Killzone Mercenary Preview: Vita’s First Killer App?

While Guerrilla Games is busy working on Killzone: Shadow Fall, Killzone: Mercenary has been worked on by a different company. Guerrilla Cambridge has taken up the helm on this portable adventure. Previously known as SCE Cambridge, they developed cult third person adventure titles MediEvil and Primal as well as 24: The Game and LittleBigPlanet PSP. To be honest, I was quite skeptical when I heard who was working on K:M but despite their platforming heritage they have leaped into the shooter genre with style. This game bleeds Killzone’s ideas, mechanics, and atmosphere. The weapons all feel right, the cover system is present, the look of the characters and map details are all accurate. As someone who has played every Killzone title, this is definitely a Killzone game.

 

What Works

The multiplayer beta only covers online play in the Warzone game mode. You can access Team Deathmatch if you form a party but I don’t believe anyone can join from outside of your friends list. So unless you have 7 other friends you’ll end up with a pretty empty map of boring old TDM. For those who have never played a Killzone title, Warzone is an amalgamation of gametypes played in succession. The game mode changes every 5 minutes which helps alleviate stagnation. The game modes are statically cycled and always start with Bounty Hunter(Kill Confirmed), Hacker(Van-Guard Collecting), Interrogation(Stealth Kills), Hacker(again…), and finally Body Count(TDM).  While Bounty Hunter and Body Count are self explanatory, Interrogation and Hacker caused me a lot of pain. In Interrogation, the only way to score points is sneak up behind an enemy and melee them. You can also interrogate a downed enemy but that requires you deal ~90% damage and then rush to their body to finish the deed. Interrogation has a use outside of the game mode as well as it acts as Intel and reveals enemy locations. Van-Guards are basically “killstreak” type powerups that can be obtained from weapon caches that fall from the sky. In every game mode other than Hacker, all you have to do is use the cache and you get the Van-Guard. In Hacker you must bypass the firewall with a quick minigame that uses the touch screen.

Interrogation is my favorite game type but also the worst to play. Most games see Interrogation as TDM. This could be due to how long an interrogation takes(approximately 5 seconds) or just a lack of interest in a stealthy game mode. The worst is when I am in the middle of interrogating an enemy and my teammate shoots him…while I am in the middle of an animation. Seriously, this happens all too often. There is only one map to play on it is perfect for a beta. Wide open areas that support long range and cover based combat. Narrow caverns for close quarters gunfights and tight corners to test reflexes. This is a well thought out map and supports pretty much any play style. I have dropped 2 hours in the game and have not tired of this map yet, though it is not without its issues.

Weapons are gained by using the money you earn in matches to buy the weapons you want. I appreciate this system much more than the earn as you level process as this allows a player to get guns to meet their playstyle first and experiment with new weapons after playing matches at their best potential. It also keeps the gun count low which helps keep the guns diverse and balanced. Extra money is earned from gaining medals a la Battlefield 3. As far as unlocking all of the equipment, I have seen people do it in a day or two. The weapons aren’t particularly expensive(ranging from 5,000 to 11,000 Vektan) and Vektan is accrued pretty rapidly. I was averaging 6,000 per game before post match bonuses. I wish more games were like this as it keeps all players on a level playing field early on.

The graphics are phenomenal. Still pictures do not do this game justice. Even after watching the trailer on YouTube I wasn’t sold on the graphics. But I was blown away when I actually got my hands on it. Running on the smaller screen of the Vita(opposed to the trailer running full screen on my PC) and actually having the game in motion changes everything. A lot of work was done at optimizing the game and squeezing every little drop out of the Vita. I doubt this is the pinnacle of the Vita’s power but it is a huge step towards it.

 

What Does Not Work

While a lot of the game feels great there are still some aspects that have been changed for the worse. There are some obvious exclusions to trim this game down to portable size. While the guns feel like Killzone guns, the movement and weight of the world feels like Killzone, the classes and map design do not. In fact they feel like Call of Duty. This is not inherently wrong but Killzone 2 and 3’s multiplayer had a very different feel from other shooters. They did take a lot of cues from Battlefield, such as the classes and lack of killstreaks, but it felt like its own take on the multiplayer FPS. Guerrilla Cambridge dropped the class system for a Create a Class systems. Chose an armor type, primary/secondary weapon, grenade, and Van-Guard to make a loadout. Gone are the days of sentry bots, medics, engineers, or any support type of action.

The maps also seem to have taken a cue from Black Ops 2 as the circular map leaves zero places that are well protected. This leads to a lot of cheap kills as you need 360 degree awareness at most times. While we have yet to see what other maps make it in, if this is any indication I am preparing myself for more cheap kills. Combat is tied down to 4v4 and some of my favorite game types are gone such as Assassination and Domination. These aren’t really gripes with the game, as I understand 8 player Domination would not work well, but I still feel this game eschews its history in favor of a more CoD style of gameplay.

 

Conclusion

Killzone: Mercenary is definitely one of the top FPS games I have seen on a portable device. Although some aspects have been toned down to support the smaller scale and player count it still feels like Killzone. Hopefully the single player will be just as great when it launches in the next couple of weeks.

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