Killzone: Mercenary Review

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Title: Killzone Mercenary
Developer: Cambridge, Sony Computer Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Game Type: Vita
Download: 3.5 GB
NA Availability: 
Digital Download | Retail

EU Availability: Digital Download | Retail
PSTV Support: Yes

Shooting games are something that aren’t really that common in the handheld world.  Nintendo fans rarely have anything at their disposal with the horror-themed game, Resident Evil Revelations and the lackluster shooting game, Iron Fall: Invasion.  The PS Vita has more, but I wouldn’t call it a highly-praised genre.  Most of the Vita’s shooters are criticized very heavily, from the frame drops in Borderlands 2 to the graphical likeness between Call of Duty and Resistance.

There are some gems on the Vita, though.  One game with shooting elements that is highly praised in Uncharted: Golden Abyss.  This does have a ton of shooting elements, but it’s not a full-blown shooting game.  For that, we look to a different franchise, but still one that started on consoles which got a PS Vita excusive game.  That franchise is Killzone.

Killzone has been around since the age of the PlayStation 2 and has gotten half a dozen games in its time.  It’s gotten some handheld outings there, too.  The PSP got a top-down shooting game in the Killzone franchise known as Killzone: Liberation.  That’s something I may yet do a retro review for.  However, that’s not what we’re talking about today.  Today, we’re going to talk about one of the most highly-praised first party games on the Vita.  Here’s my review of Killzone: Mercenary!

Story

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The story of Mercenary doesn’t have a specific timeline.  It follows the jobs of a mercenary across many different time-frames.  As this Mercenary, you will see and participate in various events across the timelines of Killzone 2, Killzone 3 and Killzone: Liberation.  Specifically, you see events that happen on the planets Vektor and Helghan, centered around a plot for both sides to create a deadly bio-weapon to be used in their war.

The unique aspect of Mercenary’s story isn’t the overall plot itself, but what it shows.  Being a Mercenary is unique in that you don’t have specific sides you always fight on.  Throughout the storyline, you’ll see events from both the ISA perspective and the Helghast perspective.  Combining this with the backstory intel you receive, the story is quite entertaining and interesting, both for the Killzone newcomer and the Killzone veteran.

Gameplay

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Killzone: Mercenary is a first-person shooting game.  There are no outward elements thrown into the mix, like RPG elements in single player.  It is pretty simple.  You go into a stage and take part in a shooting experience, much like Resistance: Burning Skies or Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified.  So, the only way to describe it is to call it a first-person shooter.

When you play through the game, you have Single Player and Multiplayer.  Single Player lets you tackle the story campaign, while Multiplayer lets you play online or use Botzone to play against AI opponents.  One thing to note, though, is that Botzone is paid DLC that you’ve got to get separate from the main game.

With single player’s campaign, you can play everything in order or you can pick and choose missions you’ve already cleared to play through again with all of the upgrades you’ve unlocked.  There are 9 total campaign missions, each with different venues, giving out a bit of variety for those that like re-doing the campaign or are on the go and don’t have access to Wi-Fi for multiplayer.

With multiplayer, you can go online and participate in various types of games, from Deathmatch to Mercenary Matches.  Getting into matches is pretty simple, too.  You can join random matches or join matches your friends have made.  Getting into these is pretty painless, too.  You join, pick your loadout and go at it with the other players.  The most I’ve waited to get into a match was maybe 5 seconds.

When you’re in a stage or match, you have an environment to traverse, be it running and climbing over debris or interacting with ladders and zip-lines to access new areas.  In each area you have objectives, from hacking terminals and destroying key areas with explosive charges to fighting off enemies and making it to an extraction point to leave the area.

Fighting is pretty standard with the shooting genre.  You have a primary weapon and a sub-weapon you can move back and forth between.  You also have equipment like grenades and special weapons called Vanguard systems.  These are big enhancements that really help you play.  Vanguards could be special missile launchers or energy shields to temporarily repel incoming bullets.  These can be bought from the shop, but are also given to you at certain areas of the story.

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As you fight enemies, you have various points to aim at.  Normal troops can easily be taken down with a well-placed headshot.  However, if you miss and hit an arm or leg, they’ll become injured and bleed out until they die.  You also have melee you can use.  If you’re close to an enemy, you can enter a special Brutal Melee animation where you use the touch screen or analog sticks to do a special melee kill.

There’s strategy in different types of troops and mini-bosses that are thrown at you.  Some enemies are armored and you have to shoot specific parts of their armor to take them down without wasting ammo.  Some have fuel cells that can be shot at, while others have to be shot to be disabled, and then moved towards to finish the job.

Upon defeating enemies, you are awarded currency.  You also get more currency by doing specialized kills, like brutal melee or headshots.  You can use this at the shop to purchase new weapons, equipment, armor, ammo refills, and Vanguard systems.  There are chests that connect to the shop littered around each stage, and sometimes there and usable in the middle of boss fights.

You’re also awarded currency upon completing missions.  You can then upload your stats and accomplishments to the online leaderboards.  Now, with 9 missions to go through and multiplayer, I would expect you to be spending at least 8-10 hours on the game.  Aside from lengthy missions, the game is also pretty difficult for a Vita shooter.  It’s more on par with console shooters.

Controls

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Controlling the game isn’t too hard, but you should note that it controls very different on the Vita and the PlayStation TV.  Cambridge has done a great job of utilizing the extra controller buttons.  On the PSTV, you use R2 to throw grenades instead of using the touch screen.  You can tap L3 to start dashing instead of tapping Circle.  Finally, you can use R3 to zoom instead of the rear touch pad.  Needless to say, the game feels very comfortable on the PSTV.

On the Vita you use the Left Analog to move and the Right Analog to move the camera.  The D-Pad is used for cycling menus as well as swapping out your current weapon with your other one.  L (L1 on PSTV) is used to aim, and R(R1 on PSTV) is used to fire.  The Square button can be used to re-load, Triangle is used to interact and do melee kills, and Circle is used for changing your stance or enabling you to dash while moving.

The touch screens are used pretty heavily.  The front touch screen is used for swapping weapons, equipping grenades, the menus, and swiping for melee attacks.  The rear touch screen is used for zooming in and out when you are aiming with a firearm that uses a scope.

Presentation

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This is definitely one of, if not the most technically impressive game the Vita has to offer.  Visually, the game looks like a PS3 game.  Technically, it also plays like a PS3 game.  Other than looking pretty, the physics engine is done wonderfully.  Shadows are accurate.  Weather and environment effects directly impact you.  It even went as far as a rain drop moving down your scope will distort your vision just like a real rain drop would.  It’s really impressive what Cambridge pulled off with this game.

Most of you are thinking that since it’s so technical, it will run badly, like most big Vita games do, and it doesn’t.  It runs really well.  Load times are all very short, the sound quality is really nice, and frame drops don’t happen very often.  FPS drops do happen, from time to time.  However, they aren’t severe unless you’re in a room with a flamethrower.  Once a flame-thrower is used, everything gets slower.  It by no means unplayable, but it’s noticeable.

Summary

Killzone: Mercenary is one of the most highly-praised games on the Vita, and for good reason.  Sparing some minor frame drops when certain weapons are being used, this is the best example of what a developer can really do on Sony’s handheld when they really put the effort in.  Even if you haven’t played the rest of the series any shooting fan with a Vita or PSTV needs this game. 

9/10

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