Killzone: Mercenary falls into the same tropes as many other first person shooters before it, and ironically, this is the best part about it. The PlayStation Vita has been starving for a FPS that can deliver the basics of what people have come to expect of modern shooters. Because the PS Vita FPS scene is on such thin ice, it is obvious that Guerrilla Cambridge decided to hedge their bets rather than try to shake up the genre. That being said, they are the ones to finally deliver a competent portable FPS to the PS Vita that for better or for worse, successfully emulates the console shooter experience people have grown used to throughout the current generation.
The Killzone: Mercenary campaign makes a poor first impression. Many modern shooters have neglected their single player modes in order to allocate more resources into multiplayer, and after playing the first few missions its hard not to feel like Guerrilla Cambridge also decided to give its campaign the short shrift. As Arran Danner you are technically a mercenary, but he might as well as be wearing an ISA uniform. Early on there isn’t anything in the narrative or mission structure that stands out as being something unique to mercenaries. It’s the same old same old, planting bombs to blow stuff up because ISA top brass says so, while wiping out wave after wave of lifeless repetitive Helghast soldiers. The only difference this time is that you are getting paid for your work instead of being forced into action as a solider.
Except the cash element isn’t utilized nearly as much as it could have been. Every action such as killing an enemy or using stealth to avoid firefights earns cash bonuses that can be used to purchase new guns and equipment from the mysterious Blackjack chests scattered throughout each level. The way any given mission plays out is totally dependent on how players choose to equip themselves. This is a refreshing change from other shooters that have become extremely linear and hold players hands far too often. However, it was disappointing to find out that every mission regardless of its importance to the war and how much the player’s contractors talked up how big the cash pull was going to be, I still earned the same meager reward. Sure I was earning money and buying things but I still didn’t feel much like a mercenary.
Working With The Touchscreens
The PS Vita doesn’t have as many buttons as a traditional controller so that means some actions need to be delegated to the touchscreens. There are some features that do work quite well. Holding down the rear touchpad to sprint comes more naturally than you might think. Time slows down while swiping across the middle of the screen to melee, leading to tense back and forth in multiplayer. A notable annoyance is having to tap the screen to change weapons and equipment which takes your eyes off the action. All in all, even the more frustrating uses of the touchscreens are not game breaking and easy to overcome with enough practice.
A little more than half way through, the story finally takes an interesting turn and becomes something worth playing. For some, especially those itching to jump into multiplayer, the first half is so dull that they may never make it to the point where the Killzone: Mercenary story really shines. Money, greed, and betrayal become the focal point of the story (thankfully) overshadowing the run-of-the-mill war drama. It takes far too long, but eventually Killzone: Mercenary does live up to its name. Unfortunately just as things start to get good, the story is already moving into its conclusion and it isn’t long before the game is over. Over the course of the game’s story I went from declaring the campaign a lost cause to wanting more, a feeling that I haven’t felt from FPS campaign in a long time.
That feeling of wanting more can also be said of the game’s multiplayer mode. For those who dreamed of a quality competitive portable FPS after the PS Vita was revealed, their dreams are becoming a reality albeit with a few hitches. The touch screen controls will be the source of at least a few headaches and swear words. The game could really use an extra multiplayer mode or two. Right now there is only Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Warzone, the latter of which smashes a bunch of mostly uninteresting objectives together. Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch, while serviceable, grow stale after extensive play. Warzone is supposed to be the change of pace mode but the rounds take too long to complete and too often lead to players quitting halfway through. While Warzone might work for the larger battles in the console versions of Killzone, Guerrilla Cambridge should have designed a mode that plays better with the smaller scale quicker 4v4 battles in Killzone: Mercenary.
Killzone: Mercenary is a beautiful game that creates a solid foundation for a future sequel to improve upon. The story is slow paced, but ultimately worthwhile; while multiplayer is functional and fun but quite bare. It was a great idea to have the game revolve around money, and hopefully this is expanded on even further if there is a next time. As it currently stands though, Killzone: Mercenary is a worthy game that overcomes the stigma of touchscreen controls and should redeem the PS Vita in the eyes of the FPS community after the failures of Resistance and Call of Duty. It is a game that imitates what works from its console big brothers and does enough to also stand out on its own.