The PS Vita is a fantastic piece of gaming hardware, but even a fancy car is just up pile of metal, unless you have someone to drive it. The promise of the full potential of the PS Vita has yet to be seen, but it is slowly being revealed as we learn more about the PlayStation 4. Those sleek new features are all well and good after November 15, but what about right now? Well, right now, you can finally play a triple-A, console-quality FPS on the go on your PS Vita, and see just what Sony's handheld can do. The "Killzone" franchise strikes again as the software that showcases how to push Sony's, and much like "Killzone 2" did for the PlayStation 3, "Killzone: Mercenary" puts the PS Vita through its paces.
Taking place between the original "Killzone" and its PS3 sequel, "Killzone: Mercenary" explores the wartime tale of mercenary Arran Danner, as he takes his work-for-hire gig on the road. Originally hired by the ISA to snuff out the Vektan Ambassador, Danner's story takes some unexpected twists turns, and sends him on a completely different trajectory. Fans of the series should recognize some of the overarching story, as it overlaps with the other games in the series, helping to build out the world's fiction as Danner completes his missions.
The gameplay is what you would expect from a "Killzone" game - lots of ammo and lots of bodies. "Mercenary" steps out of the conventions of the portable FPS game, and falls more in line with its console brethren. By offering larger and more varied maps, the firefights in "Mercenary" are less predictable, and feel like a fresh experience on-the-go.
Whether you want to sneak through the levels, picking off enemies and interrogating officers for intel, or rush through the world guns ablaze, "Mercenary" lets you play how you want, at least until you've been spotted - then it's all out war. With an abundant arsenal that can be expanded by spending in-game currency at the arms dealer, "Mercenary" offers a host of different ways to tailor the way you play to fit your style. With the Vita's dual analog controls lending themselves to a more traditional FPS experience, jumping into "Mercenary" should be second nature for fans of the genre.
The developers at Guerrilla Cambridge got a lot of things right with "Mercenary," including the multiplayer. While the experience is fine-tuned with a 1 GB plus patch, "Mercenary" offers some truly solid, competitive multiplayer options. Jumping into a match is just what it needs to be, quick and seamless, and, once the patch is applies, is as stable as your internet connection. There are three different modes, Mercenary Warfare (solo), Guerilla Warfare (team), and Warzone (team), each of which feels decided different. The first two options are straightforward, but the third, Warzone, offers the most unique experience, as the objective of the game changes every few minutes. You and your team score points for completing the current objective, and whichever team has the most points at the end wins. It's a welcome break since it doesn't cater to one particular type of player, switching things up for gamers that might prefer goals instead of kill counts.
The one thing that is both a blessing and a curse for the game is that the missions can feel a bit long for a portable experience. While some Vita owners likely have a longer ride to work or school than others, the missions are structured to fit more into the console mold than the portable. Most of the missions do have clear break points, as Danner transitions from one area to another, but they can go on for a while, and may extend across a couple different play sessions. This again reinforces that "Mercenary" aligns more with the consoles than with portables, for better or worse.
It's been 15 months since "Killzone: Mercenary"'s closest competition, "Resistance: Burning Skies," was released, and that gap of time truly makes a difference. "Mercenary" offers a more polished and well-rounded overall experience. When compared to a console FPS, this "Killzone" can put up a fight, but ultimately, its clear that there are still limitations on portable hardware. Don't let that discredit this game though; most portable FPS games can't even be compared to console releases. "Killzone: Mercenary" is a solid FPS in the palms of your hands. While the single-player missions may feel a bit long, and the story a bit short (that's par for the course for the genre at this point), the multiplayer offers some solid options that will keep you wanting to play well beyond the point at which your battery dies.
Score: 8 out of 10