Guerrilla Cambridge's Killzone: Mercenary is a console-sized first-person shooter specially outfitted for the PlayStation Vita. While it's not the first Killzone game to show up on a handheld console, does Mercenary make its mark as one of the best titles to keep on your shelf? Or does it really live up to its name by taking your money and disappearing into the "trade-in bin" when the job's done?
Killzone: Mercenary puts you in the gun-for-hire shoes of a merc named Arran Danner (it's fun to say his name five times fast). If you've played Killzone games before, then you'll know that they involve the seemingly endless conflict between two factions called the ISA and the Helghast. As a soldier of fortune, you're loyal to only one thing: money. With that said, you'll find that Danner goes where the money is and will fight for both the ISA and the Helghast during the course of his nine-mission adventure. Ideologies and beliefs get pushed to the wayside when you're fighting for some cold, hard cash.
The missions themselves are relatively short and can take an average of about 40 minutes to complete, depending on how you tackle them. As a merc, you're free to take on whatever approach you like as long as you can complete the objectives. Do you want to go loud and rush into every encounter with your guns firing off like a bunch of typewriters? Or maybe you'd rather sneak around with silenced weapons, taking out security cameras and assassinating foes from behind with a knife? The choice is yours, but all of your actions have the same results: money.
Every action you take in the game awards you with a varying amount of money. Kill a guy? Get paid. Kill a guy with a headshot? Get paid some more. Restock your ammo by taking a dead guy's clips? Have some more cash! Just about everything you do in the game awards you with more money in the bank. And as a mercenary, the cashflow is a much-welcome perk. The best part is that the better you perform an action, the more money you'll receive.
For example, you can simply shoot five rounds into an enemy's chest and receive the cash reward for the kill. But, if you want more money, a headshot will get you a bonus. A knife kill from the front will get you a fair amount of cash as well, but not as much as a silent kill from behind, resulting in an Assassination bonus. Your performance in battle really affects your payoff, so it's imperative to play smart if you want to rack up the ducats.
Of course, your performance is only as good as the controls you're given. And, thankfully, Killzone: Mercenary's controls are pretty tight. Being on the Vita, you'd expect for there to be a lot of touchscreen and even rear touchpad use. I'm glad to report that all of the controls, from both the face buttons and touchscreens, work together well to create a very fun first-person shooter experience on a handheld console, though there is a slight learning curve.
While running, sprinting and contextual buttons are important, the meat of Killzone: Mercenary's controls have to lie in the shooting mechanics. After all, you can't have a great FPS with crappy controls that keep you from shooting well. You use the L button to aim down the sights of your weapon, the Right Analog Stick to aim and then the R button to fire. If you want a different experience, you can turn the motion controls on and then physically move your Vita around to aim. As with any FPS, your success and the smoothness of your shooting experience depends on your comfortability with the aiming speed and sensitivity. It might take quite a few tries and a lot of tweaking, but you'll eventually find your sweet spot and be able to make it rain headshots in no time.
Once you're done becoming a master sharpshooter with a good grasp on how all of the weapons and equipment work, you can tackle all of the missions again, but this time with different parameters. While the main missions can be beaten quickly, you can play them again under different contracts, with the following designations: Precision, Covert and Demolition. You'll replay the entire mission again, but with different mission objectives and sometimes with required loadouts. So while you may have beaten a mission before by going loud and lighting up everyone in the building with your boomstick, you might have to tackle the Covert contract by killing a set amount of enemies with a silenced weapon, sneaking around undetected and then using smoke grenades to flush out a target instead of blowing him up. The different scenarios all offer great replay value for the single-player campaign.
If you're done with the single-player and need something to do, why not traipse on down to the multiplayer mode and take on your friends, as well as complete strangers, for more money? There are three modes to choose from: Mercenary Warfare, Guerrilla Warfare and Warzone. Mercenary Warfare pits all players in an every-man-for-himself styled deathmatch. If you've ever played a Killzone game, then you know how crazy and intense a multiplayer match can get. Guerrilla Warfare is your basic team deathmatch mode that features two teams duking it out. And then Warzone is a team-based mode in which several objectives are laid out for both teams to complete. You'll find yourself coming back for more multiplayer goodness because of how fun each mode is, though there aren't many options to choose from.
One cool feature, however, is the Valor Card, which gives you a card with a suit and a number that represents your skill with a particular weapon. You'll want to see whether or not you rank up or down daily, giving you a reason to want to get better. And it's totally possibly to change suits depending on how well you do with a different weapon. It's an addictive feature that will keep you coming back.
For all intents and purposes, Killzone: Mercenary is the first FPS to really feel like a console-quality game on a handheld device. The graphics are superb, the gameplay is deep and rich, and there's plenty here to keep you playing for a good while. The controls may take some getting used to, and the single-player campaign is woefully short with a narrative that's not all that interesting, but you'll want to explore every contract and try to beef up your skills regardless.
If you've been waiting for the FPS to really make it onto handheld consoles, then Killzone: Mercenary has arrived.
This review was based on a digital copy of Killzone: Mercenary for PlayStation Vita that was purchased for review.