Killzone: Mercenary

[Hands-On] We're At The Mercy Of Killzone: Mercenary

You can almost forget you are playing a handheld.
Author: Aram Lecis
Published: July 24, 2013
The Killzone series now spans 3 generations of Sony consoles and with the upcoming release of Killzone: Mercenary it now covers two generations of handhelds. While Killzone: Liberation on the PSP shifted to a third-person shooter, this latest entry on the Vita switches back to an FPS, and it does it with aplomb.

While we got a bit of hands on time with Mercenary at E3, that wasn't necessarily the best place to get a real feel for the game (if you haven't been to E3, lets just say it can be a little distracting there). Thankfully Sony was kind enough to send over a build of the same level we played at E3 to enjoy in the confines of our own special place.

For those not aware, Mercenary puts you in the role of, well, a mercenary names Tanner who is willing to take jobs from both the ISA AND the Helghast, as long as someone doesn't mind paying. In the mission we played we appeared to be working for the ISA as we were on Helghast to sabotage some communication nodes (I think it was communication nodes). After an impressive briefing we were dropped (quite literally) into the base and began our infiltration.

The first thing you'll notice is that this is a full-featured game that FEELS like an FPS on a console. Yes, aiming with the nubs takes a bit of getting used to (the options had a choice for a tilt-style aim assist a la Uncharted: Golden Abyss but I couldn't seem to get that working) yet after a few minutes I was pulling off headshots with surprising regularity. A few various functions are mapped nicely to the edges of the touchscreen, while the back touchpad is used for sprinting. Context sensitive actions can usually be activated by either pressing triangle or tapping the hotspot on the screen. In this way you can easily cycle weapons, ready a grenade or activate you Van-Guard systems.

The combat feels really solid and rewarding, much more so then I felt when playing Resistance: Burning Skies. As you are mercenary, your world involves around earning credits and you'll do so with each kill (earning more for headshots, double kills and other "unusual" methods) and each time you scavenge weapons or complete objectives. That case can be spent at the various "Blackjack terminals" that apparently litter even Helghan. While my initial runthrough didn't earn me enough credits to unlock most of the better weapons there was a nice spread of cheaper stuff that let you get the feel of the various assault rifles, LMGs and sniper rifles along with secondary weapons like shotguns, rocket launchers and pistols. While I never got my hands on any real exotic weapons the various conventional stuff I tried really did feel different and had a lot of weight.

Besides guns, mercenaries are also equipped with something known as the "Van-Guard" system. These various attachments add a lot of cool abilities to your arsenal. You can equip a remote controlled drone that pinches bad guys heads off, a portable airstrike, a shoulder mounted homing missile launcher, a "ghosting" ability or quite a few others. Each option seems like a fully-fleshed out mechanic that has an actual use in combat. Tanner can also upgrade his armor or grenades for more specialized uses, and Blackjack is always offering a deep discount on one item when you visit.

It probably took about 45 minutes for me to run through the single level the first time and that included a couple parts where I died a few times trying to figure out the best plan of attack. The level design was on par with the console versions of the game. There were a few VERY intense firefights with seven or eight Helghans attacking from all sides and even during the heaviest times the game still ran quite smoothly.

While we haven't gotten to check out the multiplayer yet (that should be soon!) so far from what we've seen of the single-player Mercenary will set a new standard for FPS games on a handheld. We're more excited than ever for September to come around so we can see the complete package!