If any handheld device promises to put the joys of console-quality first-person shooting in your mitts it’s the PlayStation Vita. Yet so far the promise of the twin-sticks and shoulder triggers that adorn Sony’s sleek handheld has yet to be realised. Instead we got the disappointments of Resistance: Burning Skies and Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified. Now Sony has called upon its other FPS series to deliver the goods in the form of Killzone: Mercenary.
Killzone is all about sci-fi war. The fascistic Helghast are once again the targets and the ISA the morally questionable goodies. Then there’s the player, a mercenary hired by the ISA to go kick Helghast rear-end in return for a large wad of reddies. With eyes lit up with dollar signs or whatever currency it is they use in the future, the player’s character heads out to raid Helghast bases and extract hostages from their evil grasp. It’s a surprise-free tale but one with enough juice to keep things ticking over nicely.
Let’s get straight to the burning question - has Killzone: Mercenary delivered top-notch shooting? The answer is… almost. It delivers enough feisty thrills and snappy gunning to make the game feel as good as a decent console FPS. The glowing red eyes of the Helghast ensure that it’s always straightforward to identify enemies from scenery, unlike the beige critters of Resistance: Burning Skies. The Helghast also present a good challenge, too, working to flank you rather than behaving like shooting gallery ducks. But it’s not perfect: the right-stick controlled camera can be frustratingly slothful at times.
One thing that makes Killzone: Mercenary feel close to a bonsai big-budget FPS is the variety of tactics players can employ. The maps are intricate enough to allow for different strategies, such as finding a vantage point before kickstarting an attack, or creeping onto roofs and silently taking out Helghast below through broken sky lights. There’s also a good selection of equipment to help you develop these strategies, from silenced weapons and gas grenades to the VAN-Guard drones that can be deployed to deliver quiet takedowns.
Players can also dispatch Helghast through melee kills, which are executed by pressing the triangle button and then swiping the Vita’s front touchscreen in the direction displayed on screen. This touchscreen element gives a satisfying tactile element to the game’s melee kills, even if some of them (knives in the nuts, that sort of thing) are a bit OTT. The touchscreen also comes into play when planting bombs or hacking security systems, which results in a time-limited, pattern-matching mini-game. Neither will set the world on fire but they do just enough to provide a brief interlude to the killing.
Killzone: Mercenary is not a game that seeks to push the boundaries of first-person shooting and that’s reflected in its three multiplayer options. There’s deathmatch, team deathmatch and, a little more interestingly, a mission-based mode called Warzone. But what they lack in innovation they do make up in solid execution and there are some decent maps to battle in.
Killzone: Mercenary is a play-it-safe experience, a first-person shooter that relies on established methods rather than conjuring up new ideas. But, frankly, we don’t care. Camera issue aside, this is an enjoyable and fantastic looking first-person shooter that you can carry with you wherever you go. At its best it’s easy to forget you’re playing on your Vita rather than your PlayStation 3. Finally, the Vita has a good FPS in its collection. Now, we just need a great one. For now, Killzone Mercenary can keep a seat warm in the top ten list of the best games in the world.