Killzone: Mercenary PreviewPlatforms: Sony PS Vita
The Vita is awash with first-person shooters, the system groaning under the weight of them all. Upon receiving the very first public specifications of the device developers have been beavering away designing masterpieces that take full advantage of the handheld’s two analogue sticks, thus empowering players to happily headshot one another over WiFi in home or out. This has all contributed to a wider renaissance of shooters, the future of the Vita secured with gunplay on the horizon for a long time to come.
*Checks notes, has a quick Google*
*Scratches beard, then strokes it thoughtfully*
Well, fine then. With only Resistance: Burning Skies and Call of Duty: Black Ops: Declassified (: Attack of the Colon?) so far you can either say that the Vita’s first-person shooter showing has been anaemic (if you are being nice) or just plain crap (if you shoot from the hip). For a genre that dominates the West on both consoles and PC it’s utterly shocking that simple cash-ins or even ports of older shooters haven’t been thrown at the device by publishers looking to exploit the Vita’s high attach rate. During this time there has been one ray of hope on the horizon, one Vita shooter to rule them all that handheld gamers have looked towards for potential salvation. Enter (partially) stage left: Killzone: Mercenary.
Boom! Dakka dakka dakka! Facestab! Killzone: Mercenary isn’t afraid to drop you right into the action (literally sometimes) with weighty combat that feels great on the Vita. Set after the first Killzone, Mercenary will see you visit certain key events from throughout the trilogy, although our preview build only gave us access to one (we assume) early level. Playing as Arran Danner, the titular mercenary, the preview level lands you on a rooftop after a fairly awesome cinematic and then leaves you to your own devices. And this is where you first encounter one of the coolest design features of Killzone: Mercenary – very often there isn’t a single ‘correct’ way of doing things. For instance, after landing in a room with a locked door at the start of the preview and being told to go find the lock switch to pull the eagle-eyed among you would notice a helpful pipe leading the other way, which you can then follow to enter the level super secretly. Smashing stuff.
This stealthy approach can continue into the level too, although it can be fairly hard to pull off while using default equipment. Melee kills are gloriously visceral, a button press followed by a touchscreen swipe which all leads to a knife in the head, or the groin, or some other kind of gruesome demise for the enemy concerned. Golden Abyss this certainly ain’t. On the other hand you are more than able to aggressively power your way through the level, using a combination of sprints, crouches and dakka to take out anything the AI can throw at you.
Talking about the dakka, the shooting feels fantastic in Killzone: Mercenary. The game makes excellent use of the Vita’s dual sticks and really begs the question of why the genre has been so underused until now. The added gyroscopic aiming really helps to put the finishing touch to lining up your sights, although if you’re playing somewhere where it is unfeasible for you to be rocking all over the place pure stick aiming is entirely sufficient on its own. Through the use of conveniently placed weapons lockers throughout the level you can change your loadout virtually on a whim, meaning you can quite easily begin a level with a couple of silenced weapons and some stealthy armour, and then swop out to a shotgun and more tanky armour.
These loadout changes don’t come for free however, and instead have to be purchased with credits. You’ll pick these up for pretty much anything you do in game, from picking up ammo from bodies to headshots. The preview level kept them coming at such a rate that you felt comfortable buying almost pretty much any weapon that you wanted to, although costs can rack up if you try to chop and change too much during the level.
All this and we haven’t even discussed how the game is looking at the moment. Shame on us. It is, in a word, exquisite. Native resolution and an almost perfectly smooth framerate (some small amounts of slow down were experienced when using an automatic weapon with lots of enemies on screen at the same time) will make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. In fact, Killzone: Mercenary is more than likely to replace Virtua Tennis as the game you show to fellow gamers in your attempts to convert them to Vitabro-ness. It really does feel and look like a full console shooter experience, and while we’ll need to wait and see how the rest of the single-player missions are structured before we conclude one way or another it does give the impression that this is a game that wouldn’t have been amiss on the PS3.
So then, with our first glance and playthrough of the preview level we’re happy to say that Killzone: Mercenary is looking like it could be a beast of a game. There are still questions around how the rest of the single player game will feel, along with actually checking how the multiplayer will pan out, but for now Killzone: Mercenary could well deliver a stunning blow for the Vita when September rolls along.