The announcement of the Retro Video Game System, a cartridge-based console, is the latest case study in the debate of whether gaming should continue evolving beyond its roots.
Killzone: Mercenary Review: Flawed, But Beautiful
When I first heard about Killzone: Mercenary, I was imagining great possibilities for the game. The idea of an entry in the Killzone series where you would be fighting both the ISA and the Helghast made my mind race with the wide variety of gameplay and story potential. The unfortunate truth is this potential is greatly squandered with the end result feeling like some kind of hodgepodge of Killzone and Call of Duty. Despite that, Guerilla Cambridge still shows how to properly make a first-person shooter work on the Vita.
Killzone: Mercenary has players stepping into the boots of Arran Danner, an absolutely zero-personality mercenary who doesn’t utter a single word, which is an oddity for a protagonist of the Killzone series. Players control Danner through 9 relatively short chapters presented in the form of mission contracts that take him from Vekta in the aftermath of Killzone 1 to Helghan during the events of Killzone 2. On a single playthrough, it will take about 4 hours to clear all of the chapters, which makes it far and away the shortest campaign in the series to date.
The short length of the campaign is made up for by the fact that each chapter has three additional challenge contracts; a precision contract, a covert contract, and a demolition contract. Each of these contracts adds extra mission objectives but balance out by rewarding more money. The catch is each challenge contract has specific weapon and equipment loadout requirements, such as the covert contracts requiring a specific gun with a silencer attached. However, the length would not be much of an issue at all for me had the campaign had much of a story to it. The bulk of the story is presented in Call of Duty-style mission briefing loading screens, with a very small amount of story being told during the chapters.
Each chapter culminates in a various set-piece moment, ranging from fighting tanks and mechs while hilariously under-equipped, to fighting off large hordes of enemies while trying to complete some kinda of objective. Unfortunately, some poor level design choices in these set-piece moments can make them very frustrating, especially if you respawn in a bad spot, such as being surrounded by enemies.
Throughout each chapter there are shop stations belonging to a mysterious vendor named Blackjack. Blackjack will sell you new weapons, explosives, armor, and VAN-Guard gadgets, as well as restocking ammo supplies and allowing you to change your loadouts, all for a fee, of course. Thanks to Blackjack and his wares, Killzone: Mercenary has the largest customization possibilities for players in the series.
Thankfully, while the campaign may be lacking from a story stand point, it is packed with fun gameplay. The action is fast and chaotic, while the weapons still maintain the series’ trademark weighted feel. Guerilla Cambridge also fixes one of the biggest issues I’ve had with every prior Killzone’s campaigns, the enemies, be they ISA or Helghast, are no longer the bullet sponges they used to be. In fact it is rather easy to kill enemies in this game, especially with headshots, something that pleasantly surprised me. I was even able to pull off headshots on enemies on the other side of the stage whose heads were only a few pixels big.
Guerilla Cambridge has made some interesting control decisions to make up for the buttons the Vita is missing compared to the PS3 controllers, such as a second set of shoulder buttons and clickable analog sticks. These include mapping the sprint function to both the rear touchpad and the O button. With either input method, you have to be moving for the sprint to work. Other changes include mapping the grenades to a touch button on the Vita’s screen. Doing brutal melee attacks in Killzone: Mercenary brings up a swiping mini-game on the Vita’s touchscreen, where you have to swipe in the direction indicated to execute the gruesome melee attacks.
And on top of the unique control scheme, Guerilla Cambridge added a really useful function, at least in the campaign; while sprinting, if you press the O button again, Danner will do a slide on the ground. This sliding mechanic saved me a lot of times when I needed to hurry into cover. Unfortunately, I must confess that at times the game won’t respond to my button presses, such as when I try to crouch or pick up ammo. Furthermore, shooting from behind cover can be buggy at times, as I encountered a few instances where Danner would rapidly raise and lower his gun when I would try to shoot from behind cover.
In addition to the campaign, Killzone: Mercenary has a multiplayer suite. However, just like the campaign, it is a tiny bit bare bones, but it is also really fun to play. There are 3 modes in the multiplayer; the free-for-all Mercenary Warfare, the team-based Guerilla Warfare, and Warzone, a team-based mode where the two teams compete in 5 rounds and the team with the most points after the 5 rounds end is the winner. One thing Guerilla Cambridge has done that I love is they unified the single player and multiplayer accounts, meaning the money and ranking you earn through the campaign carry over to the multiplayer and vice-versa. This is also true of the weapons and gear you buy from Blackjack.
Visually there is no way of getting around it, Killzone: Mercenary is absolutely jaw dropping. Running on a modified Killzone 3 engine, the game is far and away the crown jewel of the Vita’s library in terms of raw graphical strength. However, this beauty comes at a cost, occasionally during the campaign the framerate will hiccup when too many enemies or explosions are on screen, and sometimes textures can look a little bit shoddy. Additionally it is possible that these stunning visuals are part of the reason the game is light in content in some areas.
Ultimately, Killzone: Mercenary is in every possible way clearly a portable game, with a short campaign neatly broken up into chapters and a multiplayer suite with a limited number of players and modes. However, Guerilla Cambridge’s interesting new mechanics to the series, the game’s fun and chaotic gameplay, and the gorgeous visuals work in Killzone: Mercenary’s favor. It is a flawed, but a fun and beautiful experience that I think everyone with a Vita should play, if for no other reason to see how a first-person shooter on the Vita should be done.