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Killzone: Mercenary
Score: 80%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Developer: Guerrilla Cambridge
Media: Download/1
Players: 1; 2 - 8 (Online)
Genre: Action/ Shooter/ Online

Graphics & Sound:
When I finished Killzone: Mercenary, I realized something: on its own, it's a predictable, bog standard shooter. A good one, yes, but not much more than that. But I'll say this in its defense: it's a great Vita game. See how a game's status as a handheld title changes the way we look at it? As of this writing, Killzone: Mercenary constitutes the strongest case for handheld shooters. It looks and sounds wonderful, and most importantly, it plays really well. It might not measure up to its PlayStation 3 counterparts, but as a Vita game, it excels.

The PlayStation Vita is a powerful machine, but few games thus far have actually managed to leverage the hardware into providing anything technically mindblowing. The only other one I can really think of is Uncharted: Golden Abyss. Killzone: Mercenary is one of those rare games that makes me think twice before saying "It looks good... for a portable game." The gap has never been this small, and though the impending arrival of next-gen hardware will pry it wide once again, this game's visuals should age marvelously well. All of Killzone's moody military-industrial complex environments and textures are replicated extraordinarily well in Mercenary; the world of Helghan is oppressive and hostile, from the violent gales of corrupted atmosphere to the trademark glowing red eyes of the Helghast. There aren't really any surprises for anyone who's played Killzone 2 and Killzone 3, but it's a real treat for the eyes.

Portable games always have the odds stacked against them when it comes to sound; regardless of an artist's skill, the hardware is inevitably going to hold the results back. And so it is with Killzone: Mercenary. Headphones are always recommended for immersion, depth, and sheer power, though none of it will match up to a killer sound system to complement the platform's output. But on its own, Mercenary sounds good. Voice acting is hammy, which is fairly standard for the series, for better or worse. All Helghast have the same deep, Cockney accent and the ISA forces are generic hero types. But let's be fair: the action is the star of the show, not the characters. Guns and explosions are ferocious as ever, and now each kill is punctuated by the electronic chirp that is usually reserved for multiplayer.

So with a name like Killzone: Mercenary, it's easy for any shooter fan to know exactly where the story will take them. Yes, it's predictable. But it's vaguely entertaining while it lasts. You are Arran Danner, a mercenary working for the Phantom Talon Corp, a cadre of war profiteers under the command of Anders Benoit. The invasion of Helghan that marked the beginning of Killzone 2 is underway, and there are lots of Vektan dollars to be made amidst all the chaos. It isn't long before Danner is embroiled in a morally gray power struggle between ISA Admiral Alex Gray and Helghast Colonel Vyktor Kratek. And I repeat myself: Danner is a mercenary, which means he can be bought. Killzone: Mercenary is extremely short -- even for a shooter. The nine-mission campaign wraps up just shy of the four hour mark. However, what's there is enjoyable.

Each contract sends you out into the field with a specific objective to complete. It's never anything you really need to think about, as this is really just a game of "chase the waypoint" with some satisfying gunplay to break up the traversal. You head for an objective, shoot dudes, interact with something, head for another objective, shoot more dudes. So anyone looking for something different from the standard first-person shooter template probably won't find much to love about Killzone: Mercenary's campaign. But of course, that's not the only attraction.

Online multiplayer lets you take your killing on the go, though the player count has been significantly pared down. If you've spent some time on the PlayStation Network battling it out on Helghan, the experience makes the transition to portable rather smoothly. As in the campaign, all of your accomplishments earn cash that can be used to purchase new items for your loadouts. Combine that with an addictive Valor Card system and the classic spread of objective and kill-based game modes, and you've got a portable shooter that very likely has a bright future ahead of it. It's all up to the community at this point.

Killzone: Mercenary features the classic spread of four difficulty levels, each of which is true to advertisement. But this game is really only as hard as you make it. The game is designed to be approachable from several different combat strategies. If you run in guns blazing without making use of cover or any of your other equipment, you'll have a rough time of it. Enemy A.I. is smart and aggressive, and won't hesitate to punish you for making mistakes. Oftentimes, the game encourages you to be stealthy; you cannot interrogate officers without catching them unaware, so you'll have to do your fair share of sneaking and shanking. Stealth is extremely difficult in Mercenary, and between disabling cameras and your slow crouching movement, it can be too frustrating to be worth it. Aside from Trophy incentives, there isn't really any reason to collect the intel; none of it is all that interesting.

Game Mechanics:
Killzone: Mercenary plays nearly identically to Killzone 3. The controls are slightly modified to work on the Vita, which has two triggers instead of four and no clickable analog sticks. That being said, the game makes do with what it has. Aiming down the sights and firing is just as intuitive as it is in its console brethren.

A few touchscreen implementations make things a bit more clumsy than they should be, but they never really get in the way; simple swipes are used for brutal melee kills and weapon switching is handled with a single touchscreen button.

At times, you'll be forced to hack into security terminals for intel or simply to progress through the mission. It's a simple matching game that forces you to eliminate a series of patterns while the clock ticks. It's not difficult or anything, but it does throw a stick in the pacing spokes.

Earning and shopping is handled very similarly to that in Bulletstorm, which rewards you for killing with skill. Your arms dealer, Blackjack, sells you weapons through a touchscreen interface; the money you earn on the battlefield can be spent on new weapons, equipment, armor, and Van-Guard applications.

Danner's Van-Guard is essentially a rechargeable care package. Based on which application you choose to go with, your Van-Guard might be capable of calling down precision orbital laser strikes, materializing into a portable missile launcher, an energy shield, and much more. In multiplayer, these power-ups arrive in randomized locations via Van-Guard Capsules. Once one lands, the regular action erupts into a mad, homicidal dash.

It's light on single player content, but between the presentation and the multiplayer component, this game is easy to recommend to action junkies. I'm not sure I'd call Killzone: Mercenary a killer app, but it's a solid shooter and a worthy addition to the Vita's otherwise anemic triple-A arsenal.

-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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