Ever since Sony unveiled its PlayStation Vita, we've craved a quality first person shooter that takes advantage of the system's dual analog sticks. Killzone Mercenary is that game, a by-the-numbers but entertaining frag-fest that puts the handheld's features on display, from attractive and suitably war-torn environments to brutal touchscreen executions. It stumbles along the way, but there's little reason to avoid it if you enjoy the franchise.
In all fairness, we dismissed much of the plot, which comes with forgettable characters and predictable double crosses. In short, you play as mercenary Arran Danner, a ruthless gun-for-hire caught in the middle of two factions that could care less whether he lives or dies; the usual small fish, big pond scenario.
This being the case, we didn't care who contracted Danner so long as there were enemies to shoot, and in this regard, Killzone Mercenary delivers. The undeniably cool-looking Helghast soldiers swarm each level, with their glowing orange eyes providing targets to score satisfying head shots. Suffice to say, there are no shortage of firefights, and there's plenty of fun to be had blasting enemies, blowing them up via explosive barrels and torturing warriors with melee attacks, where you slash up/down or diagonally to drive Danner's knife into the tops of their heads, armpits and even testicles. Always a good time.
Slaughtering evildoers ties into a pay-out system where you earn currency for just about everything, from killing someone outright to scavenging for ammo and hacking pieces of equipment for intel (a somewhat bothersome touchscreen mini game where you match up series of triangles). From there, you search for armory crates scattered throughout the environments that let you interact with an arms dealer called Blackjack. Money talks, and you're able to purchase and equip a decent amount of automatic weapons, sniper rifles and shotguns, in addition to grenades, armor and VAN-guards, the latter of which are special weapons that let you unleash homing missiles and rain fire from above, among other useful functions.
The concept works, largely because earning dough is easy, and the developers wisely placed a bunch of crates within easy reach. It's weird not being able to pick up and enemy's weapon, but seeing how much cash you collect is a solid alternative, especially with the chance to replay previously completed levels under strict guidelines; finishing in 20 minutes, killing a particular target with a headshot, etc.
Bottom line, the single-player campaign provides several hours of fun despite the lackluster narrative and paint-by-numbers gameplay. Multiplayer, though, is the reason you'll hang onto Killzone Mercenary, with eight players competing in deathmatch, team deathmatch and Warzone, a challenging game type that forces people to complete different objectives throughout the course of a match. Sony incorporated the VAN-Guard system, so there's usually a mad scramble to activate a special capsule to gain access to weapons, while more laid-back players lie in wait, picking off anxious gamers. We were unable to join a full room (the game debuts September 10), but if our experience with both the final version and beta are any indication, it's a mostly lag-free experience.
The only thing lost on us was the Valor system, where players receive playing cards that signify their earning potential. Ultimately, it had little impact on our ability to advance and pay for different weapons; in all fairness, we used the most basic guns most of the way, only switching for variety.
Killzone Mercenary didn't wow us, but we can live with that. It's a good FPS that showcases the handheld's potential, and while it does little to push the series forward, it'll make a fine portable companion for players with itchy trigger fingers.
Review code provided by Sony.
What's Hot:No shortage of intense firefights, gruesome melee attacks, killing for money never gets old, satisfying though somewhat limited multiplayer, PS3-quality visuals.
What's Not:Unimportant Valor system, lazy plot with forgettable characters, silly hacking mini-game.