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First Impressions: Killzone: Mercenary Is the Vita Shooter That You've Been Waiting For

Posted by Sammy Barker

Pride and Pyrrhus

Ever since we first nestled our thumbs on the PlayStation Vita’s petite but precise analogue sticks, we’ve been gunning for a good first-person shooter. Nihilistic Software did the best that it could with a bad hand, deploying Resistance: Burning Skies and Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified into a regrettable crossfire of criticism. Reports suggest that the Californian company was forced to develop the titles at a brisk clip, an unenviable fate that Guerrilla Cambridge has fortunately eluded. In fact, the earliest footage of Killzone: Mercenary first shot into sight during the handheld’s initial unveiling in 2011, making the mobile murder simulator one of the most hotly anticipated outings in the portable’s pipeline. But has that additional production time culminated in a console-quality classic, or another undercooked affair?

Set shortly after the conclusion of the first game in Sony’s futuristic franchise, the spin-off casts you in the steel toe cap boots of Arran Danner, a former UCA operative turned ruthless gun-for-hire. With the protagonist’s allegiance available to the highest bidder, the title promises to pair you with both the ISA and the Helghast. Our hands-on found us aligning with the former, sabotaging satellite arrays and subsequently destroying several spacecrafts in an offshore Helghan stronghold not far from the putrid planet’s principal province, Pyrrhus.

Make no mistake, this is the visual tour-de-force that your blockbuster-starved system’s been screaming for. The opening sequence sees you infiltrating the aforementioned fortress by leaping from the back of a roofless hovercraft and swooping onto a nearby boardwalk, all while lightning snaps overhead and explosions light up the foreground. It’s unashamedly Michael Bay, but as a demonstration of the Vita’s prowess, it’s a nice reminder of the grunt hiding behind the hardware’s high-resolution display.

Perhaps most impressive is that the game appears to run at the system’s native resolution – or at least close to it. Gone are the slightly hazy textures from the device’s first generation titles, replaced by a clean visual appearance that’s only muddied by the natural grit of the Helghast homeworld. There are some framerate hiccups in this early build, but they only tend to occur when the title’s streaming in new textures and environments – and they may well be cleaned up entirely by the time that the game’s ready to report for duty in early September.

Fortunately, the shooter isn’t all swish scenery and no substance – it actually plays excellently, too. Controlling much like any other modern first-person shooter, the title retains the franchise’s trademark heft, but manages to feel responsive at the same time. Crouching behind objects – boxes, walls, and other conveniently positioned architecture – snaps you into cover, which you’ll need to do frequently, owing to the fact that your futuristic foes aren’t fools. You’ll regularly find yourself flanked and forced around the battlefield, as grenades and gunfire prevent you from sitting in one spot for too long.

As a result, the gunfights feel frantic and furious, and are aided enormously by the chunkiness of your artillery. The weapons chug in an unruly manner that’s befitting of the franchise’s console heritage, animating your orange-eyed adversaries into deadly breakdances as you pick them off. Everything that you do in the game is rewarded with a financial incentive, which can then be invested at remote stores to expand your arsenal options, and also augment new abilities and loadouts. It’s a fun loop, and the promise of an interlinked single player and multiplayer campaign sounds mightily compelling. There are even individual weapon and skill challenges that you’ll unlock as you perform certain actions and progress through the game.

But it’s the little details that really create the illusion that you’re playing a full PlayStation 3 release. The sound of your potshots hollow as your clip empties, for example, while the enemies react naturally to your gunfire, clutching at the appendages that you’re targeting. There are some control hiccups: the sprint and crouch commands clumsily reside on the same button, although you can use the rear touchpad to run if you prefer. Likewise, the title furthers Uncharted: Golden Abyss’ penchant for unnecessary touchscreen actions, forcing you to swipe the screen in order to finish a melee attack, or pull a lever. These are largely ignorable irritations, though, and the Vita’s unique control interfaces are largely treated in intelligent ways.

For instance, you can switch on a tilt aiming option, which, much like in Drake’s portable adventure, allows you to fine-tune your shots when you’re aiming down the sights. Meanwhile, a hacking minigame sees you matching symbols by tapping icons, as a clock counts down at the top of the screen. Lastly, a rocket launcher-esque weapon enables you to auto-lock foes by touching them with a daring digit. It’s simple, but it feels tactile, and it reinforces the notion that Guerrilla Cambridge has spent a lot of time exploring the best methods to make the most out of the handheld.

The only real disappointment is that the narrative seems as unimaginative as ever. You’re constantly accompanied by radio chatter throughout the action, but we found it difficult to focus on our accomplice’s commentary. The full game will allegedly explore some deeper themes, as Danner begins to question his own morals as a mercenary. But the series doesn’t exactly have the best track record when it comes to story, and nothing that we’ve seen thus far has convinced us that the spin-off is going to rectify that.

Still, in the span of a solitary assignment, Killzone: Mercenary managed to really impress us. The visuals are hotter than the inside of a Helghast helmet, the weapons are deadly, and there’s plenty of promise in the shooter’s financial reward loop. And that bodes well for the hotly anticipated multiplayer mode, which aims to transpose the brutality of the single player action into a compact, competitive campaign. Like a rookie soldier rising through the ranks, the title may still need to prove its worth in a changing market – but based purely on this initial showing, it's got the shots to back up its status.


Is your trigger finger itching to get to work in Killzone: Mercenary? Where does the first-person shooter rank in your Vita wishlist? Let us know in the comments section below.

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User Comments (34)

DirectAim

#2

DirectAim said:

I cant wait to walk into Game on the PS4 midnight release and buy a PS4 and a brand new Vita.

I'll still be buzzing after buying a new TV the day before :-D

lvnlavitaloca

#3

lvnlavitaloca said:

This is the game I've been waiting for. The whole reason I was so excited for vita was the promise of dual analog fps on a portable.

MadchesterManc

#5

MadchesterManc said:

Been playing Unit13 on the Vita lately and the dual sticks work so well. Its a shame there aint many shooter on the Vita. Cant wait for this new Killzone though. Whether the story is going to be cack or not, Im sure its goin to be pretty solid on the gameplay/controls front.

SuperSilverback

#6

SuperSilverback said:

I know im gona be crucified for saying this but, I actually enjoyed Resistance Burning Skies on the Vita =/ The campaign was enjoyable enough I thought, apart for the last boss thing. Multiplayer was fun at the start, but now its real laggy/glitchy. In regards to the main resistance games, the story is as good as the 1st i thought. I hated resistance 2, 3 was awesome. Resistance Retribution on psp is still the best imo!

In all fariness Nihilistic weren't given much of a chance, Sony really sand-bagged them!

Killzone w00t!

get2sammybAdmin

#7

get2sammyb said:

@DirectAim Man, that sounds like an exciting few days! What games are you planning to get with your new pieces of hardware?

@SuperSilverback I enjoyed it for what it was, too. I don't think it was a bad game, just very average. I also agree that Nihilistic really wasn't given the chance to show what it's capable of. The fact that it even managed to put out a functional Call of Duty (which I don't think is that bad) in approximately six months is just unbelievable. No one can fault the studio for not creating much content when it clearly didn't have time.

SuperSilverback

#8

SuperSilverback said:

@get2sammyb i got Declassified 2 weeks ago for cheap. The "Story" mode was as bad as i was led to believe. Multiplayer is actually not bad tho. Hit detection is a bit off and people have found how to glitch out of the map now so you'll join games where some guy is 20 - 0 by by hiding inside a wall =/

DirectAim

#9

DirectAim said:

I've pre-ordered BF4, AC4, Destiny, Diablo 3, GTA5, Deep Down and Watchdogs.

I have generally owned both 360s and PS3s but 6 months ago I decided to sell my PS3 due to never using it. I am still regretting it!

Xbox One is going to suffer big time, PS4 is the future!! I would expect this site to explode once the PS4 is released!

Also the website need a notifications centre so members can see when people reply to comments!

ShogunRokAdmin

#10

ShogunRok said:

It sounds great - I just hope we can replay the single player with all of our upgrades, etc. Something like a New Game +.

get2sammybAdmin

#11

get2sammyb said:

@DirectAim You get email notifications, but I know that a Facebook-esque system is in the pipeline. I'll bring it up again shortly.

@ShogunRok It's hard to tell from the build we got sent, but it looks like it's geared towards replaying the missions. From what I can tell there'll be a "contract" select screen, so you'll be able to dive back in with your different equipment.

I wished it had some kind of Assassin's Creed-esque side mode, though, where you could invest your cash in Mercenaries and send them on missions and stuff. I love those minigames.

My biggest question: will it have some kind of hook-up with Shadow Fall?

ShogunRokAdmin

#12

ShogunRok said:

@get2sammyb That sounds good enough, really. Having some sort of unlock system with no way to replay levels is completely stupid. See Binary Domain.

BornOfEvil

#15

BornOfEvil said:

If this game is as good as I think it's going to be, then I can see the Vita really making a comeback in the states. People over here have been begging for a good Vita FPS and this could very well scratch that itch.

If only Nihilistic had more time, the Vita would be selling boat-loads now. Sure it would be in the hands of a ton of annoying brats, but sales are sales. Hopefully Mercenary does the job that every other shooter failed to do.

Lionhart

#18

Lionhart said:

That's a great preview Sammy! I signed up for the beta but I haven't gotten an e-mail from Sony yet. I love the PS Vita and we definitely need more games on it like Killzone Mercenary, Assassin's Creed Liberation and Street Fighter X Tekken. If Killzone Mercenary sells well in both the United States and Europe then I'm sure more studios will get behind the Vita and breathe it a revival with more triple A titles because right it seems as if only Indie developers are investing in it.

KALofKRYPTON

#21

KALofKRYPTON said:

Resistance was OK, but just lacked the polish it needed to shine so to speak. Also, the direction felt really weak, sounds were largely hollow and the score was pretty much non existent. I played it through with the Prometheous score, which worked a treat and lent a bit of much needed gravitas, I felt. I enjoyed playing it, but sadly, as with Declassified (though to a much lesser extent) it just wasn't a great representation of the console series. I'm not making a direct comparison obviously, but Uncharted GA is still very much Uncharted, WipEout 2048 is still very much WipEout, and they work do very well at conveying those experiences on Vita. The aforementioned just don't do that very well.
I've just been away and watched the Killzone:Mercenary preview build on YT. It looks every bit as Killzone as Uncharted and WipEout so their bigger siblings. A couple of frame rate stutters, but nothing terrible.

Lionhart

#23

Lionhart said:

@ObviouslyAdachi, that's my question too! After registering for the beta I didn't get a confirmation e-mail from Sony PlayStation. I even registered a second time just to be sure that I did register since there was no confirmation e-mail sent to me to confirm that I had registered. Hopefully, by Monday of next week we'll get selection e-mails.

charlesnarles

#24

charlesnarles said:

Pretty exciting. Makes me wanna buy the trilogy and know what's going on. P.S. how are handheld games not all made at native resolutions yet? If it looks as good as it seems to, then I hope other devs follow suit. 1/4 of 1080p on a 5 incher seems doable; it's [only] 220 pixels per square inch

Squiggle55

#25

Squiggle55 said:

Just to play Devil's Advocate: Why should I even buy Mercenary if Shadowfall supports remote play and remote play is everything it's cracked up to be this time? Honest question, and I'm sure Sony has pondered it. Should they really be released so close to each other?

Savino

#27

Savino said:

@Squiggle55 Because you can only use remote play in your home or near a PS4.
Vita gives you the freedom that you need to take the game to the road.

moomoo

#28

moomoo said:

@Squiggle55 Not every Vita owner has a PS4. Plus, it's a different game. Why should I get Uncharted: Golden Abyss when the PS3 games are better? Well, it's a unique game that is high quality. Plus, it's on a different platform with a different focus on environment.

Gamer83

#29

Gamer83 said:

@Squiggle55

They're two different games though with different stories and seemingly different gameplay styles. Both look awesome and there's definitely room for each in the market place. As a Killzone fan, I couldn't be more excited for this fall. I think this could be a fantastic year for the franchise.

Sutorcen

#30

Sutorcen said:

Dragon's Crown, and this and Terraway, all in a couple of months... wooooohooooo looks like the Vita will dominate my gaming time.

@moomoo I found Uncharted: Golden Abysss to be as amazing as a PS3 version. Tha fact alone that they managed to output such great graphics is still mindblowing. Bent went a bit overboard with the artifacts but apart from that it is a great game, one of the best on Vita.

Now somebody please make a Dark Souls on the Vita.

Lionhart

#31

Lionhart said:

@Sutorcen, I'm thankful to hear that. I think I will pick up Uncharted Golden Abyss then. I've been on the fence about it but I keep hearing such praise for the game that I'm compelled to check it out.

Lionhart

#33

Lionhart said:

@KalofKrypton, Thanks! I certainly check out that game. On a sidenote, I also plan on buying Muramasa Rebirth ASAP now that the gorgeous 47 Ronin movie is on the way. I've always been up for Feudal Japan. I just hope I can still snag the Muramasa Rebirth Collectors Edition.

JaxonH

#34

JaxonH said:

@SuperSilverback It is what it is. Both Resistance Burning Skies and Call of Duty BO2 Declassified were EXCELLENT games for only a 6 month development window, or however long it was. Unfortunately, compared to normal games which aren't rushed, they fell short. But I'll be honest, I played CoD BO2 Declassified and enjoyed it quite a bit. It wasn't nearly as bad as some made it out to be. Having said that, it had some serious shortcomings. The campaign could be beaten in less than 1 hr if you're beast enough to do it. For me, it took a few hours, can't remember how many but it wasn't much at all considering the $50 price tag. The AI was berserk, sometimes it worked in your favor, other times, not so much. I remember I couldn't beat the 2nd mission in the game for the life of me- it was harder than any other mission in the game! That's just not right. And storyline was non-existant. And despite MP being one of its better features, it was also pretty bland, and kicked you off constantly. Oh well. I'm just disappointed to hear that already Killzone has a few hiccups, what with frame rate, dull storyline, crouch/run performed with same button, touch control for melee attacks... this is not a good start.

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