The best thing you can say about Killzone Mercenary is that it is a solid console quality shooter. In many ways this is great praise, but it also indicates an issue. As a Vita game Mercenary is easy to recommend due to the platform, as a pure shooter it’s not as easy to praise. Mercenary isn’t a bad game, in fact it is a really good one, it is just that there’s nothing special here. However, Mercenary’s status on the Vita makes up for some potential issues as it is head and shoulders above all of its competition. It’s far from the best first person shooter ever made, but it’s the best one on the Vita and is good in its own right. It’s not a remarkable game, and wouldn’t stand out on a more conventional platform, but it’s just what the Vita needs.
Killzone Mercenary takes advantage of a lot of what the Vita has to offer, in regard to visuals and controls. It looks wonderful and is easily on par with (if not better than) early PS3 games. The art style is what you expect from a Killzone game, which means that your reaction to it may be predetermined. If you like the look of those games then good news, Mercenary gives you that look again in a proficient fashion. The environments are detailed and nicely oppressive, the industrial architecture is well designed and everything is as grey as you would expect. It’s a nice kind of grey and it’s an aesthetic that works for the series, but if the look has put you off in the past then the technically nice graphics of Mercenary won’t do much for you.
Control wise it plays like you would expect a first person shooter to control, and this is a great thing. This is one of the first examples of a handheld console really pulling off a proper FPS without compromise. The controls don’t feel forced or limited, there isn’t much forced touch based gameplay (in fact the little there is works rather well) and it just plays right. Moving and shooting feels like it should and the well designed weapons make it really fun to play. One thing worthy of note is that Mercenary doesn’t feel like a Killzone game, the weighty controls that have defined the series to a certain extent are gone, replaced with a more responsive arcadey feel. Personally I loved the feel of the previous games, the weight gave the series a real identity and added a deliberate and methodical pace. This new approach is much more accessible though, and less likely to be polarising. It doesn’t feel like Killzone usually does, but it feels good.
A reason for this new approach comes from the set up for Mercenary, in which you (no surprises here) play as a mercenary. You aren’t an ISA soldier any more and the difference in movement does convey a difference in character. Saying this, being a mercenary doesn’t have a huge impact. You still go through levels and shoot a lot of people with familiar weapons. Sure, your motivation for doing so is different, but what you are doing doesn’t feel distinct from what you were doing before. There is an overtly telegraphed and predictable twist later on in the game, one that slightly changes things gameplay wise, but not in any meaningful way. You go through levels and you kill people, you kill a variety of people, but the process doesn’t differ much.
The story that motivates all this shooting isn’t an impressive one, but the story in Killzone never really is. It’s expected at this point, and perhaps that’s the real damming criticism. One change is that they really push the fact that you are a money motivated merc. In fact, they might push it too far. The story is very one note and the twists and turns it takes towards the back end are all very pedestrian and don’t really hold up if you think about them too much. It doesn’t wholly tie together, but it gives you a good enough reason to shoot through some well put together fun levels.
One cool thing about the set up is the way making money is handled. In a rather contrived way you make money for pretty much everything you do, even picking up ammo. This constant reward, and the way it is tied to a variety of actions, makes it feel like a simplified Bulletstorm. You get more money for head shots and kills in quick succession, and the constant reward does add an addictive element to the proceedings. It’s artificially rewarding, but it is well implemented. These rewards also work towards levelling up and your progression is shared between campaign and multiplayer, which is a good feature.
The multiplayer itself is at once unremarkable and completely remarkable. It’s completely standard as far as FPS multiplayer goes, but once again there’s nothing like this on the Vita (or really on a handheld). It’s great to be able to play console quality multiplayer on the go (if you have a connection that is), it would just be better if the offering was more impressive.
This is true of the game in general though. Killzone Mercenary gives you a well put together and enjoyable campaign; there are some cool moments, but there are also some detractions. The economy adds a lot to the game, but buying weapons rather than scrounging for them gives you little incentive to liven up your arsenal (and having to pay to re-equip weapons you own seems unnecessary even if it is super cheap). There’s nothing really stand-out here, and that makes Killzone Mercenary a hard game to evaluate. The Vita is capable of giving you a better and more imaginative FPS, but there is something to be said for a well executed game like Mercenary. It’s easy to forgive Mercenary, perhaps more than it deserves, because of its unique position on its platform (the first decent console quality shooter), but it is a good game. The Vita holds more promise for a better title that’s easier to properly recommend, but until then it’s worth highlighting that Mercenary is a really fun shooter that fits really nicely on its platform.