The lucrative FPS market has always struggled to find a suitable home on handheld devices. With a second analog stick available on the Vita, Guerrilla Cambridge has managed an impressive feat: deliver a rock-solid entry in the Killzone franchise that includes production values, controls, and action that stands comfortably beside (and in some cases, above) many console shooters.
The focus is right where it should be, on fast, challenging shooting scenes that come rapid fire one after the other. Smartly built battlefields offer ample cover points, lots of vertical space in which enemies might hide, and aggressive enemy AI that demands you stay mobile. Weapons mostly fall into familiar types, but I really enjoy the powerful Van-Guard devices, which deliver everything from orbital strikes to melee drones or electronics jamming. Many fights offer optional opportunities for stealth, which comes as a welcome change of pace from the constant shooting. Most of the ensuing fights are great fun, but some devolve into frustrating bouts against too many waves of enemies. I’m also not a big fan of the few boss fights, which mostly involve frustrating sprints between cover as you wait to trigger explosive barrels or weaponry.
While Mercenary is all about ushering you from one skirmish to the next, Guerrilla has managed a deft bit of storytelling, systematically reintroducing many of the central plot events of previous games, now told from a new perspective. Protagonist Arran Danner is a nobody mercenary who gets shuffled from one conflict to the next, but it’s hard to get behind the guy, since he’s a jerk looking to shoot just about anyone for the right price. This mercenary attitude does offer the opportunity to finally play on both sides of the long-running conflict, a move that should please many fans, and leave others annoyed that they’re having to side with the bad guys part of the time.
While it doesn’t offer too many surprises, the multiplayer component is impressive and attractive. Players take each other out in some standard deathmatch and team deathmatch modes, along with a more objective-focused team mode that is the most entertaining of the three. Maps are thoughtfully designed and enjoyable to explore, but too many of the environments fall back on tired destroyed industrial architecture to stand apart from one another. A dynamic valor system tracks your actions over time and rewards a numbered playing card that corresponds to your efforts, and in turn you can collect cards from fallen enemies, offering increased reason to come back for more matches every day.
Killzone: Mercenary sets a new bar of quality for FPS on handheld. While there’s still room for improvement, the crisp visuals, aggressive action, and solid multiplayer make it an easy recommendation for players hungry for exclusive Vita content.
Guerrilla Cambridge has crafted an excellent multiplayer-enabled shooter, adding another entry on the short list of strong Vita exclusives.