For a system boasting console quality graphics and dual-analog sticks that make it perfect for first-person shooters, we’ve so far been given disappointing outings with Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified and Resistance: Burning Skies. Marking one of the first big PlayStation Vita releases since the price drop, and arguably the biggest release of the year for Vita, Killzone: Mercenary offers up a solid first-person shooter experience, just don’t expect to be blown away.
You play as Arran Danner, a mercenary (plot twist!) hired by the ISA, but I won’t go into much detail about the story, partly because I don’t want to ruin anything for you, and also because there isn’t much to talk about. You see, as soon as you boot up the single player campaign, there’s a brief overview of everything that’s happening right now, and if you aren’t familiar with Killzone lore, most of it will likely just go over your head.
But all that setup really doesn’t matter because you just need to know that you’re Arran Danner, a mercenary who does mercenary things and doesn’t ask questions (because he doesn’t talk). Since I don’t want to spend too much time on the storytelling here, I’ll just mention my disappointment on how Danner is never realized as a character more than just a gun for hire, and when anything interesting happens with the story, there’s no reason given to his decisions, other than the fact that he’s a mercenary.
When it comes to the actual gameplay, Mercenary throws you right into the action, offering you a little bit of tutorial on how to perform melee kills (hit triangle and then swipe the screen). They do take a little getting used to, but by the end of the first area, you’ll be brutally meleeing people with ease, and enjoying it every single time, especially when you stab a guy in the balls.
Aside from that, Killzone: Mercenary is pretty much standard first-person shooter fare when it comes to the campaign. While the controls are done very well and this is easily one of the best looking Vita games you’ll ever play, the entire campaign – which consists of 9 ‘contracts’ that took me exactly 3 hours and 3 minutes to beat on normal – is very repetitive.
Instead of standout set pieces that were highly memorable spread amongst intense shooting sequences, you’re pretty much just going from cramped, enemy infested area with waist high cover (that you can crouch behind, but are still able to be shot and killed) to cramped, enemy infested area with waist high cover. Now, that isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy myself at certain points when the action got frantic and I was meleeing/killing people by the dozens, it’s just that I was disappointed at the lack of variety.
For instance, near the very beginning of the game, the action stops and you enter into a cutscene (read: not playable) where you do an awesome knife throw kill, your partner tackles someone out a window near the top of a huge skyscraper, you immediately jump out the window after him and then air glide across the city into another building. I was pretty angry after watching that, thinking to myself, “Why did I just watch Danner glide through the air when it would have been a hundred times more fun to do play that scene?” Then, another air gliding scene went by a little later on, and yet again I couldn’t play it, and I was once again pretty angry. There were a couple of other sequences like that that I felt robbed of when playing Mercenary’s single player, with only one very short turret sequence that I could actually play to help break of the very repetitious shooting.
Since I’ve only ragged on the single player so far, I’ll start to talk about what I actually liked, which namely involves Valor and how you earn money. No matter how you’re playing Mercenary, every kill or noteworthy action earns you Vektan dollars, which can then be exchanged for better weapons, armor, ammo restocks and VAN-Guards (kick ass machines you can summon to help you out on the battlefield/wreak havoc) between contracts or at any of Blackjack’s conveniently located vendors throughout the levels. By each kill counting towards an overall goal, it made me actually want to kill every person in the room, rather than just doing it out of obligation, or running past them to complete the objective.
Once you complete the entire single player, the game is very good at encouraging multiple replays. Allowing you to select any of the 9 contracts from a menu, you can easily change the difficulty setting, while also completing three different types of objectives per contract: Precision, Covert, and Demolition.
While I personally didn’t find much joy in replaying the levels, and some of the objectives in each mission were frustrating beyond belief (being stealthy is not my forte), I can easily see people replaying every contract in order to get as much Valor as possible. As a bonus, it will give Trophy hounds a challenge when they try to reach that Platinum trophy.
Overall, I was disappointed by the single player, so thankfully there’s multiplayer included in this game to pump up the overall value. I’m not going to say it’s anything ground breaking that moves the FPS genre forward, but damn if it isn’t fun. Even though two of the three multiplayer modes – Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch – are standard fare when it comes to online multiplayer, the fast-paced action that Guerrilla implemented with Mercenary is shown off in full force with the multiplayer.
Running up and meleeing an enemy is extremely satisfying, and with VAN-Guard drops taking place very often, it gives people a reason to be focused on a certain area, instead of staying back and potentially losing out on a game-changing ability.
The other mode, Warzone, has you going through five different waves, completing different objectives in each, such as securing VAN-Guard drops, collecting cards, or just killing as many people as you can. This particular mode is a little bit more involved as the standard Deathmatch ones and takes much longer to finish a match, though it does offer up some great variety other than just killing the other team for points (though you still do that a lot in Warzone).
Due to the maps not trying anything interesting other than just being fleshed out rips of areas the maps, they aren’t anything to go crazy over, but on the plus side, they aren’t infuriating by any stretch and definitely get the job done. Also, while the set up for multiplayer is pretty simple and straightforward, it would be great if they told you how populated each playlist was so you aren’t waiting around too long to get into a match, and if someone leaves a match, the balancing when adding another player can be imperfect, leaving you on the wrong end of a lop-sided battle. Of course, if you have a bunch of friends with the game, they can be easily invited, or you can start your own private match with whomever you like and play through a map/mode of your choosing.
As much as I was hoping (and, quite frankly, expecting) Killzone: Mercenary to be the perfect representation of a first-person shooter on the PlayStation Vita, it just isn’t. A sub-par single player campaign is only saved by the fast-paced and fun multiplayer, which isn’t perfect, but does take this from being a forgettable rental, to something I can recommend buying, even if just for that online multiplayer.