Before starting this review, I admittedly went into Killzone: Mercenary with a set of expectations. As the fifth game in the series, it’s certainly not hard to imagine what you’re getting into.
Bombed out urban environments? Check. Menacing looking and sounding Helghast? Check. Futuristic weapons that fire bullets and slightly resemble current firearms? Check. The list goes on and on.
And that’s not even considering the track record of shooters on Sony’s handheld, which range from the forgettable (Unit 13) to the downright atrocious (Call of Duty: Declassified).
So you can imagine my surprise when the Vita exclusive by Guerilla Cambridge proceeded to at least sway some of my preconceived notions.
In Killzone: Mercenary, players step into the boots of a fastidious mercenary from Phantom Talon Corp, Arran Danner, as he takes on a contract to extract a Vektan ambassador and his family from danger. Naturally, the operation goes sideways and a series of missions for the highest bidder brings the merc to a crossroads that could change the brutal war between the ISA and Helghast.
Right from the moment the game starts, its visuals serve as a reminder that not all Vita games are created equal. Huge set pieces and war torn vistas in Killzone: Mercenary rival those of even some PlayStation 3 titles.
Screenshots do not do this game justice, as you only get the full effect from watching it in motion.
Just like its predecessors, Killzone: Mercenary also excels in the audio department. Each weapon has a distinctive sound, while footsteps from enemies will believably echo through the environment.
While the sound effects add to the game’s immersion, the soundtrack unfortunately doesn’t quite live up to its pedigree this time around. Written by Ivor Novello award nominee Walter Christian Mair, the music didn’t manage to jump out and grab me like previous Killzone soundtracks.
Considering the game’s story, maybe it’s not all that surprising that the music was lacking gravitas.
Plot points throughout the game’s nine levels were so predictable that I was left rolling my eyes at the inevitable twists rather than being floored by their revelation. That being said, Killzone: Mercenary does manage to flesh out some of the complexities within the ISA/Helghast conflict.
In keeping with the mercenary motif, nearly every action in both the single and multiplayer modes earns the player currency in the form of “Valor.” This money is used to purchase the game’s various weapons from a shady arms dealer named BlackJack, allowing the player to customize their in-game loadout with any firearm. So long as they have the funds.
All in all, it took roughly 3.5 hours to complete the single player campaign on normal difficulty. While some may feel that might be too short, players can replay the missions and apply new challenges to those playthroughs in the form of “contracts,” which challenge the player to tackle objectives in a different way.
Like most titles on the Vita, some of the system’s features are utilized in Killzone: Mercenary. The touchscreen is used for nearly every function in the game from menu selection to switching weapons, though only actions like melee, hacking, interacting with levers and some of the game’s support items known as VAN-Guards actually require finger prompts.
Despite the somewhat middling experience of the single player campaign, the multiplayer action in Killzone: Mercenary is awesome.
There are three online playable modes: Mercenary Warfare, a free-for-all deathmatch mode; Guerilla Warfare, a team deathmatch mode; and Warzone, a team-based objectives match that features five missions that change fluidly through the course of a match.
Even with matches moving at a frenetic rate, I rarely witnessed any lag. That being said, I did experience some wonky situations in terms of melee against online opponents, given the fact that it requires very little reaction time for both players to frantically swipe in a direction on their screen. There were numerous times where I felt like I performed the action perfectly, yet still failed the action.
There were also times where the game spawned me literally right in front of the enemy, giving me zero time to react before being gunned down. Though this issue is not unique to Killzone: Mercenary, it’s still incredibly frustrating.
Obviously, your mileage may vary when it comes to online play.
In the end, Killzone: Mercenary is an extremely strong example of what the Vita is capable of. Not only does the game pull off some impressive technical feats, its multiplayer experience is on par with what the series has offered in the past on the PlayStation 3. Regardless of some of the game’s missteps in terms of the single player campaign, this is definitely a game that Vita owners should add to their collections.
(Editor’s note: A publisher’s copy of the game was provided for this review. Review copies are provided as a courtesy, and do not influence the opinions of Pixelitis.)