The PlayStation Vita is a system built with ‘AAA’ experiences in mind. And Killzone Mercenary was created for this reason. And while the game is another step forward in creating console experiences for the Vita, it also incorporates flaws from a previous generation. Is this a game that should be played, flaws and all, or is it another misstep on the path to greatness? Let’s find out
AAA Experience Comes With A Price
For a Vita game Killzone Mercenary looks damn good. The jaggy textures and grainy graphics that usually plague handheld games are absent from this title. Killzone Mercenary developer, Guerrilla, created a project with a level of polish that is reminiscent of a PlayStation 2 title. Unfortunately, that PS2 experience comes with a price.
As 2013 comes to a close, I have to question any first-person shooter (or FPS) that doesn’t implement a cover mechanic. Killzone Mercenary’s lack of cover mechanic is a glaring omission in today’s FPS genre. When you’re in the thick of a firefight the last thing you want on your mind is if you’re actually behind cover. And this isn’t the only combat related problem. There are instances where an enemies do not die because of their positioning or character animation. For example, a shotgun blast will take out any low tier enemy…except when they are climbing a ladder. For example the shotgun damage doesn’t register until enemies end their climb up the ladder. The same issue also appears when enemies take cover. Shots to the arms or legs with a shotgun have a lower damage count allowing emerges to continue firing from behind cover. This becomes problematic as the only for enemies to move from cover is a clean body shot that registers with the system.
Game Design and Story
Kill zone Mecenary manages to implement various gameplay elements that add variety to the overall experience. As a mercenary, everything you do revolves around money. From headshots to stealth kills every action in combat has a monetary reward. Profit earned from kills is used to purchase new weapons, armor, and van-guard systems. The kills for profit dynamic also forces to think about your combat strategy. You might decide take the extra damage for a headshot instead of a standard kill. Or, you choose stealth tactics to rack up a few assassin kills before taking the rest of the group head on. Some enemies carry important intel, so interrogation of certain enemies will force you to prioritize your kills. There are also hacking activities, where you must solve puzzles with a given time limit. Solving the puzzles gives you more intel, however the time limit straddles the boundaries of tough and impossible.
Kill zone Mercenary begins to show cracks in its armor when it comes to story and level design. The main storyline is mediocre at best. There’s your typical military ‘drama’, Russian black arms dealer, and plot twist to keep you motivated. But those elements never motivate you to continue the story. Call me jaded, but if you’ve played one military shooter, you’ve played them all. You don’t necessary play FPSs for the story, but this was a great opportunity for Killzone Mercenary to set itself apart from the crowd. Unfortunately, the game does capitalize on it.
The level design is your typical first-person shooter–large areas with lots of cover. It’s an older design that slowly phasing out, but can work if the story blends with the environment. The problem with Killzone Mercenary is that the story and level design never come together. The transitions are telegraphed. I knew whether I would have to defend or clear out a new combat zone before the story would tell me. While it didn’t bother me in the beginning, as I progressed further in the game the lack of surprised became mundane.
Right Game, Wrong System?
Would Killzone Mercenary have been a better experience on the PlayStation 3? It is the one question I continuously asked myself. I’m not sold on shooters for the Vita, but it has more to do with the hardware than the software. The thumb sticks are too small and there’s no rumble for feedback. In situations where I appeared to be outgunned I wished for a Dual Shock Controller because I knew it would deliver a better experience– And more control. I also wondered if the lack of processing power was the cause of many of the issues I encountered. Would the issues with the enemies on a ladder persist if it was on PlayStation 3?
There is a part of me that wants to let the issues slide because it’s console-level experience on a handheld device. But, if Sony wants the Vita to be seen in the same light as a console, I have to hold the games in the library to the same standards. Killzone Mercenary is a fun FPS for the PlayStation Vita. But that fun comes with a cost, and for some people the cost is too steep. But if you can live with the limitations of a console experience on a handheld you should pick this up.