Features & News
Hands On: Killzone: Mercenary
August 13, 2013, Author: Andy Corrigan
After the veritable train wrecks that were Resistance: Burning Skies and Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified, it’d be easy to find yourself pessimistic about the future of the first-person shooter on Sony’s handheld platform. Sure, Stranger’s Wrath restored faith somewhat after Nihilistic Software’s reign of actual terror, yet I don’t think that I’m alone in saying that I couldn’t help but look at the upcoming Killzone: Mercenary and worry, even if just a little.
Having now had a small taste of the game, I find my concerns are completely allayed; it seems every bit the real deal.
The preview level kicks off as big and as loud as you’d expect from this series, with the protagonist skydiving headfirst from a drop-ship and using a wingsuit to aim for a Helghast rail-car. It’s a phenomenal sight as the character weaves through the smoke and clouds, dodging enemy ships and gunfire above the Helghan skyline. Your mission upon landing is to rejig the enemy’s anti-air cannons to fire on their own ships. On the way to doing this, you need to clear areas of enemies, hit switches, hack terminals and defend key locations before evacuating safely. Typical military-themed objectives, then.
As soon as your character makes his landing, you’re given full control. Instantly, you can tell that the handling feels great; in fact it feels just like Killzone, which is the first sign that the game might just deliver what it promises. Movement and aiming is smooth and fluid using the Vita’s sticks, feeling right at home. The button layout for most part is precisely as you’d expect, mimicking CoD the best it can, but some actions are niftily mapped to the d-pad, such as grenade tossing and weapons switching. In case you don’t like those actions there, Mercenary includes touchscreen equivalents on the right-hand edge of the HUD, making for smart, convenient placement for touch functionality that is entirely optional.
In fact, the Vita’s feature-set is rarely forced upon you, only required in a handful of instances. In mêlée quicktime events, for example, time is slowed and you’re required to swipe in the indicated direction. Thankfully, you can make that swipe anywhere on the screen; you’re not resigned to moving your hands into an uncomfortable position if you don’t want to. Some switches in the level also require touchscreen action after being activated, leaving you to swipe in the direction a lever needs to be pulled. My absolute favourite Vita feature for shooters actually had to be turned on; after Uncharted: The Golden Abyss, I love using the device’s gyroscope to make those subtle adjustments to my aiming.
Of course, thoughtful design and polished mechanics don’t mean a damn if the combat is not fun, and thankfully it’s suitably frantic stuff. Guns have a lovely, chunky weighting to them and feel great to fire, which is a strange thing to say about a gaming device without rumble. Enemies are aggressive and press you pretty hard, but they’re certainly not dumb, rarely just walking into your line of fire unwittingly. They seem to know exactly when to take cover or hang back appropriately, blind-firing when you’re closing in on them, and working together to flank and force you out of cover at every chance they get. When the troops start flooding in, there’s this great sense of 360-degree danger, and it’s both challenging and exhilarating.
Unlike the home console games, you are not free to pick up any weapon you desire; rather you need purchase them using money earned by bagging kills, making headshots and completing objectives. Once you have enough cash, new guns can be bought bang in the middle of a mission by using the weapon caches littered around the level. These in turn allow you to swap your loadout as your objectives require, plus replenish your ammo with the touch of a button.
Throughout the entire preview level, whether it’s during that action-packed intro or in the middle of a busy firefight, the visuals on display are absolutely gorgeous. The screenshots here aren’t touched up, nor are they supplied from Sony PR; these are shots I’ve taken myself during gameplay and it looks just as good in motion. It runs remarkably smoothly too, not once falling victim to slowdown, frame drops or other technical hiccups. Audibly, it seems a solid effort also, with great impact felt from gunfire and explosions, while some solid macho voice work manages to accompany it well.
After playing through this short sampler, I’m hugely pleased to say that I’ve upgraded my anticipation for Killzone: Mercenary from ‘cautious interest’ to ‘eager excitement’. On this evidence at least, it’s looking to be all you could want from a portable FPS. Bring on September.
Killzone: Mercenary is due on shelves on September 4th in EU and September 10th in the US.