[8.5] Killzone: Mercenary is a great fit for the Vita and easily the best handheld shooter presently.

User Rating: 8 | Killzone: Mercenary VITA

It is no secret that the Playstation Vita can handle playing shooters fairly well namely due to its dual-analog sticks. Games such as Resistance: Burning Skies and Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified have already proven this as they both handled reasonably on the device. However, those aforementioned games fell short, more so in Black Ops Declassified’s case, from their console counterparts. Killzone: Mercenary thankfully breaks this cycle as a result of even smoother gameplay, splendid visuals, and a more enjoyable online multiplayer component.

Killzone: Mercenary contains a relatively straightforward campaign, though distinguishes itself from other Killzone titles by putting the player in the role of a Danner, a mercenary. Despite being affiliated with one side of the Helghast versus ISA conflict initially, Danner sees action from both ends of the war, working with whoever is willing to pay him and doesn’t want him dead. Since the story functions this way, the plot constantly changes pace with several twists, turns, betrayals, and so forth occurring in a short period of time.

At best, the plot is a filler to the outstanding gameplay because the characters and story itself are rather uninteresting. Additionally, there are only nine missions, which amount to roughly 30 minutes or so to complete each on the first playthrough. Unfortunately, this means the campaign takes in the ballpark of five hours to complete. That is not to say that it isn’t jam-packed with an abundance of action and a decent dose of excitement. And since the plot bounces around often, variety definitely is a factor in making these five short hours more enjoyable.

Using melee on enemies is more involved and adds more smudges to your touchscreen
Using melee on enemies is more involved and adds more smudges to your touchscreen

Even though some of that may sound concerning, the easiness of becoming indulged in Killzone: Mercenary’s smooth controls more than makes up for the campaign’s brevity and uninspiring plot. While the controls do take some getting used to, the learning curve isn’t too significant. The touchscreen is implemented, though not overdone. Swiping the screen the take out an enemy via melee is perhaps the most interesting use of the touchscreen and adds a bit of more involvement to the gameplay. Weapons and explosives can be accessed by using the touchscreen, while sprinting is an option through tapping the rear touchpad. Luckily, weapons and explosives may also be accessed via the D-pad, while the rear touchpad option may disabled, allowing for the double tapping of the circle button to be the only means for sprinting. These are some decent options that make it so the player can fit the experience to their liking. In any case, the screen isn’t so overcrowded that it completely breaks the immersion.

Weapons and other gear are plentiful and varied. Familiar weapons such as the classic M82 assault rifle make an appearance, though there are enough new goodies to play with to keep the killings of copious amounts of enemies from becoming too stale. Van-guards are surely the most unique of the gear options. Basically, Van-guards are re-chargeable powers that provide compelling benefits. There’s the abilities to cloak for stealth purposes, the ability to rain hellfire missiles on enemies through using the touchpad, the ability to temporary shield Danner from incoming bullets, and much more. The customization options are quite amazing. Want to move faster by wearing lighter armor while going loud and aggressive with an assault rifle and an RPG? Go for it! Weapons and such may only be swapped out by visiting an in-game store, which are oddly enough liberally scattered throughout levels.

Of course, all these wonderful goodies must be purchased, re-equipped, or replenished with in-game currency, which is earned through completing missions or playing online. Bonuses are earned with more tactical kills and completing missions on higher difficulty levels. From just completing the main missions once, there will still be several items to purchase. Thankfully, replayability is a major factor as Contracts Mode is unlocked upon beating the campaign for the first time. These contracts provide specific ways in which levels must be completed varying on which contract is chosen: covert, precision, or demolition. Some contain interesting specifications such as destroying certain objects or accumulating so many headshots with a specific weapon. Others can be a nuisance, especially when something can be missed in a level and a checkpoint doesn’t get reset as it normally does for failing a requirement. On the bright side, the contracts do add some challenge to what is a considerably painless and forgiving game, even on its highest difficulty setting.

Don't hesitate to stop for a minute and look at the sites. Don't mind the guys shooting at you, they aren't too threatening
Don't hesitate to stop for a minute and look at the sites. Don't mind the guys shooting at you, they aren't too threatening

As much as it can stressed that Killzone: Mercenary has extremely fluid gameplay for a portable shooter, it would be a shame to not highlight just how wonderful the game looks as well. A console quality comparison isn’t out of the question here; Killzone: Mercenary is genuinely pleasant to look at. Much of it may be credited to the well-crafted scenery in the backgrounds, though the environments still appear nice from up-close. For the most part, the game seems to be able to carry its seemingly heavy weight, even with multitudes of enemies appearing in some levels. Sound effects from weapons to footsteps to enemy voices from a distant all contribute to keeping Killzone: Mercenary from feeling like another underwhelming handheld version of a highly regarded franchise.

Obviously, the highly replayable single player isn’t Killzone: Mercenary’s only attraction. There’s the basic competitive online multiplayer portion that is to be expected from a Killzone title, or any first-person shooter for that matter. Unusually, the online portion is tied to the single player portion in that the player’s rank is determined from both components. That said, weapon unlocks, currency, and anything else carries between both sections of the game. This means all unlocks can be acquired and ready to use before even jumping online. Sadly, this takes away from some of the enjoyment of progressing through the online. Not only that, it doesn’t take a tremendous amount of time of playing the game to unlock all there is to unlock, making currency somewhat useless after that point. On a positive note, this system makes it so newcomers to the online aren’t necessarily at a disadvantage provided they spend a fair amount of time on the single player.

Simply put, the online multiplayer is as functional and enjoyable as the single player. Despite matches being limited to eight players, matches tend to be as intense and fast-paced as its console counterparts. Much of this can be credited to the tightness of the maps. That’s not to say maps are tiny, because some do contain open areas, but they’re designed so that running into enemies should be fairly common, thus keeping the amount of engagements in a match at a healthy number. As a downside, spawns are sometimes problematic, with spawning in the sight of an opponent or with an opponent in the player’s sight more common than normal for an online shooter. The three standard Killzone game modes make an appearance, so fans of previous Killzone games should feel right at home when playing online.

For a first-person shooter, Killzone: Mercenary may not do anything incredible, but its amazing accessibility on a portable gaming device make it a more than worthy addition to any Vita owner with even a slight interest in the genre’s collection. It’s a complete game, worthy of comparison to its console versions despite a somewhat underwhelming plot and brief campaign. Yet, to reiterate once more, the single player is extremely replayable and surprisingly doesn’t become too tiring, even after four or so complete playthroughs. An easy to pick up and play online multiplayer also adds to the accessibility and strengthens the notion of Killzone: Mercenary having both a solid offline and online component. Killzone: Mercenary easily secures its place as a must-have for current Vita owners. And those doubting the Vita’s ability to play shooters or just doubting that there are no decent games to play on the device may want to take a glance at this game and reconsider those doubts.