Killzone: Mercenary Review (PS Vita)

by Justin B. September 4, 2013 @ 12:12 am

Killzone: Mercenary Review

The PlayStation Vita has been off to a rough start since it was released back in 2011. The system had a strong start with entries from the Uncharted, Wipeout, and Lumines series but has since yet to see a true handheld masterpiece that has been exclusive to the PlayStation Vita. All of that is about to change with the release of Killzone: Mercenary on September 10th, 2013.

Killzone has garnered a high reputation throughout its many years on the PlayStation family of platforms, including the PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable, and the PlayStation 3. Since its debut on the PlayStation 2 in 2004 Killzone has been constantly evolving and improving over its predecessors. The PS Vita version however is being developed by Guerilla Games’s sister studio Guerilla Cambridge – formerly known as SCE Cambridge prior to restructuring in 2012.

Unlike Killzone: Liberation on the PlayStation Portable, Killzone: Mercenary is a fully-featured first-person shooter on the PlayStation Vita. Guerilla Games tailored Liberation to the limitations of the PSP but were able to go all-out with the PlayStation Vita. The Vita is one of the few handheld systems where you have a dual analog setup that allows for a true FPS experience.

Guerilla Cambridge has managed to utilize a perfect set of controls on the Vita – most actions are bound to the physical buttons. Zooming in with a sniper will require use of the rear touch panel, something that becomes second nature, and successfully interrogating enemies will require use of the front touch screen. You can switch weapons using the on-screen buttons as well.

You’ll be using most of the touch screen for the amazing user interface. Whoever designed the interface deserves a reward, it’s amazing. It’s just a pleasure to use, end of story.

Killzone: Mercenary takes place around the beginning of Killzone and ends some point in the Killzone 2 universe. You’re placed in the shoes of Arran Danner, a former UCA soldier-turned-mercenary.  The game starts with Danner on an ISA contract mission in which you are tasked with rescuing a valuable ISA leader from Helghast captivity. With each contract completed Danner gets a clearer portrait of those he works with and works for. The story was immersive but lacked any real emotional connection. Throughout the game you’ll witness greed, betrayal and death – all without blinking twice.

When it comes to the playing through the campaign Mercenary doesn’t waste your time with unnecessarily long cut scenes, scripted scenes or load times. Instead you’ll enjoy four hours of nearly non-stop gameplay from start to finish.  The only time you actually load anything is at the very start of the mission where you are also given a brief of the mission as well – no time is wasted.

With each mission there are often several ways of approaching your goal, often side paths that reward the player with additional intel to collect or just an opportunity to flank the enemy. These various pathways and approaches cater to different play styles as well, whether you choose to go the entire mission silently or go in with guns blazing. It was honestly refreshing to see choice in a first-person shooter once again.

Blackjack Armory

Whatever play style you choose, the game caters to it not only with the level design but also the utilization of the blackjack armories (the in-game store). Using Vetkan currency that you acquire throughout the game players are able to buy weapons, equipment, vanguards and armor. Using one of these armories will also force the game to save, a little tip that will certainly help throughout the game. With these armories scattered throughout the game players can instantly change their approach and equipment based on what lies ahead.

Vanguards, another interesting aspect of this game, offers players a unique ability to use while in battle. You can use a stealth drone to silently kill enemies, a shield to block incoming fire, an advanced radar system, a signal jammer and more. These systems are also carried over into multiplayer as kill streak rewards based on which one you have selected.

After successful completion of the game’s campaign players are encouraged to play-through the missions again, this time with new contracts – including covert, demolition and precision. Each of these contracts offers a different way to play the mission, whether it be a completely silent approach, a race against the clock, or just an all-out frontal assault. These contracts maintain some consistency between missions but each mission offers its own set of unique challenges.

Killzone Visual

Visually, Killzone: Mercenary is the most impressive title on the PlayStation Vita. It won’t take you long to discover that for yourself as the first level does an amazing job of showcasing the title’s visuals, especially the volumetric lighting. For the first few missions the game’s visuals really stand out, but after traveling to Helghan, a different tone is struck. Gone are the lush green plants and open spaces. Helghan’s dark environments are a sharp change from those on Vekta but nevertheless add a sense of urgency to the story. While I would’ve liked to have played more of the game on Vekta, the Helghan environments still surprised me at times with the attention to details.

Outside of the campaign, Killzone: Mercenary offers three fully competitive game modes – Mercenary Warfare (FFA), Guerilla Warfare (TDM), and Warzone. While three m ay not be a lot compared to what current console shooters offer, three is a good number for a portable system where the player base may be significantly smaller – causing less population fragmentation.

The one unique game mode that Killzone offers is Warzone, a mix of several game modes in one and was the subject of the public beta test last month. Warzone forces players to play differently every 5 minutes as a new objective is activated. One of the objectives requires players to pick up enemy’s valor cards once they die, similar to Kill Confirmed from Call of Duty. You’ll also have to hack vanguard capsules and kill enemies throughout this single game mode.

At time of playing the game for this review the MP servers were live but not populated by anyone. However I managed to get into a few private matches with another journalist. The maps themselves are relatively diverse and are a decent size for the 8-max player count. Similar to the single player missions, the multiplayer maps offer several different approaches and will surely provide for some interesting firefights.

Killzone has often been considered the Halo of the PlayStation universe, although never quite garnering the same immense community and support.  The previous titles in the series have consistently been improving over their predecessors and Guerilla’s first title on the Vita certainly shows their seasoned talent and commitment to delivering the definitive PS Vita title. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed playing through the game, having completed it roughly three times, and look forward to purchasing the game as soon as it becomes available.

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Abe Froeman says:

The game is gorgeous.

x3sphere says:

Great review :) Definitely the biggest reason to get a Vita right now. Playing an FPS that looks this good on a handheld is an amazing experience. Completely agree about the freedom of choice as well, it's something that's lacking in a lot of modern FPS these days. Glad they gave equal attention to gameplay and graphics.

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