayer mode brought the version number to v1.01 and the digital file size to more than 4200MB. The digital download was already around 3.3GB which explains how they “crammed” all those shiny things and high resolution textures into the game. This will be a very big issue for any Vita owners out there with small memory cards.
Killzone: Mercenary was built on the same engine used on the PS3 and it performs extremely well on Vita. Frame rate is consistent and smooth throughout the single player campaign, with only a single jarring stutter foreshadowing the onset of an enemy encounter and immediately after I had killed the final bad guy from that skirmish. You play as a mercenary named Arran Danner who will kill anyone for the right paycheck. Throughout the campaign, everything earns him money. And at first, the money is the most important thing in the game. Earn as much money as quickly as possible. With the money you can visit your arms dealer who goes by the name BlackJack. He’s a mysterious dude who’ll sell you all your weapons, armor, and Van-Guards. This is priority #1, because this armory is shared between the campaign and the online multiplayer modes.
Therein lies the first bad note in Killzone: Mercenary. After beating the single player first in easy, then in hard, finally finding all the intel, I had collected more than enough money to buy all the weapons in the entire game. Trophy! But now what do I do with the rest of the money, or the money I’ll be earning while playing the campaign at least three more times thanks to the added contracts layer (which I’ll explain in a minute) or multiplayer mode? The answer is nothing. It now becomes a stat. In multiplayer mode, the online leaderboards actually advertise how much money you’ve earned playing online.
The campaign offers an experience filled with epic moments. The first level alone is a sight to behold, filled with incredibly detailed environments that stretch across the distance of a large city filled with skyscrapers. It starts off casually in one building when things gets messy all of a sudden. The game teaches you all the ways you’ll play using your Vita seamlessly throughout the level. Here’s how to knife a guy, here’s how to sneak, here’s how to shoot.
Spoiler Alert: This gallery contains screenshots taken during the entire single player campaign.
My hand was virtually held up until the first jump, when both protagonists lept out of the building and suddenly took flight using wingsuits. In a way only Killzone could, they soared across a vast battlefield of decrepit buildings and finally landed inside another one, miles from the first without a single hiccup to load. This experience is repeated at least two more times with similarly epic scale and proportion. Nowhere during the campaign does it load. Only during the mission briefing. That is epic.
Once the campaign is completed the first time, it unlocks three difficulties including Hard. The menus are remarkably intuitive and it’s extremely easy to figure out which pieces of Intel you still need to find. Six pieces of Intel are hidden throughout each of the nine missions either by a hacking terminal or by interrogating an officer indicated on your map by a funky looking arrow with a line. Some of these officers are hidden, some are patrolling with their men in plain sight, one has even locked himself in a glass chamber and won’t come out unless you smoke him out. Trial and error will get you the tougher ones without getting killed or killing them in the process.
The trick to interrogating is to come from behind and tap the screen or triangle button to interrogate. When he turns around, the icon will change to Knife and I’d have to suicide to restart from the last checkpoint. Another trick to going in guns blazing is to use the M2 nonlethal dart gun on him and kill everyone else before the dart wears off. He can be interrogated as long as he’s on the ground. Again, the darts do wear off so long winded shootouts will lead to him getting back to his feet.
Pro Tip: You can use almost any medium to low damage round to bring an officer to the ground for interrogation by shooting him in the foot a few times.
Aside from cash and Intel, there are also Valor cards to collect. They also act as a measure of your ability to earn cash in both single and multiplayer modes. At boot up, the game will assess this and either upgrade or downgrade your Valor card accordingly. Valor cards are comprised of a traditional deck of cards, where a 2 is the lowest card and Ace is the highest. Additionally, the suit represents the current weapon class most used. Here’s another problem with Killzone: Mercenary, there are only four classes of weapons! Diamonds are for SMGs, Spades for sniper rifles, Clubs for assault and LMGs, and finally Hearts for the secondary weapons.
Speaking of weapons, I found a strong desire for more choice. I am always able to find that one killer weapon that just works for me, but the closest I’ve found has a small clip. With no way to upgrade this clip, I felt a bit short changed. Overall, the weapons are kind of meh. But taken online, these meh weapons even the playing field considerably and force everyone to bring their A-game. The Van-Guard weapons are available only from BlackJack, your arms dealer, and they are the bees knees. From the bullet shield, to the invisibility cloak, to the electric shock, and the ultimate for open air maps — the Sky Fury. All of which can be shot out of the sky at any point.
Collecting every piece of Intel throughout the campaign will fill in your first full deck of cards as it did mine. Going online will start a second deck where collecting Valor cards and fulfilling complete decks because yet again another stat. Playing single player was where a lot of focus was placed in the development of Killzone: Mercenary. The multiplayer modes aren’t nearly as deep as the campaign, but the design of it is solid enough to pass as a full blown online multiplayer game. Before going there, what about those alternative mission contracts?
To further the campaign’s replayability, Guerrilla Cambridge added three additional layers to every campaign mission that pay out a little more money than in the Primary contract. They can be played individually in any order within the Select Contract menu from the Main Menu. The Precision contract adds mandatory sub-objectives such as a predetermined number of headshots with particular weapons or rescuing all the hostages. Precision requires a full understanding of the entire map of every mission, very elitist stuff. This is the hardest mode in the game as it sometimes requires that you complete an entire mission within 15 to 25 minutes.
The Covert contract adds mandatory sub-objectives to each mission that require stealth. Things like using a particular silenced weapon to kill 50 enemies, using smoke or other nonlethal equipment, knife kills and getting the Stealth bonus by not alerting enemies to your presence. Last but not least, the Demolition contract can actually alter what’s intractable in the missions. What looked like an innocence prop computer in all other contracts is now an objective that must be destroyed via planting bombs using the touch screen. Demolition will also require you avoid innocent casualties in a mission or two.
One last reason to play the offline campaign before going online is to unlock all five online-only custom loadout slots. This just means you can save up to five different loadouts and switch between them between respawns or at the start of an online match. I earned considerably more money playing through the campaign for 10 hours than I did playing online for 10 hours. This may depend on level of skill of course.
The meat and potatoes of online multiplayer in Killzone: Mercenary are the three different modes of play: Mercenary Warfare, Guerrilla Warfare, and Warzone. These are fancy ways of saying Free-for-all Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch, but Warzone is something special. It is collection of five mini-modes in one game. They do not randomize so it is possible to become very good at scoring lots of points simply by running to each Van-Guard capsule drop. In multiplayer, these Van-Guard capsules give the hacking player an instantly charged Van-Guard weapon, where at the start of the match everyone’s Van-Guards are slowly charging up for each use. The Van-Guards are great for getting a few cheap kills and annoying if you are frequently the victim.
The Mercenary Warfare (deathmatch) and Guerrilla Warfare (team deathmatch) should need no explanations. If you’re familiar with shooters, you know what they are. Warzone will cycle through five phases before awarding the winning team to the team with the most points. Bounty Hunter has everyone collecting Valor cards from the enemies you’ve killed. In the Hacker phase, Van-Guard capsules will fall from the sky two at a time. Hack them using the hacking minigame on the touch screen to earn points for your team. Interrogator asks players to incapacitated enemies and interrogate them. The fourth phase returns to Hacker and the fifth ends it all with a round of Body Count, aka team deathmatch.
Killzone: Mercenary has some great audio. I enjoyed it more than most probably will because I played most of my sessions using the Sony Pulse Elite headphones. Weapon sounds are unique from one another, enemy voices are heard clearly at an appropriate distance, bullet casings ping when they hit the ground, water splashes when walked through, and explosions are properly epic. Online, hearing an enemies footsteps nearby is extremely useful.
The music is very gratifying and sets the stage for the many epic single player battles. It’s the voice overs I enjoyed most, that’s fairly uncommon. From the enemy voices that add depth to the game to the helpful voice of BlackJack the arms dealer, to the hostage voices calling for help from the wrong side of a locked door. All this immersive audio is what delivers a more familiar console experience on the Vita. The question is will you stop to smell the roses?
Killzone: Mercenary is easily a 5-star game for the gameplay alone, but the lack of weapon and character customization hurts it bad. People have this impression that all their PS3 games should also be on Vita 1:1 with nothing missing. That is a lofty expectation and one best saved for when PS4 is released with Remote Play. Mercenary exceeded my expectations with a casual 5-hour base campaign that I actually enjoyed playing through multiple times to collect stuff and rank up quicker and an extremely satisfying and diverse melee kill — finally!
The online modes are there, and they perform just as well as the console Killzone games have minus the long legs that customization offers. There may only be three online modes available to play both publicly and privately with friends, but they deliver the multiplayer experience I think people want on a handheld. It’s completely clear to me that Mercenary didn’t make the same mistakes Resistance made with Burning Skies. Killzone: Mercenary will satisfy any first-person shooter fan with a challenging single player and simple multiplayer that gets to the point, killing fools online.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. For more info on our review policy click here. The PlayStation Vita version of the game was used for this review.
What I Like:
- Great FPS controls reminiscent of previous Killzone games
- Slide move!
- Unified weapons armory for single and multiplayer modes
- AAA graphics and effects on Vita
- Lots of reasons to replay campaign
- People actually playing online
- Tons of trophies
- Touch melee kills break the flow in a good way
- Finding hidden Intel and collecting Valor cards
- KZM is the only game I want to play on Vita right now
What I Dislike:
- Once all weapons are obtained, no more use for money
- Campaign playthrough is short initially
- No weapon, character, or online game customization of any kind
- Not enough weapons
- Very large digital download file size
- KZM is draining my battery faster than most games