While the PlayStation Vita was initially touted for its two analog sticks, it would be an understatement to call the first-person shooter offerings troubling. Two main offerings, Resistance: Burning Skies and Call of Duty: Black Ops – Declassified are absolutely representative of this; Resistance played like a mediocre shooter from 2001, Declassified was a lazy mess, and both games were developed by the same outsourced studio. Killzone: Mercenary is a cover-based shooter it can finally be proud of. Developed by an internal team (Guerrilla Cambridge), expectations were high and through my experience with the recently released PlayStation Plus beta of the title, I am pleased to say that the third time is indeed the charm.
The beta itself, offering a controlled showcase of the multiplayer experience, is exceptional mainly for the way it looks and plays. The guns have weight and feel powerful – artisanal creations that feel like the product of progress rather than a dated excuse for existing on handheld hardware. Likewise, the Vita touch controls are only brought to bear when useful instead of forcing it simply because the hardware supports the feature. You can double-tap the back touch screen or select grenades on the touch screen if you want, but you can also quick throw a grenade with the directional pad or run by lightly tapping the circle button. Most importantly however, the controls feel tight and exactly like a modern shooter is expected to. Oh, and the game looks almost as good as the PlayStation 3 games, so there’s that.
Are there concessions? Sure. Because the matches are limited to a maximum of 8 players, the maps are appropriately scaled to keep action tense without being suffocating (unlike one Declassified map where the famous Nuketown ostensibly became Nukehouse). Even though the map I played on wasn’t huge, it still featured some camping points, a spacious cave, and a decently-sized outdoor area with plenty of room for close and long ranged combat.
As for the stuff that makes this game unique, Killzone: Mercenary offers the perspective of having you be a Mercenary fighting on both sides of the Helghast-ISA conflict. Everything, from your leveling experience to the currency used to purchase customizations for your weapon loadout, is dictated by money. You can gather this by killing, but the more fun and effective means of gathering money is through gathering intelligence via interrogation or terminal hacking.
Interrogation is a dance of making sure your target is alive-but-incapacitated so you can get the job done, and terminal hacking is a brief-yet-fun easy puzzle sequence with geometric shapes. In addition to this, all players drop Valor Cards upon death that can grant a boosted payout in addition to the kill money (the type of card you specifically have is also determined daily based on your own performance). Taking the card increases your spoils, but going out in an open area to get that card could mean you are met with a bullet to the head if someone is smart enough to camp near the card and wait for you — adding a risk-reward aspect to the game.
I haven’t seen any of the nine single-player missions or the full extent of multiplayer, but the experience offered in the beta is enough to get me excited. The game feels great, plays great, looks great, and really makes me question the idea of only getting Tearaway this holiday season. The beta is available now on the Vita PlayStation Store for Plus users, and will be available publicly on August 27. And in case you were wondering, the full Killzone: Mercenary experience is available on September 10 in North America and September 4 in Europe.