Killzone: Mercenary’s lead Arran Danner is not a great or noble man. Beyond the odd, vaguely racist epithet directed at the invading Helghast forces, there’s no altruism in his opposition to them – he and his partners are motivated solely by cold, hard cash, and his loyalties only extend so far as his bank balance. Can you guess the mid-game twist, then?
Danner’s shift in allegiance, while relatively predictable, actually becomes one of Mercenary’s high points, providing a rare insight into the motivations of each side of the conflict, an attempt on the developers’ part to elevate the Killzone series beyond the typical first-person shooter fare. It’s not Shakespeare, to turn a phrase, but the game’s story is a strong enough through-thread to keep the player’s interest.
That’s not to say that the game itself is lacking. It’s actually the best shooter on the Vita – not tough, given the competition, so let’s instead say that it stands comfortably alongside its home console siblings. Danner’s obsession with money is at the centre of everything you do – from killing enemies and picking up ammo, to successful completion of missions, you get paid for everything. Funds are then used to buy better weapons or upgrades, and the constant acquisition of moolah provides further motivation to progress. That new, awesome gun is only a few thousand credits away, after all – think of the money drip as financial XP, if you will.
The integration of the Vita’s touchscreen, rear touch pad and motion controls give the action an extra edge though, with various gameplay functions integrated smoothly into the overall experience. A quick tap of the screen can switch weapon load-outs, while melee attacks gain some physical oomph with swiping gestures to pummel enemies or launch gory executions. Stabbing an enemy soldier in the junk may be childish but Mercenary turns the act into one of guilty, savage glee.
While the multiplayer modes – deathmatch, team deathmatch and the challenge-based WarZone – aren’t anything ground-breaking, they’re solid examples of the form. Working both the typical twin-stick controls and the touchscreen elements into your own play style helps livens them up and adds some variety, at least. The lack of innovation in group play is Mercenary’s main failing, in fact. Otherwise, its robust single player campaign, nifty control functions, and impressive visuals make it a must-buy for Vita owners.
Reviewed by Matt Kamen