In their continuing quest to show that the PlayStation Vita is a viable system for first-person shooters, Sony proudly presents Killzone: Mercenary, a sci-fi shooter from Guerrilla Cambridge (the studio formerly known as SCE Cambridge). But while fans of this long-running series will think this portable edition feels just like the home games, that same feeling will be an issue for those who’ve had problems with this series in the past.
Set during the timeframe of 2009’s Killzone 2 and 2011’s Killzone 3, Killzone: Mercenary casts you as a gun-for-hire whose only allegiance is to himself, his friends, and his wallet. Though because of the whole “for-hire” part, you have to pay for all of your weapons and equipment.
Thankfully, you earn money not just for completing missions, but for how creatively you kill anyone who tries to stop you, much like how you earn experience points in many online games. This doesn’t make a lot of sense in the story-driven campaign — why would the person who hired you pay more because you shot some guys in the head or killed two in rapid succession? — but it does mean you can usually afford whatever you need.
Not surprisingly, given the Vita’s power, Killzone: Mercenary looks just like its console cousins, and sounds that good as well (assuming, of course, you use some good headphones and not the machine’s lousy built-in speakers).
But graphics and sound have never been an issue for the Killzone games. It’s the controls that have kept it from being as essential as such fellow sci-fi shooters Halo and Borderlands. When played with the default settings, the aiming controls are so loose that it’s difficult to really get a bead on any enemy who isn’t standing perfectly still.
Compounding the problem — which impacts the story mode and the online multiplayer ones equally — is that even if you dial back on the default sensitivity, which makes a huge difference, the Vita’s thumbsticks and buttons still aren’t as suited to shooting games as the PlayStation 3’s controller.
Killzone: Mercenary also forces you to use the touchscreen instead of buttons when you want to stab someone from behind (which does make narrative sense, since that shouldn’t be easy) or pull a level (which makes no sense whatsoever, since that is easy). Granted, this isn’t a problem if you’re all alone. But during a firefight, taking your fingers off the thumbsticks and buttons so you can use the touchscreen may get you killed.
Another quibble, albeit a minor one, is that you have to manually pick up ammo your enemies drop. Which make sense in games where you can only carry a limited amount of stuff, and thus may not want to grab bullets for guns you don’t own, but Killzone: Mercenary isn’t one of those games. Not only is the ammo of the universal variety, but picking it up gives you money as well as bullets. So there’s really no reason not to pick it up. Thankfully, you don’t have to look at the ammo to pick it up; just being near it when you hit the triangle button will do the trick.
But perhaps the oddest problem with Killzone: Mercenary is that when you hit the Start button to pause the game, your character takes a moment to lower his weapon and lift up his left arm to use a wrist-mounted computer. It’s is a nice touch, from a narrative point of view, but if your phone rings while you’re in the middle of a gunfight, and so you instinctively press the Start button to pause the game, you might get shot in the time it takes to go through all those motions.
Often times, when a longtime series does a handheld installment, it’s hard not to think how much better the console version would’ve been. But while this doesn’t make the Vita as viable a place for first-person shooters as the PlayStation 3 (or 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PCs…), Killzone: Mercenary — save for the touchscreen controls and a couple other minor issues — really is the same game as it would’ve been on the PS3. For better or worse.
What do you think of this game (or my review of it)? Please let me know in the comments below.