by Matthew Thompson (All images courtesy of the KZ: Mercenary page found here)
Ever since the Vita was first announced, I have dreamt of seeing certain genres done justice on a portable platform for the first time. For one, the Vita’s dual analog setup looked like it might finally deliver the FPS I coveted on the go. It seemed my best hopes came in the form of the Killzone project that was shown briefly during the reveal of Sony’s next generation portable system. It had a quality developer behind it, a suitable amount of time in the cooker, and was an original experience designed for the Vita rather than just a port. On the other hand, Killzone is more of a multiplayer series and since I was looking for something good to sink my teeth into solo, it might not give me what I want. But I had to give it a try to see for myself.
The shooting itself feels really great in Killzone: Mercenary which despite some of its other shortcomings is a constant in the series. I still love the M82 rifle… maybe a little too much as I rarely swapped it out for another firearm. There were times where I equipped a sniper rifle of some sort to take on certain encounters for strategic reasons, but other standard rifles were no substitute for the M82 in my opinion. In my other slot, I ended up settling on a shotgun that lit enemies on fire which is always a plus and gave me something for up-close messy confrontations to go alongside my versatile go-to assault rifle with the occasional rocket launcher mixed in when the situation warranted it.
Guerrilla Cambridge has done a good job matching the feel of the controls on consoles, but they couldn’t quite pull it off perfectly. As good as the hardware of the Vita is, it lacks a couple of shoulder buttons and clickable sticks when compared to a standard controller. Putting crouch on the same button as sprint led to some slight annoyances when trying to duck behind cover and no dedicated grenade button meant they are a little trickier to work into frantic firefights. And I could have done without the swipe-based melee attacks.
The level design is thankfully more reminiscent of the earlier entries in the franchise than the PS4’s Shadow Fall. The more linear structure means the focus can stay on shooting and avoid the pitfalls that dogged SF‘s campaign when it tried it’s hand at non-combat scenarios. I also enjoyed the various abilities granted by your Vanguard particularly a drone that would fly by my side and zap enemies which would help thin numbers when I felt a bit overwhelmed by a large swarm of opposing soldiers.
There is a story here, but I doubt anyone will care much about it. I did like that as a mercenary for hire you ended up fighting for both sides of the conflict which meant taking on Helghast and ISA soldiers at different times throughout the game. And I appreciated the little history recap that set things up before the game sent you on your first mission.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the graphics. While Killzone: Mercenary isn’t as beautiful as Tearaway or some other standout Vita titles, I think as far technical proficiency it has to be tops on the system. It is hard to not be impressed by this aspect of the game even if the color palette and art leave something to be desired.
And I can’t finish talking about Killzone: Mercenary without mentioning how I found the length of the campaign to be totally unacceptable, finishing it in under four hours. I know campaigns particularly in this genre and maybe more often in portable games have gotten shorter and shorter over the years, but I have never come to accept it. I suppose the game wants to you to replay missions for money and under different parameters. It is supposed to fit into the merc theme I think. But it seems a little cheap to try to add extra replay value this way. If I enjoyed the core content more, I’d probably be more lenient on this aspect because then I’d probably play it through a few times just because I liked it so much. But that just isn’t the case here.
Again I realize this is a series about multiplayer first and I’m sure there is great fun to be had in Mercenary‘s MP modes if my samplings of other Killzone games’ competitive components are anything to go off of. I guess I was just hoping some game would deliver that great FPS campaign I want so badly on a portable and I was hoping, maybe against reason, that this could sate my appetite in that regard. But with its short story mode and solid gameplay, the campaign itself is just an above average one at best. It does reiterate what I already believed to be true after playing even the lesser title Resistance: Burning Skies, the Vita could give me what I want in a portable FPS. It’s certainly capable, but it just hasn’t done it yet. And I’m not sure when it will.