The FPS genre is home to some of the biggest names in gaming. From linear story titles such as Half-Life and Doom, competitive multiplayer games like Call of Duty and Counter-Strike: GO to “Loot Shooters” including Borderlands or Destiny, there is something for most gamers. However, one thing that almost every FPS game has in common is that they can only be found on the latest consoles and PC.
For handheld or mobile gamers, you are limited to duck and cover shooters (think Time Crisis in your local arcade) or static sniper games that don’t require any player movement. As a major FPS lover, the lack of decent FPS titles available on devices like the PS Vita was pretty disheartening for Hitbox Gaming.
After consulting the PS Vita Reddit community, Killzone: Mercenary was generally considered to provide the best FPS experience on Sony’s handheld. During a trip abroad for work, Hitbox Gaming had the opportunity to give Guerilla Games’ shooter a go, and it didn’t disappoint.
Killzone: Mercenary is a seriously good looking game, making full use of the PS Vita’s powerful hardware to produced a very polished visual experience. As a mercenary, your role is to complete dangerous and undesirable jobs, which your employer doesn’t have the skill or stomach to do. The dystopian future-esque visuals help to bring this world to life (or death, really) and transports you perfectly into the grey, concrete jungle that is your playground.
Unlike mobile FPS games, you maneuver, interact with and shoot stuff using the Vita’s controls freeing up the screen for a familiar HUD which displays fairly standard info, like which gun you’re using, how much ammo you have, a mini map and on-screen prompts.
For FPS titles, gameplay is without a doubt the most important aspect of a successful game and Killzone: Mercenary does a pretty good job in this area. Being able to ADS (Aim Down Sights) using the left trigger and fire with the right, jump with X and reload by pushing Square, makes the game instantly familiar to anybody who has played a console shooter before.
One of the things that sets the game apart from its peers is how good the movement is. Using the traditional left stick to move and right stick to aim, Killzone: Mercenary feels good to play and allows you to effectively move, slide and jump between cover to get better angles on enemies.
Unfortunately, one thing which doesn’t quite hit the mark is the aiming. While the game does allow players to change the speed which your sights move, it’s difficult to find a good balance between accuracy and ability to move quickly between enemies. With many console games this is made easier by implementing some level of aim assist, which essentially makes the cursor snap to a nearby enemy. In Killzone: Mercenary it doesn’t feel like this is programmed into the game, which given the limited movement available on the Vita’s analogue sticks, would have made a world of difference.
Aside from the aiming mechanism, the game uses the Vita’s inputs to full effect, including the touch screen. For example, when activating a melee attack you will be prompted to swipe your finger in a designated direction to complete the gruesome attack. Also, at various points during missions you will be required to hack into computer terminals, which requires you to frantically solve a simple but time-limited puzzle on the touch screen.
Stealth is also a major part of the gameplay and at times makes up for how difficult it is to accurately aim when under intense fire. Each mission is split into different sections and requires you to get past enemies or secure some kind of objective. Often, you get more points for completing each section without the enemies raising the alarm. As soon as you’re spotted, the section essentially becomes a horde mode, with waves of enemies coming in to shoot you. If you effectively use cover and silenced or non-lethal weapons to take out enemies, you often get a higher score and more money when the section is complete.
In Killzone: Mercenary you take control of the rather generic sounding Arran Danner, a mercenary hired by an organisation called the ISA to exact revenge on an evil force which has invaded another planet. It’s a fairly bog standard kind of retribution story which has a fairly unsurprising plot twist about halfway through.
However, it isn’t the cliché or overused story which holds the game back, rather it is related to its main modus operandi; being a mercenary. When playing as Arran Danner, I knew that he was just in it for the cash, and by association, so was I. Because Danner probably didn’t give two hoots about his employers or enemies, neither did I.
For any game involving conflict, you need to feel emotionally connected to one side or another. In Killzone: Mercenary your entire purpose is to get the job done, in exchange for cash which feels far too much like work to make for an enjoyable game.
While there are a one or two pretty big things preventing Killzone: Mercenary being considered a great game, it shouldn’t be seen as anything less that a big success. The most important thing that the game demonstrates is that there is a future for mobile and handheld FPS games, which is very promising.