Review: Killzone: Mercenary (PSV)

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Title: Killzone: Mercenary
Format: Game Card / PlayStation Network Download (3 GB/+1.50 GB Patch – Total Installed Size: 4.3GB)
Release Date: September 10, 2013
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Developer: Guerrilla Games Cambridge
Original MSRP: $39.99
ESRB Rating: M
Killzone: Mercenary is exclusive to PlayStation Vita.
The PlayStation Network download version was used for this review.

Audio Review:
The audio review for this game is available on Episode 336 of the podcast.

As always, we here at PS Nation make sure that our reviews are spoiler-free. In Killzone: Mercenary, the story is tightly woven into the game, so all I’m going to tell you is that you are an ex-ISA soldier who has now become a mercenary, a gun-for-hire for jobs that the ISA deems too dangerous, or when something needs to get done that no one can know about. Let it be known though, that the story is fantastic from beginning to end. That is all.

Gameplay:
Killzone: Mercenary plays exactly as you’d expect, with tight controls and that weighty feeling you’ve become accustomed to. Many of the weapons from the past games make an appearance here, as does the ability to cook a grenade before you throw it, giving your enemy no time to evade being blown to bits. But Guerrilla Cambridge have taken things even further by adding some special weapons to help you infiltrate as deep as possible behind enemy lines. Between every mission, and even throughout them as well, you’ll be able to access a black market store run by “Blackjack” allowing you to re-supply and/or re-equip weapons and items you already own, and even buy new items that you may need. Everything is available from the start, but you’ll need to earn enough credits to actually buy anything.

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Luckily, credits are plentiful if you’re good enough, allowing you to earn bonus cash with silent melee’s or multiple kills using a single clip. You won’t make enough money in a playthrough of the campaign to buy everything, so be smart about your purchases. Additionally, touch controls have now been added to the mix, and fortunately for those that resist such a thing, only three functions are mandatory, as everything else can be mapped to buttons. The mandatory touch functions are simple though, swapping weapons and using your VAN-Guard weapons, such as the Porcupine or the Sky Fury, which can both be quite devastating.

The Porcupine is a shoulder-mounted missile launcher that holds 10 guided rockets, which are fired by touching an enemy that’s in a red circle on the screen. It’s an awesome weapon to have in the later firefights, and can really save your bacon when you’re heavily outnumbered. The Sky Fury allows you to view the battlefield from a drone above, and when you see an enemy, tap him to bring fury down from above. The VAN-Guard weapons are all limited-use and need to recharge before using them again, and some won’t work indoors. Strategies can vary depending on the player, but the addition of these feels really natural for the situation, and even though I’d forget that I had one, the farther into the campaign I got, the more I’d rely on them for the backup that wasn’t there (mercenaries usually like to work alone.)

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The biggest difference with Killzone being on the Vita though, is running. I’m so programmed to clicking the left stick to run that even now, I still forget that I can’t. To run, you can either tap Circle, which is also used to duck/go into cover, or you can double-tap and hold the rear touch panel. Both options work well, although using Circle can sometimes not work when you actually want to duck instead of run. Also, it can be used to slide into cover when you’re running, which I didn’t expect honestly. The result here is that I found myself playing at a slower place than I normally would in a Killzone game, but that doesn’t mean that I enjoyed it any less.

Shooting is great, and even from the hip, it feels right. Going down to the sights is accurate, and with the option of using motion controls (that work even better than they did in Uncharted: Golden Abyss) you’ve got no reason to miss your mark. Melee moves are as visceral as you’d expect, and the other use of touch controls that you can’t reassign. When you kick-off a melee (either by touching your enemy when close enough, or tapping Triangle) an on-screen prompt will tell you which direction to swipe. If you take too long, your enemy will counter and knock you back. As with everything else though, it never takes you out of the action.

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Probably the one design choice that will be brought up the most is the older-school method of making many of the battlegrounds more wave-based, as you hold enemies off while they pour in. It really didn’t bother me too much, and it doesn’t happen all the time, but it does happen enough to be noticed. Luckily, at higher difficulties, the enemy AI actually reacts well and adjusts accordingly to how you’re playing. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than others.

Visuals:
I’ll make this easy, this is the best looking game on the Vita, period. For comparison, I’d put this between Killzone 2 & 3, and all of the eye candy is here. Textures are clear and detailed, the framerate is smooth as butter, and the lighting is second to none on the Vita. Environments are pretty varied as well, and there’s no shrinking things down on this move to the portable PlayStation. In other words, Killzone: Mercenary is absolutely stunning. When I was stuck at the Denver airport while on my way to PAX, I showed the game to a few of my fellow travelers, and all seemed quite impressed with the game, especially when I started moving around the level.

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Audio:
The audio is exactly what you’d expect from a Killzone game. Everything is present, and with some nice headphones, you won’t ever know the difference to Mercenary’s big brothers. The voice acting is excellent, and there’s quite a lot of it. Explosions rock your headphones, and enemies screaming in anguish as you stick a knife in their throat is more satisfying than it probably should be.

Online/Multiplayer:
Finally, wait let me say that again, FINALLY the Vita gets a multiplayer FPS that’s worthy of playing. 3 modes are available for you to choose from. Mercenary Warfare is essentially Deathmatch, lasting for ten minutes per match. Guerrilla Warfare is Team Deathmatch, as you fight to reach 40 kills or the most kills in 10 minutes. Lastly, the Killzone classic Warzone, with 5 different modes all randomized during each session.

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You’ll start with three loadout slots available, with 2 more that can be unlocked as you reach higher ranks. The great thing is that whatever you earn in terms of credits, purchased weapons, and items are persistent across single and multiplayer. Not only does that make playing through the campaign mean even more, but everything you do helps you work toward increasing your rank.

There doesn’t seem to be voice chat in the game as a default (but remember, I’m playing against games writers, and they’re notoriously silent), but never fear because the Vita’s party system works wonderfully. Also, you’ll be able to setup a private session for some invite-only or friends-only battles. Online in Killzone: Mercenary allows for up to 8 players to fight it out, and at least so far, it runs without issue. Online is segregated by region though, so don’t expect to play your friends across the pond.

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*UPDATE* Concerning cross-region play. You will not be able to browse public lobbies in other regions, but if you are in a party with a host in another region, or see a friend from another region is in a game, you will be able to join that game. I just played a few rounds on servers in Europe, and it played very well.

Conclusion:
Vita owners have waited for a long time for a good FPS, ever since Activision and Sony got our hopes up with the Call of Duty announcement. Finally, we have not just a “passable” game though, Guerrilla instead brings us something so close to the full console FPS experience that you barely realize that you’re on a portable. The combination of a smaller screen along with not being able to click down on the left stick to run will result in you playing at a slightly slower pace, but that doesn’t take away from the enjoyment. The campaign is fully fleshed-out, and the story is well written.

Not just as a Killzone fan, but as a shooter fan as well, Killzone: Mercenary is a fantastic game in every way. I still can’t believe that this is running on a portable. It’s not perfect, but the deficiencies are minor compared to the full package. I can’t wait to play my friends on the go!

Score:
9.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Vita’s built in screen capture feature.

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  • sick glenn.

  • Nice review Torgo. Got my game on order and can’t wait! Not sure if I will ever do Multiplayer.

  • Vitali

    Great review Glenn. Ill give it a shot when the price drops since Iam not a fan of FPSs but anyway great that vita finally gets the games it deserves.

  • Escapethemoi

    6 hours left at work and then I’m off to pick up my pre-order, and you didn’t make this any easier for me, I can’t wait!

  • Loonknight

    Going to wait for a price drop on this one. Trying to save my gaming dollars for the next gen, but these great games keep coming out so difficult not to pick them all up.

  • While playing the beta i felt the button presses weren’t exactly smooth. Seemed when i was trying to reload or duck it was like i had to press the button twice before it worked. Any problems in that department?

    • Mostly with the Circle button, as I described in the review.

      • Ω GUNTZ

        can ps3/vita owners on your friends list will be able to see your PSNID on their list when your signed into the network on the ps4

        • I don’t think so, but they haven’t said fully I don’t think. They might of said the two friends list are separate.

          • Ω GUNTZ

            God I hope not. I also hope Ps4 games will show up on your trophy list across the other two systems

          • Since Vita doesn’t, I doubt PS4 will show on PS3. They might on Vita since it seems to be a different version of PSN.

          • Ω GUNTZ

            I hope so.

  • Marquis Green

    *rubs hands together*

  • Jahonius

    I’ve played the Beta and checking out what others have been saying about the game. Other than XBone butthurt comments, I haven’t spotted a single dis for this game. I even heard many considering buying a Vita just for this game. Hopefully the Vita community grows with this release

  • etur0

    damn who is voting down almost every comment

    and damn over 4gigs guess I might have to change my mind about getting it digitally

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