Killzone: Mercenary Hands On

Sony's Vita has had a tough ride. Released to much fanfare, a lack of titles has combined with the high price of the thing to send the handheld into a death spiral it seems unlikely to recover from. Unlikely, however, doesn't mean there's no hope; given the right set of circumstances, there's still a chance that one of the best handhelds ever created might yet find its feet.

Enter Killzone: Mercenary.

Ad FeedbackAdvertisement

After the extremely poor showing of Call of Duty on the Vita, and the generally lacklustre nature of many of the mutli-console games that also appear on the device, my hopes for a portable Killzone weren't high. When I found out it was in development at Guerrilla Cambridge (the team formerly known as SCE Cambridge, responsible for games like MediEvil and the PSP port of LittleBigPlanet), my interest was piqued. When I saw the trailer... despite myself, I couldn't help but be a little bit excited; it looks nice and the idea of a big-budget game in your pocket is a compelling one.

Now I've played it, and talked to the game's art director, Tom Jones. Now I know much more about what to expect. Now I'm genuinely excited at the prospect of getting my hands on the full game later this year; it is, if you haven't already guessed, damn good.

In case you're unfamiliar with the game, you play as a mercenary; a gun for hire, working for whoever pays you the most - even if that's the Helghast (the "enemies" in the Killzone universe.) Starting straight after Killzone (1), the game revisits many of the events of both that game and Killzone 2, offering up a new perspective on the story of those games, without necessitating that you're already familiar with them.

The section I was able to play saw me navigate a cave environment, explore a vast open space between giant cliff-like structures, and then head indoors - all the while going toe-to-toe with enemy forces (in this case, glowing-eyed chaps I took to be Helghast.)

Combat is a combination of classic, twin-stick first-person shooter action and a light touch-screen layer that sits on top of it. With it, you can - for example - quick select a grenade or, on initiating a melee kill, swipe in the indicated direction to finish off your foe. While neither is strictly necessary, they both still work just fine and provide a slightly different feel that should help (even if only in a small way) to differentiate the experience.

Much more successful in terms of control innovation is the integration of the rear touch pad of the Vita as a method of adjusting the sniper scope's zoom. A simple slide up zooms in, then down zooms out. Rather than having a fixed level of zoom, then, you have precision control as to how much magnification you use, and you can adjust it very quickly between the extremes. It feels natural and works incredibly well.

Similarly, the visuals were striking and not just because of the Vita's incredible screen. The art direction, ably supported by the Killzone 3 engine on which the game runs, is outstanding. Enemies look menacing, the world is richly detailed, and the lighting model puts many fully-fledged console games to shame.

When you're walking around in a cave, that's exactly what it feels like. I didn't need to look up to know I was in this vast outdoor space (but I still did, and it looked incredible), and the light bloom that appeared as I went from dark to light spaces was amazingly realistic (and I should know; going outside at E3 really blows your retinas out). The indoor section, too, was grounded in reality, with lighting that felt like the artificial light you'd expect from fluorescent tubes and the like.

Good looks are, of course, wasted on a game that's no fun to play. Fortunately, that too is nothing Mercenary needs to worry about. Gunplay felt just like it does in Killzone 3, and enemies were engaging to fight with. Exploration, too, was enjoyable - helped in no small part by the huge variety in the spaces I got to explore.

After my experience with Mercenary, I also got some hands on time with it's big brother, Killzone: Shadow Fall for PlayStation 4 (look forward to Conrad's thoughts on it soon.) While that is also looking amazing, Mercenary doesn't feel inferior to it. The game seems to be getting the lavish attention Vita owners have been praying for, and is absolutely one to watch very closely indeed. Hang in there, Vita; there's hope for you yet.

Killzone: Mercenary
+ A spectacularly good FPS in your pocket
- It's on Vita; the audience there is tiny
- Killzone: Mercenary
Follow Own it?


Relevant Articles


Comments Comments (16)

Posted by jub-jub
On Thursday 13 Jun 2013 12:35 PM
Locked and loaded for this one
Posted by tom_nz
On Thursday 13 Jun 2013 1:09 PM
Might be time to get a Vita, especially with the remote play with PS4.
Posted by Bank
On Thursday 13 Jun 2013 1:15 PM
getting this. any good game for vita deserves my support. since theres such few decent fps/multiplayer for it there should actually be a good number of players here for 1-2 years tops.
Posted by dark_hadou1
On Thursday 13 Jun 2013 1:58 PM
I don't mind if the Vita audience is tiny, just means there are plenty of people out there, not knowing what they're missing out on. Also lower prices :D
Posted by chinaman71
On Thursday 13 Jun 2013 2:21 PM
Cant wait for this going to be amazing :-)
Posted by AsianFella
On Thursday 13 Jun 2013 2:53 PM
Going to have to grab this for my Vita. It looks badass.
Posted by KatalystaKaos
On Thursday 13 Jun 2013 3:20 PM
Been reluctant to get to excited about this after the half ar$ed effort that CoD was on Vita, very pleased to be reading such positive impressions from the hands on preview Alan.
Posted by Sidawg2
On Thursday 13 Jun 2013 5:29 PM
Looking forward to this, the Vita needs more big budget AAA titles developed for it in order to succeed, and this is looking like its going to provide it.
Posted by NickJacques
On Thursday 13 Jun 2013 5:32 PM
Meh, not a fan of the Vita. Hopefully they don't try to implement it to heavily with the PS4.
Posted by gh567
On Thursday 13 Jun 2013 7:07 PM
Almost makes me want to buy a Vita just to try it.... Almost....
Posted by LoftyDog
On Friday 14 Jun 2013 10:42 AM
wasnt there another terrible vita killzone? or was that resistance?
Posted by Bank
On Friday 14 Jun 2013 11:18 AM
14 June 2013, 10:42 AM Reply to LoftyDog
wasnt there another terrible vita killzone? or was that resistance?
indeed resistance mate
Posted by Kiwi08
On Friday 14 Jun 2013 4:51 PM
Good to know that the Vita is finally getting a decent FPS that matches up to the console experience. Hopefully the Vita continues to get support, then I might get one to use with the PS4 in the future.
Posted by kiwibadboy
On Saturday 15 Jun 2013 9:54 AM
Finally Vita is getting something good :)
Posted by nos4r2d2
On Saturday 15 Jun 2013 4:08 PM
May be good reason to buy a Vita if the price comes down.
Posted by AlmightyAllan
On Saturday 15 Jun 2013 9:39 PM
Gotta admit, I have preordered this for my Vita. Should tie me over until the PS4 launches. And of course after I finish the Last of Us.