The Vita has been out long enough now for me to proclaim that I love that system. Its screen is gorgeous, and the amount of content coming to it lately has really invigorated my interest in it as a platform. That said, I wish Sony would stop trying to legitimize the machine by proving it can handle a solid FPS. Resistance failed to prove it, Call of Duty failed to prove it and now Killzone does little to enforce the idea that the Vita needs this genre to thrive. Mercenary is yet another disappointing attempt to bring the genre to this portable device.
The story behind Killzone has never grabbed me. The futuristic opera was always overshadowed by its annoying characters, and cookie cutter plots. Mercenary feels no different, and never gets a chance to. The campaign mode lasts a paltry four hours at best, and the dialogue continues the tradition of poorly written attempts at humor. Portable versions of consoles biggest shooters often feel stripped down, but Mercenary takes the cake. I never cared about a single character, and even with a big twist about midway through, I never once felt compelled to push forward.
As a first-person shooter on the Vita, Mercenary is hardly the worst attempt. What drags it down is that Guerilla Games’ series has always been known for its more realistic weapons and movement. A lot of the things that make Killzone unique are what hurt it here. The contextual cover becomes an issue early on as does the shooting. Being a slower, more methodical style, it never felt right. Combined with the tiny, and not as responsive analog sticks of the Vita, it took me far too long to get comfortable performing headshots, or aiming in general. I had to crank the sensitivity almost all the way up before it started to even feel somewhat manageable.
Then there was the touch stuff. Sprinting by tapping the rear touch is a horrible, horrible idea. Stop implementing it developers, please. I turned it off, which I was thankful was an option. The melee however, seems hopelessly tied to swiping the screen. Tap triangle to instigate, then a series of swipes that require far more efficiency and effort than I received in satisfaction. I stopped doing melee kills after the first level or two.
While the campaign is miniscule in size and interest, the multiplayer fares better, as is the story for most Killzone games. Traditional modes are here, but the real draw has always been Warzone. This randomizing event keeps players on their toes with cycling objectives that keep the action fresh and fun. Controls become less of an issue here as well thanks to the more run-and-gun mentality as compared to the campaign. I had a lot of fun diving into quick matches on-the-fly. This is the real reason to own Killzone Mercenary, I can only hope it holds up over time.
I did like that the developers opted to share upgrades and currency across both single and multiplayer. Cash is earned for performing feats such as headshots and killstreaks. These can be used to buy new weapons and other upgrades. I liked that the slogging I did through the campaign didn’t go to waste once I started in on the multiplayer. It is a cohesive system and it works. I rarely felt like things were unbalanced, but again, I am jumping in very early on, long before the dedicated players have time to build up and dominate.
Visually, things look great. I am constantly amazed at what the Vita can output on a graphics level. The trademark gritty realism shines through once again. Sure, there are some flat textures, but the solid frame rate and unique design make the world of Mercenary stand out. The voice acting doesn’t fare quite so well, with some truly poor deliveries and questionable writing. Thankfully the music and sound effects make up for the lack of presentation in the rest of the audio.
On the surface Killzone: Mercenary checks all the right boxes, with superb visuals and a robust online mode. Sadly the methodical controls and tacked-on campaign really drag down the experience. Then the issues with the hardware itself start to creep in and once again remind me that the Vita is not the best platform for the genre. Still Mercenary is the best example of it so far, and those clamoring for more Killzone will find a lot to enjoy in the multiplayer. Sony continues to fight for that must-have shooter on its portable playhouse.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.