Killzone: Mercenary Review (PS Vita): “Money Talks, and You Should Listen”

2013-09-10-172516

Set in a futuristic, war-torn world, Killzone: Mercenary thrives off of the steam from the past 2 major entries in the series. With KZM exclusive to the PlayStation Vita, there are some expected differences that one would expect to notice. Do those differences boost the effectiveness of a First Person Shooter on a handheld device? Or do they hold the title back, ultimately placing it with other failed attempts at creating an FPS on the go?

Story: 4/5

Guerilla Cambridge’s Killzone: Mercenary takes an interesting look at the events that have already perspired in both Killzone and Killzone 2. While it never directly impacts the events that have already taken place, it does help explain how some feats could have happened – that is, all along there was this small force of Mercenaries which helped turn the war one way or another, regardless if we had no idea at the time.

You play as Arran Danner, a mercenary who lends his particular skillset out to whoever pays the most. Through contracts via either the ISA or Helghast, Danner sets out to accomplish a variety of different tasks which all help turn the tides of the ongoing war between the two major forces. To really understand what is going on, Cambridge sets up a beautifully narrated and quick-to-the-point recap of what has happened up to this point – that is, up to the time of Killzone. Two political parties get into a feud on the planet Vekta, a futuristic Earth-like planet. When a civil war breaks out, the dominant party (the ISA) kicks out the Helghast, banishing them to the poor and desolate mining planet of Helghan. The environment on this planet is so harsh that many of the people die, yet those who survive become stronger, both physically and mentally. In order to endure the planet’s harsh environment, the Helghast develop certain equipment which fends off the radiation, heat and other elements. This gives the Helghast their well-known look of always wearing gas masks of some sort. Although the Helghast were banished from Vetka, they didn’t give up on their right to live there and therefore, through the climb to power by ruthless dictator Visari, planned a surprise attack on Vetka.

2013-09-11-183907

This is where the game starts. The ISA are in dire trouble, being caught off guard and overwhelmed by the Helghast’s superior technology. One of the ISA’s main commanders is held captive, and in order to win the war, they need her alive and by their side. By sending in Danner to rescue her, the ISA realizes that they can use Mercenaries to help in the more pertinent missions while the main forces defend the front lines.

Move ahead 2 years. The rest of the game takes place within the time frame of Killzone 2. The ISA, with the help of Danner and his crew, have repelled the Helghast back to their home planet. The ISA needs to retaliate to finish this war that the Helghast have started, yet they are still no match for the Helghast’s superior weaponry. However, an opportunity opens up for the ISA to seize control of the situation. A Helghan scientist is willing to defect, providing all sorts of knowledge for the ISA, as well as holding the knowledge of a secret weapon the Helghast intend to use. Danner’s main mission henceforth is to intercept the scientist and bring him to the ISA for questioning. However, some interesting information comes to light when Danner is turned upon, thus forcing him to aid the Helghast military leader at the time, Kratek. What happens next in the war between the ISA and Helghast is up to one man.

Killzone: Mercenary is set up across 9 missions, and much to my surprise, each mission flowed together quite well. There was never any time where I felt I had missed something, despite the game being segmented. KZM had a very interesting and catchy theory: take something that’s already happened and throw a twist on it all to show how it could have turned out. By tying the story into previous titles it was easy to follow along (so long as you have played Killzone and Killzone 2) but not necessary to the plot. I took a special amount pleasure in seeing key events that took place in the past entries reappear in this side-title, such as when Visari nuked his own city. Overall, I felt that the story, while well thought-out and entirely believable in the previously established events, lacked a certain amount of pull on the player. I wouldn’t say the story did well on its own, but with the knowledge of everything else that is going on (carefully detailed before each mission) it adds a certain richness to the entire series.

2013-09-11-180713

Gameplay: 5/5

There have been a few attempts at releasing a First Person Shooter on the Vita, or any handheld gaming device for that matter, and none have really made it to the acceptable mark. Yet, what most have tried to do, Guerrilla Cambridge has succeeded in doing. Utilizing the dual analog sticks along with minor touch screen/pad function and staying true to the feel of a Killzone game has surprisingly worked on the Vita, and all of us who still have a Vita are thrilled!

While I do recommend turning up the sensitivity, KZM feels incredibly natural. The physics and inertia are all reminiscent of past entries in the series, which really helps the veteran jump right in. Cambridge has brought back several guns and equipment, as well as added quite a few alterations of certain weapons to create the largest armory in the Killzone series yet. In addition to your primary, secondary and equipment, you can also change out your armor to fit your specific needs, and there is an entirely new system titled VAN-Guards, which are essentially killstreaks that can be used in both multiplayer and single player. All of the equipment and weapons you acquire can be purchased through a mysterious seller who thrives off of conflict, Black Jack. Throughout the game you’ll find supply caches where you can change out your gear or resupply, which you will desperately need as ammo reserves are low throughout the story.

2013-09-10-234033

Killzone: Mercenary tries something that not many FPS have. KZM allows you to play through the entire game stealthily. Whenever you enter a new area in the story, (with the exception of a few laid out circumstances) enemies are unaware of your existence. By playing it low, you can avoid a large amount of reinforcements in every scenario, thus making your job a whole lot easier. While this is a great and challenging idea, it isn’t perfectly executed. There were many times when enemies would spot something a downed enemy who happened to be laying behind cover 200 yards away, thus blowing my covert op. At the same time, I was able to clearly walk past an enemy without him noticing, so I suppose there was some give and take there.

While playing it low and slow can make the entire experience smoother (albeit still very, VERY challenging), there is some gratification in large massacres as a one man army. Luckily, KZM still allows you to play this way as well! In fact, there are 4 specific ways to play, which become unlocked upon one completion of the story. You can play it normally (however you want, no rules), stealth, precision or demolition. Each of the 3 additional ‘modes’ have specific goals you need to meet in a mission- i.e.: get 50 headshots, get 30 kills from behind, destroy a tank with a VAN-Guard.

2013-09-10-222428

Even though there are many different ways to progress through the story, easily seen by marvelously designed levels fitted with multiple paths (quite possibly the best I have ever seen in a shooter), I still felt as though I was doing the same thing every mission. Stealth for a little while, get caught, fight off hoards upon hoards of enemies, get to objective, initiate hack/demolition, fight off more hoards of enemies, barely escape on a cruiser, repeat 8 more times. The overall experience is however broken up by a clever puzzle “hacking” system in which you can gain access to intel, open locked doors, etc. In this sequence, you utilize the touch screen by matching certain shapes to a pad. Match all the shapes in the time allotted and you’ve won the small gratification that comes with completing such a simple, yet often adrenaline pumping puzzle.

All in all, the gameplay is reliably fun and enticing. It truly feels like an FPS and though there are a few issues, such as the cover system not cooperating when you really need it to, you’ll never sit back after a death and have to blame awkward controls.

One thing that the Vita really needs is a game that will hold you for a while – after all, we’re not getting many (if any) system sellers (MH plug) to keep you interested in using your Vita. Thankfully, Guerrilla Cambridge answered our prayers with Killzone: Mercenary. Every part about this game screams “play me some more!” The best part about KZM is that, at its heart, it is a mobile game. The missions are set up to be played quickly, and online matches can take anywhere from a very short 5 minutes to a riveting 20 minutes!

2013-09-11-180247

As mentioned earlier, there are 4 ways to go through the story; and with the objectives that go with each play style you could be playing for a while just trying to complete one mission. Even though the story isn’t long by any means, (I completed it on veteran difficulty in about 5 hours, and I took my damn time retrying levels and exploring) this push to play the story different ways makes the game already quadruple in replay value.

Of course, there is also the fact that Killzone: Mercenary has a fully functional multiplayer, albeit a few bugs here and there (which hopefully will get worked on very soon). KZM’s multiplayer takes a step to the side from past Killzone entries, which at first disturbed me, until I kept playing and found that I was loving, and dominating, the online!

KZM does away with the previous class system, and instead implements a more general system of creating a loadout. You unlock 5 loadouts as you rank up, each can be equipped with a primary, secondary, armor, equipment and VAN-Guard via Black Jack’s armory. The wonderful thing about KZM is that Black Jack’s armory carries over between single player and multiplayer; meaning that anything you buy in one game mode will transfer to the other, including money earned! This really helps new players jump into the online without a worry as to being under-equipped.

2013-09-11-184036

The general gameplay of the multiplayer has stayed the same however. There are 3 modes to choose from: Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Warzone. Warzone is a collaboration of different game modes bundled into one match; performing objectives will earn your team points, the team with the most point at the end wins. Modes range from standard team deathmatch, a stealthy interrogation mode, to a capture the VAN-Guard mode. VAN-Guards are present in two ways in multiplayer. The first is simply a random drop and accessing it gives you a random VAN-Guard to use. The second is through a game mode in warzone, as mentioned, where you need to hack the VAN-Guard using the shape matching sequence found in single player to earn you and your team points.

Each match will pit 8 players against one another, and thankfully the beautifully designed maps are the perfect size for these skirmishes. During any online gameplay, a kill will reward you with a dropped valor card which you can pick up. These valor cards are a representation of the skill of the player you just killed. They are categorized by weapon type, and range from 2 to Ace. For instance, if someone were a top notch sniper, they would have an Ace of Spades card; if they are a very poor assault rifle user they would have a 2 of clubs. Collecting these cards will net you XP/cash, but more importantly, collecting an entire deck will net you a large boost of cash! The little details like this really add to the overall experience and make for an enjoyable and lengthy career online.

While there are some issues that need to be worked out, such as parties being able to join together, or some lag and awful respawns, the multiplayer truly gives you your $40 worth alone. That, combined with the daunting task of going for platinum, will really give you your money’s worth.

2013-09-11-184024

Graphics: 5/5

Killzone has been known for its impeccable graphical quality. While using what is essentially the KZ3 engine, one would expect KZM to deliver the same quality on the powerful Vita. To no one’s surprise, Cambridge was able to do just that. The lighting and shadow effects are glorious in each mission, and the attention to detail is a force to be reckoned with. Multiple times throughout the story, there are cinematic-appearing cutscenes in which you can actually look around, and I strongly encourage that everyone does so to get a feel for how wonderful this game looks. In the first mission alone, you glide through the Vetka skyline and you can feel the weight of the war just by what you see.

Throughout gunfire from dozens of enemies and a vast section of area, there are no frame rate drops; though at many times there were what appeared to be slight pauses where the game needed to catch up – primarily in between sections and/or when exiting Black Jack’s supply caches. (After the infrequently frequent occurrences, I deduced that this was not a general frame rate drop but merely issues jumping from small amounts of detail to very large due to the fact that I never encountered it when I would have thought)

At one point in the story, I was actually blinded by the light cast between an enemy’s legs, I had to stop for a second not only to figure out what to do to see, but to admire how well the effects represented themselves. While some particle effects could have been a little cleaner, such as dust clouds in the distance, I can honestly say that this is one of the best looking Vita games out there.

2013-09-10-222453

Sound: 4/5

There is nothing more satisfying than the kill chirp that emits upon finishing and enemy, except of course the over gratifying melon-pop noise that comes with a sniper headshot. Thankfully, Guerilla Cambridge made sure to include all of the traditional Killzone sound effects into this latest installment, and for that I couldn’t be happier.

Seeing as a large part of the game is based around stealth, it also makes sense to really showcase some essential noises into the environment as you’re traversing through the story. Being able to hear your own footsteps as you approach an enemy helps you learn that you need to take it slow, or risk being noticed. Other cues such as character dialogue between AI in the middle of a mission help key you in to what they’re thinking. While some of the voice acting is a little over the top (I’m looking at you Russian Vampire Lord Black Jack), you rarely find yourself believing the characters aren’t invested in what is going on.

The only noticeable setback is the soundtrack to the game. Killzone 2 had an iconic menu song, and Killzone 3 made its best attempt, and coming close, at one as well. However, not once did I really find myself getting engrossed in a musical score. While this is quite a disappointment to me, it doesn’t deter from the overall gameplay experience as you have other things to worry about.

2013-09-10-174714

Overall Score: 18/20 = 9.0 out of 10

In the end, Killzone: Mercenary truly provides an amazing experience on the PlayStation Vita. It feels like a shooter you’d play on a console, and with a multiplayer to match, it is a force to be reckoned with. I can safely say that the quality and quantity holds up well to its predecessors and should be in every person’s Vita library.

PROS:

+ Incredible graphics, especially for a handheld

+ Great controls and feel

+ Addictive multiplayer

+ Lots of ways to progress through the story

CONS:

-Some bugs with the cover system

-Story progression can get repetitive when not going for a specific play-style

Copy purchased by author for review purposes.

Enjoy our review? Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter: @GamersXTREME for the latest in gaming news and reviews.

Curious to how our review system works? Check out the About section.

The V Podcast: Episode 2 – PS4 Announcement, Killzone: Mercenary Discussion, Wii U Sales and Much More!

killzone mercenary

As a change of pace from the site’s Radio Xtreme podcasts, I guest starred in a podcast with Vengeful Torture in his newly debuted, The V Podcast, on YouTube. Within the 80+ minutes, we discuss a variety of topics that vary between the Wii U sales talk and why it’s not doing as poorly as people make it seem, Killzone: Mercenary’s announcement, some upcoming DLC for games like Battlefield 3 and PS All-Stars, the possibility of a Resident Evil “reboot”, and of course, the inevitable PS4 announcement and leaked Uncharted 4. Sit back, grab a drink and tune into this special podcast!

Killzone: Mercenary Releases September 17th; Trailer Revealed

Killzone Mercenary

PS Vita owners have been aware of Killzone: Mercenary coming to the platform for quite some time now. However, as of today, the game has an official release date of September 17th, 2013, as well as a trailer. Based on the footage shown in the trailer, there’s no question that the game is shaping up to be the biggest graphical powerhouse for the Vita yet, actually rivaling the visuals of the console editions. Check it out!

[Source – PlayStation Blog]

“Killzone Mercenary” Detailed for the PS Vita

Today, Sony finally shed some light on “Killzone Mercenary” for the PlayStation Vita. Sony put a large focus on the Vita and explained the premise of this new installment of Killzone. Developed by Guerrilla Games, “Killzone Mercenary” is stated to deliver a first class, first-person shooting adventure that is only possible on the Vita. Details on “Killzone Mercenary” are brief; however, the title’s sypnopsis offers some tantilizing details.

Game description courtesy of Sony:

“With Killzone: Mercenary, we want to offer PlayStation Vita owners a fresh perspective on the brutal conflict between ISA and Helghast – literally. For the first time in a Killzone campaign, you’ll be fighting alongside Helghast forces as well as ISA specialists, carrying out missions that the regular soldiers just won’t — or can’t.

As a mercenary, you’re free to decide which tactics and loadouts you’ll use to fulfill your contract; your employers will reward you with state-of-the-art weaponry and cold, hard cash as long as you get the job done. But what is the price of that freedom – and will you discover it before it’s too late.”

Well, there you have it. Killzone will no doubt be a welcome addition to the Vita’s much needed library. The FPS market may be saturated but there is a need for solid titles on the Vita and Killzone Mercenary will hopefully deliver a fun and intuative experince for Vita gamers. For more information on this or any other topic, make sure to keep it locked onto Gamers Xtreme and as always “Game On!”

GamesCom 2012 PlayStation Conference Recap

Sony sets the bar high when it comes to its press conferences, and GamesCom 2012’s was no exception. The conference was streamed live on PlayStation Access’s site at 1 PM EST, and in case you missed any of it, here are the major details. Brace yourself; Sony belted out a LOT of info.

  • LittleBigPlanet Vita will be available as a solo game and also in a new Vita bundle, which includes the system.
  • PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale gameplay footage with Dante, Spike, Nathan Drake, Big Daddy, Sweet Tooth, PaRappa the Rapper, Ratchet & Clank, Fat Princess, Sackboy, and more is shown. CrossBuy announced as a planned, recurring feature – buy the game for PS3 or Vita, get the version for the other console at no additional cost.
  • Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time and Ratchet & Clank: QForce announced.
  • Assassin’s Creed: Liberation will make use of the touch features of the Vita; Front screen used for “Touch to Kill” feature, while the rear pad is used for context-sensitive movements.
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified details revealed:
    • Single-player campaign set between the events of Black Ops 1 and 2.
    • Will feature 4v4 multiplayer over WiFi on brand-new maps, including Team Deathmatch and Kill Confirmed game modes.
    • Will be available as a solo game or in a bundle with the Vita system.
  • Final Fantasy 7, Tomb Raider free for PlayStation Plus members starting August 20th.
  • Tear Away, a new Vita IP from Media Molecule, features paper as a central element.
    • Players can use front and rear touch pads, as well as the gyroscope and microphone to manipulate the game environment and fight enemies.
    • Fingers (representing the player’s) will actually pop out of holes punched in the game world.
    • Augmented Reality features, such as taking a picture for an in-game character to wear as a coat.
  • Killzone Mercenary, a new chapter in the IP for the Vita. Touch gestures enable different melee finishing moves.
  • PlayStation Mobile announced. Seemingly similar to the Apple App Store and Google Play, offers “Bite-Sized” games to be played on PlayStation-approved mobile platforms and the Vita.
  • PlayStation 3 Essentials series revealed – a selection of iconic PS3 games at a bargain price (20 Euros). First games in the series are Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, Infamous, and LittleBigPlanet.
  • LittleBigPlanet 2 to receive “CrossController” DLC, featuring levels in which players use both the PlayStation 3 and the Vita.
    • Gameplay demo showed Vita being used as a second screen, providing extra information and level control.
    • Touch screen and rear touch pad used to manipulate the environment and objects in it.
    • Jumping into a pipe marked with the Vita icon changes the level’s perspective to the Vita screen, reminiscent to the cross-platform functionality of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures.
  • PlayStation Plus to receive many great improvements soon.
    • Red Dead Redemption will be a free Plus title in September.
    • Cloud storage increasing to 1GB, from 150MB.
    • Plus service coming to Vita “soon”.
    • 25% discount on Plus subscriptions from September 5th – 19th for European customers.
  • Wonderbook:
    • Book of Spells will have head-to-head multiplayer.
    • Two new titles announced for the Wonderbook line-up:
      • Diggs Nightcrawler – a noir-style detective story. Retells the story of Humpty-Dumpty as a murder conspiracy.
      • BBC’s Walking with Dinosaurs will allow players to select dig sites, use a virtual chisel to dig up fossils, and interact with dinosaurs and see them in action.
      • Disney will also be contributing to the Wonderbook lineup, though no specific details were given.
  • FIFA 13 will make extensive use of the PlayStation Move controller.
    • Players can mark opponents, draw movement paths for their team to follow automatically, and take shots by flicking the Move controller – even add spin by twisting the controller.
  • Until Dawn, a new game inspired by teen horror movies. Players will control seven characters whose relationships with each other evolve over the course of the game’s story.
  • Rain, a new Sony IP about a boy who can only see in the rain. No further details given.
  • Puppeteer has players control a character who can swap heads to gain different powers. A pair of magical scissors is central to the story, and allows the character to fight enemies and traverse the environment. The presenter stated his inspiration for the game was his desire to exercise his son’s (and his) imagination.
  • A new The Last of Us trailer – Ellie makes Joel a mix tape, and Joel admits that he’s seen events “from both sides”, implying he wasn’t always a good man.
  • The event closed with further Black Ops: Declassified multiplayer footage.

It was certainly a lot to take in, but Sony certainly revealed a lot of exciting developments in such a short time since E3 in June. You can see all of the trailers and footage seen at the event below; be sure to let us know what you think in the comments below!