Killzone: Mercenary is the first truly capable FPS on the PlayStation Vita. It is a game that shows what this powerful and innovative handheld can do when the right developer truly commits to the platform. Developed by Gorilla Cambridge, Killzone: Mercenary had all the potential to be a system seller for the Vita, but despite being a strong title it just isn’t ambitious enough.
Set during the events of the first three games, the game has you take the role of a mercenary named Arran Danner who will do any job, be it for the ISA or Helghast, as long as the pay is good. Over the course of the game you have many contacts and teammates (most of whom play the part of a red-shirt from Star Trek lore) to help you out along the way. The story is by far the weakest part of the game, with plenty of clichés, overdone characters, and scenarios that just make you shake your head. Plus conveniently the missions for either faction tend to be the morally high ground, despite either group being labelled as ‘good’ or ‘evil.’ This is a true shame, as the concept of a mercenary playing both sides of the fence could have played out in an incredibly interesting way. There is a lot of wasted potential here and in typical Killzone fashion, the characters are very one dimensional and plain unlikable at times.
The mission structure is very static with no branching style of gameplay. You are assigned missions and go where you are told to get the job done. This is another missed opportunity, as I would have loved to see a mission list or side missions you could take for extra cash, but this is not the case. Speaking of cash, being a mercenary means you are in this for the money. Completing the missions themselves do not give a lion’s share of the rewards but instead come from killing the enemies, hacking consoles and completing objectives along the way. As you destroy cameras, kill enemies (headshots are worth more) and generally cause chaos, there is a visual indicator of the funds you get for the actions. This money can be used at the many (really, they’re everywhere) black market stations within the levels to buy new weapons, armor, and accessories. The range of guns is quite good and having the option to change your load-out and equip special grenades or Van-Guard devices (which offer advantages such as drones or electronic jamming) is quite cool and adds some strategy to your approach within the levels.
While the story may be weak, the controls and gameplay is where Killzone: Mercenary really shines. The dual thumbstick design and well-implemented touch screens give this game a near console level of control. After the disasters that were Resistance: Burning Skies and Call of Duty on the Vita, it is great to see such a well-crafted gameplay experience. The levels are often challenging, with multiple paths to the objectives and the option to melee or assassinate (if unseen) make the game as fun as it is challenging. There are a few quirks such as alert statuses that never seem to end or soldiers that are on alert when they shouldn’t even see you, but those issues are few and far between.
Killzone: Mercenary also features a robust multiplayer mode that is actually quite fun, but at a terrible cost to your memory card space. Guerilla has issued two patches since launch, each over 1GB in size, to stabilize and tweak multiplayer. With the high cost of Vita memory this is almost criminal, but it does give you a fantastic online experience, so the benefit balances the pain. The multiplayer is very similar to the CoD framework we all know and love, with deathmatch and objective modes. The Valor system that tracks your progress and rewards Valor cards adds a nice hook to keep you coming back.
The Killzone franchise has always been known for its graphic fidelity and Mercenary is no exception to this rule. Killzone: Mercenary is a stunning game on the Vita and features amazing animation, vistas, and special effects, all the while keeping the framerate fast and smooth. This is a real achievement on the Vita and further goes to show what the handheld can do in the right hands.
The Final Word
Killzone: Mercenary is a very capable game that could have been an all-time classic if it had taken some risk in its narrative, mission structure and flexibility. The gameplay is outstanding and the graphics are awe-inspiring at times. It is just a shame the core experience is more of the same with a different coat of paint. Killzone: Mercenary is still well worth playing, but is not the system-selling title that the Vita sorely needs.
Killzone: Mercenary is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Language, Partial Nudity.