War! Huuuuhhhh! What is it good for?
Well, it’s good business for Mercenaries, and black market weapons dealers. And without war, Killzone would probably just be a really big game of laser tag. Fortunately it’s not though. It’s actually a damn fine shooter franchise on the playstation. The latest offering from Guerilla is Killzone : Mercenary, already being hailed as the best FPS available on the Vita. Is it worthy of this accolade? Well, after spending possibly a few too many hours on it already, I’d agree with that.
I did my usual of playing the single player campaign before venturing into the realms of multiplayer only to have my arse handed to me. In this campaign, you play Danner, a hard bitten mercenary dumped into the midst of the Helghast / ISA war. The story kind of begins around the Helghast invasion of Vekta (the events of Killzone 1) and continues on through the original trilogy until you see the ill fated nuclear explosion in the distance. If you don’t know about the relevance of that detonation, then you need to go play Killzone. Since Danner is neither ISA nor Helghan, this campaign could have gone a bit last man standing on us and had you playing off faction against faction. Fortunately it doesn’t. It could so easily have just been a set of assassinations, demolitions, and kill as many enemy soldiers as possible missions. Fair enough, it sort of is, but it’s all done in one simple story that doesn’t just have you going from job to job like other games with a soldier for hire as the central character would do.
However, the campaign of Mercenaries is typical to most shooters these days, short. A mere 9 missions long, it took me about 5 hours to complete. But that’s ok, because you can go back and do them all over again in the contracts mode, with added conditions. With added conditions comes a higher pay cheque. And you’ll want the extra cash to buy all those lovely weapons that your favourite friendly neighbourhood arms dealer, Blackjack has to offer. There’s a new section to this armoury as well in the form of vanguard weapons like the Mantys drone, a not so nice little floating melee engine or the Carapace shield. You’ll earn money from every kill, every piece of Intel you acquire, even for doing sections of the game like some kind of stealthy ninja man. You’re a mercenary after all, it’s all about the money. A nice touch here is that every weapon you buy from Blackjack carries on over to the other play modes.
Like a tenuous radio DJ link, this brings me to the multiplayer. It still has Warzone and guerrilla warfare modes so familiar territory there. If however, you feel you don’t play well with others as a team, you’ve got Mercenary warfare mode where it really is all against all. Running around any of the 6 maps, you’ll need to keep your head on a swivel, not only a complete 360 around you but also looking up and down as there are plenty of vantage points that a crafty sniper can hit that sweet headshot. However, with the maps being so big and the small amount of players (8 at its maximum) you could find yourself spending valuable time just running around looking for someone to shoot. Which isn’t as fun as it could be. I’ve found so far that if I’m lacking in cannon fodder, best solution is to wait for a vanguard drop. Everyone should be swarming on it then, or in a crafty overlook position doing exactly the same thing. Warzone mode is the better for this as you have your various missions to achieve so it will bring about that all important enemy contact. One thing I felt was lacking though was a mode similar to Killzone 3’s Operations. These were just quick attack and defend missions played out over 3 possible stages on 3 possible maps. They were simple teamwork exercises that could possibly have worked well on Mercenaries’ multiplayer.
One thing I didn’t like was spawning right in front of an opponent and getting killed immediately. Not even a moment to get your bearings, just a quick bang to the head and you’re down again, looking at the boots of your killer for a few seconds. At least the spawn points are fairly random, otherwise I could see spawn camping being a real game killer.
Killzone : Mercenaries is stunning in its grim war torn look. I was a bit dubious when I first heard about it being on the Vita, I figured the screen would maybe be too small or everything would look cramped. I’m glad to say I was wrong though. It all feels like a large console game put into a handheld and it works. Another preconceived issue I had was the controls and again I was wrong there. You can still slide into cover or jump over it whilst chasing that one guy down, it’s all still there with pretty much the same control as the previous incarnations. My only gripe here is the O button tapped puts you into sprint mode and pressed has you crouch. In the heat of battle I found myself crouching in the middle of an open space when I wanted to sprint to cover. Brutal melee kills have been tweaked a bit though. Hit triangle, then swipe the screen in the direction it shows you and you’ll pull off the kill. At first I figured this was a bit clumsy but on further play it makes more sense. You can (somehow) pull off melee counters and successfully defend yourself as that ISA soldier tries to push his fingers through your glowing red eyes. It’s also helped Mercenaries to move away from the knife attackers in games like Call of duty. You know the ones. You’ve just emptied an entire clip into the guy’s general direction only to have him run at you like a maniacal berserker and stab you in the chest.
I’ve heard people suggest that Killzone : Mercenaries is the game to sell the Vita. While I wouldn’t necessarily agree with this, I would definitely say it’s a game all Vita owners should have. It would be grossly unfair to say it’s a good stop gap until the release of Shadowfall as in its own right it’s a damn good game that will easily satisfy your hunger for all things Helghast vs ISA in the meantime. It does make me wonder what we’re in store for when we get our mitts on Shadowfall, if Mercenaries is delivering the action like it has.