Not since Killzone 2 have we been as seduced by Guerrilla's brutal brand of warfare. This is without a doubt the most gorgeous looking game that has graced the PS Vita up until now, and a game that more than any before it showcases just how much the device is capable of in the right hands.
Unlike previous chapters in the Killzone franchise, you're not serving any higher cause this time around. Instead you're fighting for money. It's all about killing, and killing in style. We find ourselves wanting to replay the first level right as its completed, evidence of the addictive nature of the concept behind it - it's all about multipliers.
Killzone Mercenary is more challenging that you'd expect even on the easier difficulties, and I'm often impressed by the artificial intelligence that isn't prone to any stupid mistakes even with the gorgeous visuals taking its toll on the processor. With smaller sticks controls are less forgiving than your standard controller, but you will soon get used to it and I have no complaints about the controls other than what Guerrilla Cambridge were forced to do as they ran out of buttons.
One such issue is that running and crouching are on the same button, something that often leads to the wrong action being performed. Sure you've got the option of double tapping the rear touchpad, but that isn't exactly intuitive. Things like grenades are used by pressing icons on the touchscreen either to the left or the right. It works, but once again isn't optimal. You can modify these things to fit your playstyle, but there is no perfect solution to be found.
It's addictive and we want to maximise those headshots, sneak up on enemies and stab them with our Rambo knife, and most importantly kill a bunch of them with well aimed grenades to get the multiplier up. There's a ka-ching sound as the cash hits the account.
The money is used to buy weapons, ammunition, better equipment and so on. It's a concept that's well suited to the portable format. Replaying levels you've already completed chasing high-scores makes more sense than cutting up a story in small little pieces trying to keep the player immersed. It's a decision that works well for the format, and we wish other titles would embrace. That's not to say there's no story, it's just not prominent. The economy works across multiplayer and singleplayer so you're well advised to spend your cash wisely.
The levels are also designed to take the player across different environments. No level looks like the last one, and normally I would object to this style of narrative, but it works for Killzone: Mercenary as it's all about the money. When I play a level for the tenth time I'm not really paying attention to the merits of using weapon X in location Y as it needs protecting from Z. Money is all the motivation I need to play and in this way it feels a lot like hitting the arcades.
As a first on PS Vita, we're afforded multiplayer that offers everything you'd expect from home console counterparts. It's not a home run though, as Guerrilla Cambridge have messed up the spawn points. Killing someone - just to be killed the next second by the very same player is not uncommon in Killzone Mercenary. I'm also not sold on the long melee animations and the network code isn't without flaws.
At the end of the day this is an entertaining action romp and the best game since Killzone 2 in the series. With games like this one PS Vita could be mounting a comeback.
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