By: Brad Gallaway
The ongoing saga of conflict between the ISA of Earth and the fright-masked Helghast doesn’t seem to have any end in sight. For fans of the Playstation-exclusive shooter series Killzone, the next installment in this struggle, Killzone: Mercenary, comes from the newly-renamed Guerrilla Cambridge studio.
The last portable Killzone was back in 2006, when Liberation shifted things into a top-down perspective and gave the gameplay a slightly more strategic spin. This time around, it returns to its first-person roots and will make fans of the console versions feel right at home.
Killzone: Mercenary for the Vita takes the fight to Helghan, the home planet of the enemy, with an efficient gun-for-hire named Arran Danner in the lead role. (Hence the title.) The objective of the mission available in the preview was to gain control of powerful anti-aircraft cannons that are preventing friendly forces from landing.
Things get underway with Danner being dropped out of an airship while wearing a wingsuit. It was disappointing to see that the glide sequence was just a short clip and not something to actually play, but things heat up soon enough.
After landing, we discover that the rest of the team was picked out of the skies before touching down, so completing the mission is a solo affair; it’s not a surprise. However, what is a surprise is how nice the game looks. The Vita has been somewhat under-utilized in terms of graphical prowess since it launched, but Mercenary is a title that’s sure to have passersby stopping to stare for a moment or two.
Past the sharp graphics, there are a number of unique additions. The most obvious thing is that certain functions have been mapped to the Vita’s touchscreen. Actions like tossing grenades and switching weapons are now performed by tapping small icons on the edge of the screen. Since they’re easily reachable with a thumb during play, this shift was a smart move.
On the other hand, silent melee kills are performed by first pressing the triangle button and then following up with a finger-swipe on the touchscreen. Although it’s not the worst implementation of touch we’ve seen on the Vita, it’s inconvenient to have to remove a hand from the controls in order to accomplish the swipe. Bonus points awarded to Guerrilla Cambridge for making one of the melee animations a stab to the junk, though.
Another new addition is the “Mantys Engine”, a remote-controlled flying drone that the player can use to both scout the area and eliminate enemies. This unit can hover up and down, and can fit into small spaces. When it’s got an enemy Helghast in its sights, it can use its front-mounted pincers to deliver a brain-piercing double stab, clearing the way for Arran while he’s a safe distance away.
While those tweaks are generally great, they wouldn’t matter much if the most important part of the game wasn’t nailed: the shooting. We’re glad to say that the weapons available to us in the demo (an assault rifle and a pistol) felt exactly the way that they should, and it was easy and accurate to throw some lead the enemies’ way. Options are also in place for those who want to adjust the control sensitivity.
Players looking for a challenge seem to be in luck. Enemy resistance came in fast and thick, and there was no shortage of action. In one particularly tough spot, Arran’s ISA commanders sent in a Porcupine missile system that lobs explosives towards on-screen enemies with another tap of the touch interface.
There were quiet spots where stealth was an option, though. By taking out surveillance cameras and using melee or the Mantys, the pace could be slowed in spots for those who like to go through enemy territory a little more cautiously. Frequent checkpoints ensured that we didn’t have to retread much territory when the “Higs” got the better of us.
Although it wasn’t covered in the content that we saw, early word from Sony is that the game will take full advantage of the mercenary concept by offering missions on both sides of the war. If the ISA isn’t paying the wage, hop on over to the Helghast side and make some cash. Additionally, player ranking and certain options are apparently linked to the player’s standing as a merc, rather than a traditional progression system.
Killzone: Mercenary was looking quite solid in the short time we spent with it, and the new ideas on display (on top of those that weren’t) only make it sound even more appealing. Look for it to launch on the Vita in North America on September 10, 2013.