Can Guerilla Cambridge finally give the Vita the blockbuster shooter it sorely deserves, or have they hired the wrong man for the job? Read these words and we'll tell you in our Killzone: Mercenary review.
Published on Sep 3, 2013
First-person shooters get away with a lot. Give them a gun and they'll be putty in your hands, and everything else is irrelevant, or so they say. Okay, that's probably not entirely fair on the Killzone legacy.
They've been a consistent bastion of gratifying combat, with a uniquely chubby twist but only on home consoles. Liberation translated relatively well to the PSP, it tinkered with the formula with isometric third-person, suggesting that the hand-held may not be suited to the first-person shooters.
Notable big-budget spin-offs have only compounded this notion, Resistance: Burning Skies and Black Ops: Declassified were monumental failures, but this wasn't a case of good games shoe-horned into a under-sized format.
They were rubbish in their own right, and rather than an indictment on the Vita, and a curious self-fulfilling prophecy by where publishers didn't seem to take it seriously, consequently the games were half-baked, setting the bar of expectation incredibly low.
Killzone: Mercenary - Stark Creativity Or Flair
Killzone: Mercenary is a game whose only ambition is handheld compotency, seeking pleasurable function above all, with a stark lack of creativity or flair.
Our protagonist is one catastrophically named Arran Danner, the video gameiest fictional name and strong contender for the worst one ever devised. He's silent, sleeve-tattooed cipher characterised entirely through forgotten Mitchell brother and slack-jawed idiot Anders Benoit.
To call them characters would be disingenuous, when they're little more than paper plates on sticks. Killzone has never had much purchase in the character world, but here not a single is even remotely likeable.
Benoit, a comrade in arms of sorts, continually gargles out the same asinine faux-grizzled drawl, belching out words like they they're not worth thinking about, "grab that ammo, shit cost money, right?"
The dialogue is almost universally charmless, turning cutscenes an arduous minigame exercise in skipping as soon as the next mission has loaded, with hands over your ears to avoid Benoit's stupid, stupid voice.
Killzone: Mercenary - A Trip To The Land Of Abject Mediocrity
As if that wasn't the enough, the journey Danner and his dribbling mates is a by-the-numbers trip to the land of abject mediocrity.
Every plot point and supposed twist is signposted by a hundred aircraft marshals, the first mission even ends with a Fight Club-inspired moment where Admiral Gray is shot through the head and doesn't die. Friends become enemies, enemies become friends and the entire plot is tepid, hollow and dull.
It's almost entirely devoid of ambition, typified by the limp attempt at stringing missions into something cohesive, but that's not to say Mercenary is beyond redemption. Lots of time and craft has been sifted into the single-player, with an impressive array of lighting, animations and polish that puts many home console games to shame, but somehow this only frustrates further.
It matches previous Killzones in levels of bombast and grandeur, but has a habit of yanking control from the player at moments where free-reign should be key. At one point Danner takes out two guards then runs straight through a window in a 100-floor building, opening a wingsuit and gliding through Vektan carnage with delectable detail, but it's all automated. This spectacular set piece, within an action game, isn't yours to control, taking away from the spectacle and ultimately cheats the player.
New additions to the first-person formula are Valour cards, playing cards awarded at the end of missions and based on general play ability, but are only meaningless collectibles by another name.
Not to mention the excitingly stylised VAN-guard systems, sparkly special items which allow you to call in drone strikes with names like Sky Fury, or shoulder-mounted Porcupine missiles.
They're expensive and obscenely over-powered, quite deliberately, and devilishly fun, but it's less mercenary and more absurd super-soldier. Of course, they're almost exclusively touch-controlled and it wouldn't be a Vita game without crow-barring in at least three separate uses for the damned thing.
Killzone: Mercenary - Swipe For Melee Kills
The melee is amusingly perverse, upon flicking your knife time itself stands still and depending on which animation you've triggered, performing the appropriate quick-time-swipe results in a successfully barbarous takedown.
It now takes slightly more planning, and introduces a timed skill element, simultaneously making each kill feel dutifully earned. Not so satisfying are the puzzles and mine-placement, both monotonous, gimmicky, and just as much fun as the similar Sixaxis controls in Killzones 2 and 3 that will definitely be missed by everyone.
Being a Mercenary, as Benoit repeats like a drunken St. Bernard, is all about the money, so kills award whatever currency they use on Helghan, presumably some sort of cockney pound.
Money goes towards weapons which Danner can buy from weapon lockers owned and operated by BlackJack, professional bad Chekov impersonator and Killzone's attempt at an enigmatic figure of grey morality. He's not, obviously, but not having a face makes him slightly less tedious than anybody else. BlackJack allows for a reasonable degree of loadout customisation, with single-player unlocks transferring to multiplayer as-is.
But the question Killzone: Mercenary asks isn't about plot or characters, the glowing red weak spots of the Killzone series, but whether shooting people in the face with a big gun can be fun on the Vita, and at times it is, but these times aren't nearly enough to really engage and entertain.
Watching bodies twist and jerk as bullets riddle them like acne is a sight to behold, especially when enemy AI is fairly competent, aggressively moving to flank given half a chance.
Moving through the battlefield is like swimming through angel delight, in typical Killzone fashion. The hefty sluggishness that so typifies the series, in contrast to other ecstasy-fueled shooters, and the Vita captures this movement perfectly, perhaps its deft little sticks working even better than its Dualshock brother, at least for slower-paced gunnery.
Strafing and peeking over cover is constantly attractive, and merely trudging from A-to-B is a pleasure. Yet missions invariably flutter between shooting guys to get to a computer, hacking into military-grade encryptions with a touchpad mini-game and waiting for a bar to fill up without dying. Even over a meagre nine missions this becomes tiresome and irritating.
We tried the multiplayer, and when it worked, which wasn't very often, it felt competent but lacking the spit-shine veneer of the single-player.
Its maps consist of six thorough re-workings of existing missions, several of which play out through multiple stories, but more than a hand fulof bugs and iffy matchmaking doesn't bode well for any real longevity.
Killzone: Mercenary - Best Shooter On Vita But…
At its most basic, shooting guys in the face in Killzone: Mercenary can be enjoyable but never gives the player any credit in any other facet of the game. Not to mention a repetitive, uninspired mission structure and pocketfuls of missed opportunities, the campaign length coming in at just under four hours.
Instances like the VAN-guard are kicking and screaming for a less po-faced Killzone, especially for a 'spin-off' game which isn't integral to canon. Gruff mercs cursing like Bulletstorm dockers and quipping like Bond with such over-the-top weaponry would've been a delightful, but instead the non-shooting parts are just shallow, lumpy slop. It looks a treat, with a fidelity and sharpness that could easily be mistaken for an early PlayStation 3 game.
Killzone: Mercenary is probably the best shooter on the Vita, that really isn't saying much.
Version Tested: PS Vita
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5.5 / 10
Guerilla Cambridge has made a desperately safe shooter, wrung dry of any creative juices.