Reviews// Killzone: Mercenary

Posted 4 Sep 2013 16:52 by
As the fifth outing for the Killzone series, Mercenary is the first of the titles to attempt an FPS in handheld form. Where Killzone: Liberation, landing on PSP a staggering seven years ago, took the form of an isometric-like third-person view, Vita’s grunty graphical power means Mercenary can get elbow-deep with its FPS brethren.

Developer Guerilla Cambridge (formerly, Sony’s Studio Cambridge) has had its work cut-out to deliver an outstanding game because it risks being blotted out by the impending PS4’s leviathanic marketing factory spewing out all manner of hype for the next Killzone console release, Shadow Fall.

So, how does Mercenary differentiate itself from other Killzone FPSs? As the name suggests, Mercenary shifts its gaze from the travails of the ISA infantry and over to the titular guns-for-hire. When the only chain-of-command goes from you to the man with a caseload of Vektan dollars, questionable loyalties and less regimented missions should make for a fresher, more colourful game.

The first sense of this comes with the narrative. Marred by forgettable characters, clichéd dialogue and uninspiring plots, past Killzones haven’t fared well on this facet.

Mercenary keeps the backstory and dialogue to a minimum. Whether that choice is due to the space restrictions of Vita game cards or a design choice, it’s a welcome one.

Relieved of having to wade through lengthy periods of narrative attempting to lend rhyme or reason to the ISA’s motives and the Helghast’s machinations, mission briefings are indeed brief; “This has happened. Go here and do this and that. Now off you go.”

Those missions take place alongside some of the events of prior Killzone titles. From the ISA reclaiming Vekta to the nuking of the Helghan capital, Pyrrhus, Mercenary tantalises fans with an interesting perspective on events played in the past games.

Despite this interweaving however, the game remains light on plot and continues very much on a mission-by-mission basis throughout. With only a single arc concerning the rescue of an ISA ambassador’s family, and a turncoat Helghast scientist and his mysterious research project, the game spends more time focussed on mission-related details rather than some overblown tale of hard-done-by colonies.

If you’re a Killzone diehard, and my opinion of Killzone’s “tapestry” rubs you the wrong way, then fear not, as there’s a heap of backstory to be gathered by locating, hacking or “extracting” intelligence reports.

That, “extracting” involves wounding or stealthily taking down enemy officers and persuading them to share what they know. The process is pretty tedious for a couple of reasons; firstly, to carry out an interrogation you have to swipe the screen following the prompt.

There’s also no option to move the target to a more secluded area. With the interrogations taking some time, it leaves you open to being spotted and shot/roasted/obliterated.

However, it’s worth wading through it, as collecting intel is one way to earning Valour Cards. Based on regular playing cards, these can also be earned through combat achievements. An indication of the preferred play-style, which is useful for multiplayer, they also lead to bonus dollars.

The use of swipe touch control is perpetuated in carrying out melee attacks, though mercifully that’s just a single swipe. It’s the game’s single worst feature, as it demands that your hands leave their normal position on the sticks or buttons and carry out a dumb game of “Simon Says” in the centre of the screen.

Another example of bad touch is the sprint control, where double tapping the back panel will start a sprint. After inadvertently bursting from cover, raising alarm bells and a fresh delivery of backup, I dug into the settings and found that, joy of joys, it can be disabled.

There is one redeeming use of touch, and that comes into play when hacking. Mostly required to access intel terminals, some locked doors require hacking to continue the mission. Though it’s the simplest of puzzles - before the timer runs out, tap a couple of hexagonal “key” shapes to match each of the codes presented - it works like a dream.

Time pressure and jittery fingers make the hacking puzzles fun instead of a chore (c.f. Bioshock, Mass Effect, Dead Space 2, et al). Of course, the process takes time, and you’re open to assault while carrying it out, so it’s important to “make some space”.

Unless you plan to run and gun, assaults typically take the form of using cover and peeking over the top. It’s hit & miss gauging whether you’re protected or in the line of sight, as you’ll often be able to see the enemy, yet they appear to be unaware of you. On the other hand, there were plenty of times I was being all stealthy and figured I was well hidden, only to have Happy Henry Helghast toasting me with his flamethrower.

Legging it is often the best response, yet even when out of sight and remaining silent the enemy seem to have ESP and head straight to your location. Despite being totally hidden, they’ll turn up and exclaim “we’ve lost him”, yet still hang around. So effectively the AI and line of sight is a bit dim.

Perhaps I should have just gone balls-out. After all, the game has a broader range of “load out” option than its predecessors. With an array of primary and secondary weapons to purchase, plus slots for grenades, armour & Vanguard support gadgets, you can handle pretty much any situation.
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