The PlayStation Vita is in dire need of a system-selling AAA title. For most of 2013, most believed that could be Killzone: Mercenary, the shooter that just might prove the significant capabilities of Sony’s new portable. The good news is that the Vita was made to better accommodate shooters; the PSP didn’t do a great job capturing the first-person action, while the dual analog sticks of the new handheld are a godsend. The question is— is this indeed the game Vita owners have been waiting for?
After spending plenty of time with the beta test, my answer would have to be an optimistic “probably.” Forget the crushing disappointment of Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified and the only better-than-average Resistance: Burning Skies. Developer Guerrilla Cambridge has designed a game that may lack the narrative breadth of the Killzone entries for consoles, but excels in the realms of visual achievement and general FPS quality. As a mercenary for hire, you will tackle a wide variety of missions that pits player against player (ISA vs. Helghast). The settings aren’t all that diverse but the combat is slick and refined.
Despite the Vita’s setup, some may still worry about the control. But don’t. It controls just fine and in fact, it doesn’t feel that far removed from playing a shooter with a standard controller. The only downside in my eyes is the motion-controlled aiming, which is reminiscent of Uncharted: Golden Abyss. It’s just not as fine-tuned as I would like and it could take a while to get accustomed to it. Still, the rest of the fast-paced adventure works very well; you’ll be ripping off headshots and tossing grenades as you normally would with the Dual Shock gamepad in your hands.
As for the touch controls, they work decently enough and they aren’t overdone. A simple, quick gesture is all that’s necessary for executing a nasty melee kill, and the touchscreen is also utilized for pulling levers and participating in a hacking mini game. Tapping the back screen to run doesn’t jive with the flow of the game, in my opinion, but you can turn that off. These are the only drawbacks worth mentioning, as you will find that, for the most part, Mercenary plays beautifully. It’s also cool that, in true merc style, everything you do earns you money, which can be spent on plenty of great equipment and upgrades for your character.
Don’t forget that the game itself is gorgeous. This is precisely what fans would expect from Guerrilla: A wonderfully appointed and detailed environment, with the Vita’s prodigious capability allowing for crisp, clean textures. Like I said, the variety isn’t all that fantastic, but this is only a beta, after all. What I have seen is very special from a portable standpoint, and the final product should redefine the nature of quality visuals in the portable gaming space. That’s a bold statement but what did you expect? If you had received anything less, you would’ve been disappointed, right?
There’s a fantastic pacing to the multiplayer experience, primarily because Guerrilla has delivered a technically impressive, mechanically solid, ultimately engaging FPS. It’s too bad that there’s so much pressure on the game, though, because even the slightest shortcoming will be amplified. I’m hoping the expectations aren’t too crazy high for this one, even if it should fulfill moderately optimistic expectations. It’s fast, fluid, well-paced, with solid AI and a great arsenal of weapons, and it should be a great addition to the Vita’s library. In fact, in 2013, it might be the best addition.
8/15/2013 Ben Dutka