Despite some promising First Person Shooter ventures that never really quite hit the mark on the Vita such as Burning Skies and Black Ops Declassified, the handheld is still waiting for the killer app that will do justice to its twin sticks. Killzone: Mercenary, another Vita exclusive, is making all the right noises to address that problem and judging from the latest preview level we got some hands-on time with, it’s beginning to show enough to offer encouragement to even the most sceptical among us.
Killzone games have always looked pretty good; I think we can all agree on that. Although, maybe not quite so much for the PS Vita’s other current titles in the genre. In fact, since launch last year, minus some nice indie ventures and a few other noteworthy titles, the system hasn’t really set the world a light in spite of the huge potential it blatantly has. What you’ll initially gather from Killzone: Mercenary’s visuals, however, is that it could easily be a PlayStation 3 title – personally, one of the finest handheld games I’ve laid my eyes on, it’s really that visually impressive from a handheld perspective.
The level we played was a pretty straight-forward endeavour to hack two Helghast satellite dishes and take control of an anti-aircraft type weapon for the ISA. After being teased with a mention of your ‘valour card’ (a multiplayer elements that’ll feature in the full game) our character jumped from a flying platform and glided in from the sky amidst a barrage of gunfire and explosions. Again, it all looked very impressive.
Moving through the open level we had you were given the distinct impression that there’s plenty of choice to made on how you approach a given task. Moving around silently and initiating the Vita’s touch screen melee swipes to take enemies out quietly was an option in places, as was the invitation to be clever in positioning when full on shootouts ensued thanks to the largeness of this particular level. Whether the full game is designed in a similar manner, we’ll have to wait and see, but it was pleasing to see the scope and freedom offered in the preview.
Visuals and design would all count for nothing if it didn’t feel right, though. This has been my biggest gripe with many handheld shooters but the Vita is finally in its element with Killzone: Mercenary. The dead zones often found on the sticks was nowhere to be seen; even slight movements registered perfectly and the entire control scheme in general felt just sublime including touch screen weapon changing and Mantys control – a small droid unit you can take control of and fly around as recon, which serves as one of many Van-Guard systems you can unlock.
One shot kill headshots become more important than the average shooter, especially as the difficulty is balanced well enough to make them a worthwhile pursuit. You’ll also want to be savvy with your aiming because of your mercenary status. In the full game you’ll take missions for both sides and accumulate currency by completing those missions, ticking objectives and playing the game to a general high standard; headshots and stealth kills will earn you more, for example. It seems a perfect system for a handheld from what we played and will surely only be aided more by a solid multiplayer addition should they hit the mark on that front.
The intensity of the gameplay was impressive as new tasks and orders were constantly being barked down the coms to keep you moving and engaged. Touch screen hacking and missile support; area defence from waves of incoming attacks; finding security panels to override entry points were all crammed into the one mission which bodes well – in theory – for the rest of the game. Whilst upgrading via weapons caches throughout the level by spending hard earned currency keeps things fresh in the load-out departments.
There’s really a ton of things to get excited about with Killzone: Mercenary. What I feel will largely determine its success, however, is the multiplayer portion of the game which sadly we didn’t get to try. What we did get to get a glimpse at is a very polished, technically excellent (albeit, over very quickly) level of a game that shows enough potential to be a system seller and the first game to make everyone really stand up and take notice. Whether that statement will be true come release will remains to be seen, but nevertheless, my anticipation for a handheld shooter has never been so high.