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Killzone: Mercenary PS Vita preview: Hands-on with the shooter the handheld deserves
“We have this thing at Guerrilla Games where we love to develop technology that gets the most out of the hardware,” announces managing director Hermen Hulst. “And when we first saw the Vita, we knew this was a piece of kit that would finally allow us to deliver the full Killzone console experience on a handheld device.”
They’re bold words, but they do ring true: go back and play Killzones past and you’re struck by their determined use of the Sixaxis controller when arming an explosive that’ll rupture a dirty great hole in some Helghast facility, or turning the crank of a blast door and watching allied troops tumble in. Guerrilla stuck to PS3’s tilt controls when other devs, well, didn’t. That pedigree gives you a good feeling about its Vita shooter, a collaboration between the Amsterdam HQ and Guerrilla Cambridge.
Fighting a war on two different fronts can be tricky – just ask Napoleon.
But will Mercenary really feel like a console experience? Can Guerrilla Games serve Vita the top-tier shooter it deserves? To do so, it needs to succeed on both campaign and multiplayer fronts, just as the likes of Rico and Templar had to get down and dirty on both Vekta and Helghan. But fighting a war on two different fronts can be tricky – just ask Napoleon. Will this plucky Mercenary specialise in any one area?
“That’s a completely unfair question,” responds Hulst. “With any Killzone game we’ve done for the home console, we’ve always said that multiplayer is the other half of the game. I think multiplayer is just as important for us, particularly for longevity, but also it’s such a different experience. I’m not going to pick one.”
In fact, the two halves of Mercenary are tied together even more closely than in previous Killzones. This time, it’s all about the money. You play Aaron Danner, an ex-military soldier of fortune who got sick of following orders and instead fights only to amass moolah. “These guys aren’t fighting the good fight,” says Hulst. “They’re fighting the highest-paid fight.” The game begins just after the ISA’s liberation of Vekta from Killzone 1 and replays classic Killzone 1, 2 and Liberation moments from a new perspective – and with so much bloodshed, your military contractor outfit’s raking in the dough.
That means you get to choose your loadout for each mission, spending cash you earned in the last outing on new weapons, armour and gadgets. The better you perform, the more cash you get to throw around. “The better you play, the higher the pay,” quips Hulst.
Here’s where solo and online play really intertwine: that cash also carries over into multiplayer. This single design choice throws out the multiplayer shooter rulebook, because rather than having to endure the ritual ten-hour humiliation of dodging rockets while throwing lumps of wet paper at your enemies until you level up and earn a decent gun, you can instead work up a tidy sum in the campaign and then hit the ground running online.
With that in mind, Guerrilla’s introducing a new single-player mode called Contracts (no tuxedoed baldies or rubber ducks in sight) that gives you new objectives in a mission after completing it the first time. “Every time you complete a level you then get a set of challenges that encourage you to replay that mission,” explains the game’s art director Thomas Jones. “So maybe there’s a Demolition target in there [that earns you] extra money. You get a certain weapon if you do it in a certain time.”
Contracts fall into three categories: the Precision category focuses on your marksman skills and might demand 20 headshots. Demolition gives extra objectives to blow up as you go, arming explosives with a couple of swipes on the touchscreen. Covert ops are, predictably, stealthy activities that reward melee takedowns and minimum fuss.
Guerrilla turns to the touchscreen again for its melee combat, presenting arrows to swipe to make the knife go into the bad man’s shoulder. “All of those give rewards that feed back in to what you buy and that feeds back in to multiplayer,” continues Jones. “That allows you to have a cohesive experience that doesn’t feel like [these] are disparate challenges that don’t mean anything. Everything earns you money that enables you to buy stuff in multiplayer – weapons and Vanguard things that we’ve created.”
The Porcupine is a lot of fun, flagging up enemies on-screen and dismantling them with rockets as quickly as you can touch them
Vanguard is a powerful set of super-weapons that can help you breeze past a troop of dug-in Helghast in campaign mode, and ping you up the leaderboard in the closing seconds of a deathmatch. They appear as missiles that drop from the sky to be harvested, and are activated by a button on the touchscreen.
We’ve tested four of the total eight: the Ion Cannon is your air strike, zooming out into the obligatory thermal drone cam and letting you tap enemies on-screen to rain death down on them. Do make sure to burrow away somewhere safe, though, before activating it – there’s nothing more satisfying than swipe-knifing a prolific bomber. The Cloak does exactly what you’d expect, for a short period. The Porcupine is a lot of fun, flagging up enemies on-screen and dismantling them with rockets as quickly as you can touch them (a Helghast twist on whack-a-mole). But the spoils really belong to the Mantis Engine, a brutal drone mounted with nightmarish death scissors used to pop enemies’ heads like angry teenage zits.
Oh, and most importantly of all: it feels like Killzone. Really. So much so that it’s easy to forget you’re playing on a Vita (I realise that’s a cliché, but it’s honestly true) until a prompt gets you swiping at the screen, or you remember to sprint by tapping at the rear touchpad. The twin sticks are essential to an authentic modern shooter’s feel, and they’re complemented rather than overwhelmed by the additional controls. Enemies have new combat routines, such as going prone when you destroy their cover (there are, as ever, a lot of red barrels dotted around), and are keener than ever to flank you.
And visually, it’s astonishingly close to Killzone 3. When Hulst claims Guerrilla is “harnessing the power of the Killzone 3 engine on Vita”, the man’s not kidding. Draw distances are as impressive – scratch that – more impressive than Vita’s been treated to thus far, with little to no pop-in. But Mercenary has a distinct tone that separates it from games 2 and 3, despite being tightly wound into the Killzone canon.
As a mercenary, you’re not so much on the frontline as scurrying about behind it. The mission we play is set just before Operation Archangel, the ISA’s assault on Helghan at the start of Killzone 2. The contrast between the two missions – Sev wading through a sea of dead Higs, manning tanks and sentry guns; Aaron ziplining into a quiet base and sabotaging weaponry – is clear.
There are fewer enemies at any one time to deal with, but Mercenary doesn’t feel flat for that. Instead of bedding in behind cover and routing waves of enemies, you’re a little more run-and-gun. Helped by Vanguard weapons that recharge quicker if you’re doing plenty of killing, you feel like you’re making quicker progress.
Dipping in for a few minutes and achieving something tangible is perfectly possible, which is important on a handheld. It also makes sense not to flood the player with faraway enemies on a smaller screen, and it’s clear every effort has been made by the level designers and artists to bring the action slightly closer to you than in a PS3 shooter.
Your loadout determines the suit – snipers drop spades and assault grunts drop hearts.
To my eyes, the biggest innovation in Killzone: Mercenary is Valour – a dynamic ranking system designed to stop eight-hours-a-day players from dominating the leaderboards. Every day the Mercenary servers track your progress, add up how you’ve been doing over the week (weighting points higher the more recent they are) and assign a Valour ranking, represented as a playing card. That card becomes your dogtag, dropped when you die for your killer to collect. Your loadout determines the suit – snipers drop spades, assault grunts drop hearts – and your value from two to ace represents your rank in the community.
It means that on a really good day of scalping a few aces and keeping your kill/death ratio tidy you can ascend the leaderboards like a pre-scandal Enron up the Fortune 500, while players already at the top earn fewer points, because there’s no one above them to scalp. Also, **bleep** it’s satisfying to collect those cards. There’s a cash prize and a trophy up for grabs if you manage to bag the full suit.
Multiplayer is no less absorbing for being portable, and will easily arrive as Vita’s best online shooter. It packs eight-player battles over six maps and three modes – including the multiple-objective-based Warzone from Killzone 2 and 3. I got to grips with Shoreline in a four-on-four deathmatch. Half tunnels for close-quarters shooting, and half terrifying open space, it successfully channelled us all out of our cosy hiding places by dropping Vanguard weapons in the exterior half every few minutes.
There I learned the guilty pleasure of barraging everyone with the Ion Cannon, and the jaw-tightening fear of stumbling into someone else’s Mantis Engine. Wow, those things make a mess of a head. At present, it feels like Vanguard weapons are too readily available (Dresden suffered fewer air strikes than that Shoreline), but there’s plenty of time to perfect the balancing act. (Mercenary hits on 20 September.)
The raw nuts and bolts here come straight from Killzone 3, and it shows. Vita needs a game that shows off its raw processing power and how close it can get to its big brother – and this is it. It needs a shooter that feels like a full-fat console experience, and Mercenary is unnervingly good at that.
Most of all, there’s a whole world of Wi-Fi signal out there waiting to be gobbled up by angry thumbs with quick aim and an eye on the leaderboard. Vita is about to get its multiplayer poster boy. This merc’s headed for the very top.
Thanks for the link!
Just so you know, there's two more pages to that article beyond what you posted
Thanks for the link!
Just so you know, there's two more pages to that article beyond what you posted
I will update that now! lol didn't even notice that! yaay!
HAHA, yeah...the first page alone was worth the read and then when I saw two more pages, I was like HELL YEAH!
Definitely worth the read for anyone even mildly interested in the game and/or KZ series.