|System: PS Vita|
|Dev: Guerrilla Cambridge|
|Release: September 10, 2013|
|Screen Resolution: 544p|
by Angelo M. D’Argenio
Killzone: Mercenary is promising to deliver a console-quality shooter experience on the PS Vita. After playing an exclusive preview build of the game’s campaign, we can honestly say that it delivers on its promise; the promise, however, might not be what we’re looking for in a handheld game.
So here is the scenario: Instead of waiting for the Helghast to come and invade us, we have decided to take the fight to Helghan… of course, we did that in Killzone 2 and 3 as well, but whatever. Unfortunately, Helghan has these awesome arc cannons that keep shooting down our cruisers and generally killing our men. It’s up to you to drop down onto the planet and shut the arc cannons off so our battleships can get through. It’s just another example of one soldier being the key to ending an intergalactic war.
The demo starts with a set piece, as if to show you that this isn’t just a chipped-down handheld port. You are dropped down onto planet Helghan via a glider suit, dodging between enemy fire as you go. When you finally put your feet on the floor, the game begins, and this is where the game starts to feel like a classic Killzone title.
The controls of the game are basically what you would expect. The right bumper fires, while the left bumper aims down your sights. The face buttons crouch, interact with your environment, reload, and jump, while the d-pad lets you switch weapons, throw grenades, use special rewards and reinforcements, and otherwise activate your secondary weapons and items. The most awkward control is the use of the back touch pad to run. Killzone: Mercenary is a fast-paced game, so you will want to be running a lot, but the back touch pad is just too inaccurate to allow you to start and stop a sprint at a moment’s notice.
As far as the actual programming of the game goes, Killzone: Mercenary is a very competent Killzone title. You’ll have to take advantage of cover to shield yourself from enemy fire, snipe enemies down from lookout towers, and sneak your way into enemy bases unseen in order to avoid sounding the alarm. The gameplay I was given was simple. It was usually just varieties of enter an area, kill the enemies, find a switch, and then proceed onward. All the missions and set pieces I have seen so far easily mimic scenarios in Killzones 1-3, and that’s a good thing. It makes the title feel familiar, like a worthy entry in the Killzone line.
The mini-map will be your best friend in Killzone: Mercenary, and it is very well done. You can easily see your targets, enemy positions, and an incredibly accurate lay of the land, more accurate than previous Killzone titles. You never get lost, which is a good thing; it gets a bit hard to get bearings when looking at the environment through the Vita’s small screen.
The game gets across the whole mercenary conceit by awarding you money for everything you do: complete a mission objective, get some money; headshot an enemy, get some money; stealth kill an enemy, get more money. In fact, the game rewards you with bigger wads of cash depending on how you play. Silently dispatch enemies without tripping alarms and you will get much more cash than if you ran into a room guns blazing. This cash can then be spent at shops that are generously scattered around each map; this allows you to upgrade your arsenal on the fly.
The biggest problem with Killzone: Mercenary doesn’t come from the programming but from the handheld itself. Movement is handled with the left analog stick, while aiming is handled with the right. While this is just fine for a big, beefy PS3 controller, the PS Vita sticks just don’t get the job done. They don’t give you enough control over your movement and aiming because they have so little distance to move. This causes you to frequently overshoot your opponents when correcting your aim, even when aiming down your sights. It also doesn’t help when you are trying to aim at multiple enemies all shooting at you at once.
There’s also a bit of a comfort problem when it comes to using the Vita with shooter controls. The whole time you’re playing, your thumbs are arched up to be placed on the analog sticks, and moving them back to press face buttons makes them arch even further in an uncomfortable manner. Meanwhile, the buttons aren’t nearly spread far enough apart to allow you to hit them with any amount of accuracy while still being speedy. Simply put, my hands were aching after a few solid hours of Killzone: Mercenary; my back and neck ached as well. There’s just something that doesn’t translate well when you put a fast-paced shooter like this on a portable platform, especially when the missions end up taking upwards of an hour or more to complete.
The real question is, did I have fun with Killzone: Mercenary? And despite all the discomfort, I have to say yes. The game is absolutely beautiful. You can barely tell the difference between this and the PS3 versions of Killzone, right down to the detail on the Helghasts’ masks. It may not really use the Vita’s portable nature well, but it certainly is a fun Killzone experience nonetheless.
Angelo M. D’Argenio
Date: July 24, 2013