Handheld shock and awe.
Think the ISA team of Sev and Rico are badass? Does fear overwhelm you at the mere sight of that ominous Helghast mask? Then don't even think about messing with the Private Military Company guns for hire who take the lead role in Killzone Mercenary.
They don't take sides, they only take lives… and money. Like Mr. Wonderful on the show Shark Tank, all they care about is money. How they get it—well, that's up the highest bidder, be it to the ISA or the Helghast. This bring a new take to the conflict and will shake up the conventional Killzone storyline. Not that it was very conventional to begin with.
Money takes a central role in Killzone Mercenary, with every action, every kill, earning you cash that goes into one single bank account to be used across single-player, multiplayer, and Contracts mode. The more you earn, the more advanced weaponry will be at your disposal to take on whatever task is at hand. You can even purchase ammo to stock up for the gunpower you already wield. Business is booming for black-market arms dealers, and it's all thanks to the mercenaries and the ongoing war.
Missions vary depending on which side of the conflict is financing the operation. In the single-player mission I sampled, I was tasked with infiltrating a Helghast industrial base. Before long, I was greeted with cold lead and orange eyes. Like other Killzone games, you feel like a soldier—heavy, weighed down by gear, and eager for combat.
Aiming and shooting with dual analog sticks, and tossing frags or crouching for cover are what you would expect from any shooter. But since this is on the PlayStation Vita, reloading your weapon, melees, and advanced weaponry are initiated using Vita's touch inputs. Double-tapping the rear touch pad while walking picks up the pace to a sprint. Melees, more brutal than ever, require a tap and a quick swipe to complete.
Despite the minor changes to the control scheme, it plays exactly the way the PlayStation 3 Killzone titles do. And that's because Guerrilla Cambridge has brought the Killzone 3 engine over to the PlayStation Vita. How they managed to so closely replicate the experience on a handheld is quite a feat, so it's no wonder why they're calling Killzone Mercenary a "benchmark game" for the Vita. Any FPS games for any handheld device will forever need to aim their reticule at Killzone Mercenary for the top spot.
It looks as good as it plays too. Dynamic lighting gives even the darkest of hallways life. Textures and character models are the best yet on the PlayStation Vita, or any handheld for that matter. Explosions and smoke, which are practically a constant in Killzone, look stunning on the OLED screen aside from some slight pixelization which can be forgiven considering how great it all comes together.
Killzone Mercenary is a full-featured handheld game. Along with a six- to eight-hour single-player campaign with missions clocking in at about 45 minutes apiece, there is also Contracts mode (missing from this demo) and multiplayer. Multiplayer offers 4v4 action across six maps and three modes. The map I sampled was on the small side to keep things intense, but offered enough variety in the landscape to make it the action diverse.
When an opponent is gunned down, they drop a card—the higher their rank, the more valuable the card—which when picked up, in turn bolsters your ranking. Melees, which are simply a tap and a swipe in single player, give an enemy a chance to counter with a melee of their own. If the counter is successful, it leaves you stunned and open to attacks.
New to Killzone Mercenary is interrogation. A downed enemy left still breathing may have enough life left in them to extract vital intel about a mission or reveal on-map markers of specific objectives.
Also new is the Vanguard system your mercenary is armed with. Think of an armband tablet with access to vital information and abilities. It's a customizable advanced system of weaponry that grants access to rechargeable drones or air missile strikes to clusters of enemies. At the end of my single-player mission, after some computer hack puzzles using the touchscreen, the Vanguard saved my ass from some Helghast reinforcements sent to stop my advance.
Killzone Mercenary is the guy everyone envies. It's got the looks, it performs well at everything it does, and it'll make all other handheld FPS games jealous. A benchmark it is—and a game that the PlayStation Vita needs to wipe away the stain left from last year's FPS blunders, namely Resistance: Burning Skies and Black Ops: Declassified.