Even if it's Guerrilla Cambridge, former SCE Studios Cambridge, who are developing Killzone: Mercenary we're in Amsterdam to test the game. During the presentation hosts Guerrilla Games are quick to point out how closely they have worked with the Cambridge outfit, and that most of the staff involved with the development have been involved with previous games.
Next on the checklist is to point out that Killzone: Mercenary isn't a simple spin-off or half-assed attempt to cash in on the franchise.
"Our goal is to create a faithfull and complete Killzone experience, and regardless of what others are doing on the platform, we've had a clear vision of what we wanted to achieve from day one", says Piers Jackson, game director.
If you consider the competition as far as first person shooters go on PS Vita, it's not particularly strong. Resistance: Burning Skies was decent at best, and Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified was as fun as paying your billd. With Killzone: Mercenary Guerrilla Cambridge aim to raise the bar as far as portable first person shooters go.
Judging by our hands-on session they seemed to have made progress towards an experience worthy of the Killzone brand. They have spent the better part of a year adapating and optimising the engine from Killzone 3 and make it run on PS Vita - and you'll feel right at home in the grey and brown industrial environments. The weapon models are detailed. The lighting is very neat. The Helghast scream "Die, merc!" and the salvos echo between the walls. If you've played Killzone 3 on PlayStation 3 you will feel right at home, in spite of the lack of secondary shoulder buttons.
Killzone: Mercenary is played out in parallel with the previous installments in the series. We will revisit Vekta from the first game, and take part in covert missions just prior to the invasion of Helghan in Killzone 2. The new main character is Arran Danner, a ex-military man with mandatory five o' clock shadow and tattoos covering his forearm - he's no softy and isn't a strong believer in liberty.
As the title implies Danner makes a living as a soldier of fortune. He's only interest in the conflict is money, and his loyalties doesn't really lie with anyone. As long as he is being paid he doesn't care whether it's ISA or Helghast who pays him. The result of this is that we won't just be shooting the iconic Helghast soldiers during the 6-8 hour long campaign, but we'll also be shooting ISA soldiers.
The story revolves around a mission where Danner is tasked with evacuating a Vektan ambassadeur and his family from Helghan during the war portrayed in Killzone 2 and Killzone 3. The mission doesn't work out as planned, and Danner finds himself drawn into a power struggle of sorts between ISA and Helghast where the ambassadeur's son, Justus Harkin, seems to be a key player.
In one of the level we sample, Justus is present and hides in a ventilation shaft. According to Piers Jackson the boy will have a key role to play - and at times he will assist Danner. Is it too much to assume that the icey cold heart of Danner will thaw, and that our hero will realise there is more to life than money?
In addition to the single player compaign Killzone: Mercenary plays host to three multiplayer modes and something called Contract Mode. The multiplayer is pretty much what you'd expect. There is Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and Warzone. The latter is a game mode with mulitple objective. Contract Mode is unlocked as you clear each level of the campaign. It allows you the option of replaying said level with specific challenges, such as making your way through the level stealthily or blowing up certain targets along the way.
One of the most important new feature is the in-game currency. Both in campaign and multiplayer you will earn cash you can spend on new gear and weapons. Piers Jackson says it will be up to the player to decide his playstyle. Will you take a stealth approach? Spend your cash on a silenced pistol. If you prefer a more head on approach - then you may want to spend your cash on an assault rifle. This is also where Contract Mode comes into play as it requires certain playstyles as you try and reach the objectives.
During our hands-on session there wasn't a lot of sneaking taking place. More or less every encounter ended in a shoot out, only broken up by the occassional melee instance where we made use of the touchscreen to commit bloody murder. Swipe your finger across the screen to stab your enemy in the back. Other Vita features used is the tilt that activates bombs, and you zoom in with the sniper rifle using the rear touch pad.
After having completed one of nine levels in the game, sampled another level briefly and scored a few headshots in multiplayer Killzone: Mercenary comes across as a solid piece of software. There's nothing here you haven't seen before, but Guerrilla Cambridge haven't really been gunning for that, but rather they've been fully focused on creating an experience that measures up to Killzone 2 and Killzone 3.
The framerate wasn't always entirely stabile, but there is still time to optimise this until the September release. It was hard to tell if it's actually possible to sneak your way through entirety of the campaign like Agent 47. Danner was often spotted by a camera or a Helghast soldier at the very edge of the screen.
Our biggest concern with Killzone: Mercenary is whether it offers suitable gameplay for a portable device. Will players have patience to play things slow and stealth, or string together streaks in multiplayer, when they're waiting on the bus?
Sure, Guerrilla Cambridge have added a bit of touch functionality here and there, but disregarding that this feels like a game that might as well have been developed for PS3, and it would probably made for an even better experience. If you've been dying this type of Killzone experience on your Vita, then you might as well add an extra fire to the anticipation meter below.