Recently, we got to play a special press only build of Killzone Mercenary’s single-player campaign. You’ll be happy to know that this Vita installment of the much loved Killzone franchise is not just a slap dash port. It’s a fully-fledged Killzone title with its own story, mechanics, and atmosphere. If it weren’t for the slightly uncomfortable controls and tiny screen, it would be easy to mistake this for a PS3 Killzone game.
So here’s the story. We have decided to take the fight to the Helghast’s front door, the planet Helghan. Who better to take on a dangerous job with an almost 99% certainty of death? Mercenaries, of course! Those crazy kooks will do anything for money. That’s exactly who you play in Killzone Mercenary, a soldier of fortune brought in to show those Helghast what for. The demo opens up with friendly battleships being shot down by Helghan arc cannons. It’s up to you do drop down onto the planet via a glider suit, find the control terminals for the arc cannons, hack them to take them offline, and then reunite with our forces when the battleships touch down.
Being a mercenary comes with a couple of perks, and by perks, we mean money. Everything you do over the course of the game earns you money. Killing an opponent earns some cash. Getting a headshot earns you even more cash. Managing to stealth kill an enemy gets you even more dollars. Then you get dollars for taking down turrets, completing objectives, murdering enemies with remote controlled robots, the whole shebang.
Scattered throughout the level, rather liberally I might add, are shop terminals that allow you to arm yourself to the teeth with the credits you earn from putting bullets through heads. This is probably the best integration of the Vita’s touch screen controls. The shop menu is laid out, basically like the PSN store menu. Weapons are spread out in a grid, with special sales posted up front and center. There are also quick buttons that let you refill your ammo and grenades. Less finicky players can just pick up a couple guns from the store frontpage and be on their way. Actually, the entire preview can be beaten with only the starting assault rifle and pistol. More discerning players, on the other hand, can browse through tons of menus containing weapons, attachments, and items, to bring their perfect loadout onto the battlefield.
It’s worth mentioning the controls of Killzone Mecenary. The basic controls are about what you would expect from any normal FPS. The R button shoots while the L button aims down the sights. Both analog sticks are used for aiming and movement, while the face buttons are used to jump, crouch, reload, and interact with the environment. You will be using the d-pad to switch weapons, throw grenades, and activate other cool pieces of tech like remote robots. The big problem lies in using the back touch pad to run. Unfortunately, the touch pad isn't accurate enough to be able to tell when you want to run and when you want to stop, and since this is a very fast paced fighter, you will frequently find yourself trudging through waves of enemy gunfire because you can’t tell your Vita to RUN YOU FOOL!
While the Vita is a sleek handheld, playing a AAA shooter on it does present some problems. Using both analog sticks all the time causes you to bend your thumbs back into an uncomfortable position. Needing to do this and fiddle with the R and L buttons, AND use your fingers on the back to tell your character when to run, usually results in you almost dropping your pricey Vita on the floor. The face buttons are unfortunately too small to be pressed quickly after taking your hand off the right thumb stick, and the same holds true for the d-pad. There’s also something about playing a shooter on a tiny screen that just causes a lot of strain. When I was done playing Killzone Mercenary for a few hours, my hands, neck, and back were all cramped.
There’s also one more peculiar piece of touch screen technology integrated into the game, and that comes in the form of quick time events. If your character needs to pull a switch, for example, the Vita will ask you to swipe down on the touch screen. If your character is going to choke another character out or melee them, you’ll have to do a series of swipes on the touch screen to do it. It’s an interesting concept but frankly it comes off as gimmicky and doesn’t really add much to the experience.
All control issues aside, Killzone Mercenary feels like a Killzone game. You’ll employ the same strategies that you employ in other Killzone titles. You’ll crouch behind cover to make it hard for enemies to hit you, popping up just to get the headshot that clears out the room. You’ll defend important hacking points as waves and waves of enemy soldiers throw themselves at you. It all feels like a AAA shooter, just bite sized. If that’s what you are looking for, then Killzone Mercenary is going to be the game for you when it releases September 10, 2013.