Platforms: PS Vita
Developer: Guerilla Cambridge
The Vita's second thumbstick has been crying out for a truly great handheld first person shooter, but so far, even the biggest franchises have stuttered and choked. Resistance: Burning Skies ended up wasting its licence on a lacklustre tech demo, while the abominable Black Ops: Declassified was utterly awful in every conceivable way. Indeed, opening the box released swarms of biting insects and clouds of noxious gas that set off the office smoke alarm. I sometimes catch my Vita's analogue nubbin crying itself to sleep at night; alone and desperate for a game to keep it company.
Killzone: Mercenary wants to change all that.
This full fat shooter aims to deliver a triple-A quality FPS experience on Sony's handheld. Promising expansive levels, exhilarating combat, impressive visuals and a copious shedload of guns and gadgets to support multiple play styles, Vita fans have been getting excited about this ambitious franchise tie-in. Now that I've bloodied myself on its singleplayer campaign, I can report that their excitement is probably justified. Whether you want to blast through the Helghan hordes or stealthily thin their ranks, Killzone: Mercenary has you covered, and rewards you with plenty of hard-earned cash in the process.
Premise time. Mercenary is set during the ISA invasion of Helghan in Killzone 2, telling the story of a group of hardbitten guns-for-hire who support the offensive from the shadows. While the ISA pumps out propaganda to its brave soldiers, these cynical know the truth: that the invasion is a near-suicidal ground pound that simply can't succeed without some brutal black ops work behind the scenes. As Danner, one of the best , players enter a range of levels that tie into the Killzone canon, such as bringing down the Helghan air defence network to stop the invasion failing before it even begins.
After a visceral in-engine wingsuit flight through the Helghan planetary defence network, Danner finds himself in the middle of hostile territory. A heavily guarded Helghan complex stands between him and the all-important arc cannons, meaning that players need to decide how to best approach their objective. Brutal stealth takedowns, all-out assaults and stand-off sniper warfare are all perfectly viable, capped off with a pitched battle against menacing security drones and dropship-deployed infantry.
Combat feels dynamic and unpredictable, retaining the reassuring solidity and heft we're used to from the Killzone franchise. Once alerted, Helghast troopers attack from all angles, keen to flush you out of position with grenades or rush into shotgun range when possible. As such, you'll need to stay frosty and mobile, using the intuitive cover system that automatically peeks you over the top when you activate ironsights. Far from a watered-down handheld bastardisation, Mercenary feels every inch the triple-A shooter, delivering grenades, crouching, ironsights, stealth mechanics, cover and all the bells and whistles you'd expect from the genre. Plus it looks rather tasty to boot, even in its preview state.
Killzone: Mercenary feels every inch a Killzone game that just happens to be portable, but in many ways it goes beyond what we've yet seen from the franchise and adds even more features to the formula.
Everything you do rewards you with credits. You're a mercenary, after all. Kills, headshots, completed objections and even looting ammunition yields a little spending money, which can be redeemed in the Blackjack arms bazaar. This shady one-stop gun shop offers an inordinate range of primary we. Like silent running? Buy a silenced SMG, silent pistol and noise-cancelling armour. Love bringing the rain? Incendiary shotguns, rocket launchers and a heavy blast suit have you covered. Snipers have long-ranged options, grenadiers have a wealth of options to choose from, and pistol-loving gunslingers will be well away. Since
By far the most exciting gadget in your arsenal is the predatory Mantys Engine: a remotely-controlled hovering drone that's capable of free flight. Hopping into its camera from a first person perspective, you can use it to scout ahead and even stealthily slaughter Helghast patrols with its razor-sharp talons. Subsequent upgrades allow you to pimp out your suit with a shoulder-mounted rocket launcher, limited cloaking ability and other cool toys, allowing you to build your loadout around your particular playstyle.
Level design initially feels somewhat linear and railroaded, especially when you encounter a mandatory timed defence section (ugh!) but multiple playthroughs reveal pleasing hidden depths. As an example, assaulting a heavily-guarded barracks can be a matter of running and gunning from cover to cover, but careful exploration around the periphery yields ladders and pipes that let you access the roof. The unaware Helghast won't know what hit them when you silently snipe them through a skylight, or lob a grenade into the locker room. Cameras can be destroyed, evaded or totally ignored if you don't mind reinforcements turning up - hell, killing them means extra money in the bank. The first level gradually expands into a larger arena with numerous opportunities to flank or find higher ground, ensuring that repeat plays can be approached in different ways.
The Vita's touchscreen plays a relatively minor role, offering an well-placed weapon switch icon and context-sensitive buttons to press buttons or switches, most of which
Guerilla Cambridge haven't been totally unable to resist the allure of silly gimmicks, mind. Double-tapping the rear touchpad to sprint is as painfully awkward as it sounds, while melee attacks and even pulling levers forces you into a screen-swiping directional QTE. Sony are doubtlessly keen for their first party studios to make some use of the Vita's embarrassment of input methods, so at least this feels relatively restrained.
Killzone: Mercenary releases this September, and we have much to be excited about. If the singleplayer campaign can keep its momentum and offer genuine gameplay choice throughout, buoyed up by a solid multiplayer suite, this could well be one of the Vita's killer apps. Naturally we'll continue to bring you the latest over the coming months.
First-person screenshots are directly captured from the preview build, and completely unedited.