I love the Killzone series. I love all of its big, stupid war-drama rubbish. I love the guns. I love the environments.
But even I'm unsure about Mercenary. It's OK, I guess, but I don't know why I should tell you to play it. There are so, so many games like this. It's a carbon copy, every cliché in the first person shooter book with absolutely no distinguishing features whatsoever. Even that distinct gun metal Killzone aesthetic that I adore is starting to look used-up by this point.
There's nothing new to see here. Mercenary is a solid game, no doubt, but its hardly the kind of dazzling originality that might help shift a few more Vitas.
The premise is straightforward. Amidst the on-going war between human alliance the ISA and evil space Nazis the Helghast, you're a mercenary called Adrian Danner, who's willing to accept contracts from both sides. The narrative plays out much as you'd expect, as Adrian starts to wonder if accepting money to kill his own people is really worth it.
I won't spend long talking about the writing because it's really not what Mercenary is about, but I will say this - Killzone: Mercenary features one of the most annoying support characters of all time. His name is Ivanov and he accompanies you on the first two levels, patronising your trousers off by continually reciting the mission objectives and spouting one-liners that are less amusing than finding a dormouse in your breakfast. He's armed with an exhaustive repertoire of mercenary shtick: "I can't believe I get paid for this" or "man, I'm not getting paid enough for this" - rubbish like that. He's interminable. I hate him.
Onto the game proper.
Typical first person shooter rules apply - you fire your gun at baddies and they fall down. But the Vita's controls aren't exactly helpful. The two thumbsticks, a vast improvement over the single stick of the PSP though they are, still don't work as well as on a traditional Dual-Shock controller and Killzone suffers for it.
Aiming your gun isn't quick or precise enough. Instead of whirling around in one clean stroke, you have to repeatedly nudge the stick to get yourself into position, and if your enemy nips behind cover, as he often will, you have to scroll very slowly down to get his head in your sights. It's sluggish and fiddly. Combat becomes less exciting and more like a chore, as you laboriously position your reticule.
Not that you're ever in much danger. Guerilla Cambridge clearly understands that shooting on the Vita is going to be tricky, so the Helghast in Killzone: Mercenary have been reduced to weaklings. Unlike their resilient PS3 counterparts, they die with just a couple of shots to anywhere on the body, and their bullets do very little damage.
During one mission, I was confronted with four of the Helghast's fearsome sentry bots. In Killzone 2, I remember losing my entire squad to just one of these things. In Mercenary, I was able to take down all four with just a pistol. The combat's been subsidised. It's been made easier to accommodate the Vita's difficult control layout.
And as such, all the urgency goes out of the game. Playing Mercenary is a deadening experience, with no sense of peril or risk involved in the shootouts.
And the additional mechanics like stat-building and mini-games don't compensate for the combat. Sticking with the mercenary theme, this Vita Killzone is based around an internal economy, meaning you earn points from killing bad guys, completing objectives and so forth and then use them to buy guns, armour and gadgets from an arms dealer, who can be accessed either during missions or between them.
It works fine - Killzone Mercenary has a much larger weapons arsenal than any other game in the series, and saving up the coin to give all these toys a whirl is an acceptable little mission in itself. But it nevertheless feels like a transparent attempt to distract from the naff shooting, as does the hacking minigame, which is so convoluted I can't even describe it to you.
Maybe that's my fault. Maybe I'd given up listening to Ivanov by the time he got round to explaining it. But it crops up way too often, slowing the game down and again, coming across like a half-hearted attempt to offer players something more than combat.
There are parts of Killzone: Mercenary I still enjoyed. One early mission, set inside the Vektan embassy on Helghan, really shone and I'm truly amazed how Guerilla Cambridge is pushing the Vita hardware. As a child of the nineties, I never imagined you'd be able to get graphics like this from a handheld.
But Mercenary is so plain. I don't want to sound like I'm reviewing games as if they're restaurants or mobile phones, but there really is nothing in Killzone: Mercenary that you couldn't get from other shooters on the market. It uses every cliché there is. At times, Mercenary felt like the Duty Calls parody game built to market Bulletstorm.
Killzone: Mercenary is a well-intentioned Vita game let down by stiff controls, tedious shooting and unoriginality. And Ivanov. I enjoyed playing it occasionally, but a shining example of why you need to own a Vita, this isn't.
Gameplay: 4/10 - Additional mechanics like weapon collecting and hacking don't compensate for the difficult controls and slow combat.
Sound: 5/10 - Convincing gun sounds, as per Killzone, but the orchestral score is bland beyond compare.
Graphics: 9/10 - Mercenary is a cutting edge example of what the Vita is capable of. This would pass on PlayStation 3.
Writing: 5/10 - Acceptable. Ivanov is an infuriating character, but for a first person shooter about space Nazis, there's more narrative ambition here that you might expect.
Replay Value: 6/10 - There are weapons to collect and badges and ranks to be earned. If that kind of stuff is your bag, Mercenary has you covered.
Overall: 5/10 - A straight shooter. No bells, no whistles - Mercenary is as plain as videogames come. By no means bad, but nothing to get excited about. A shame, because what the Vita really needs is sparkling new IP.
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