Vita owners have been clamoring for a solid first person shooter since the launch of the handheld console a year and a half ago. The likes of Resistance and Call of Duty have both attempted to create a shooter for the only ever handheld console that features the now required dual stick format, but both failed to win the hearts and minds of the hardcore shooter fans. Killzone: Mercenary is the latest game to try, but is it third time lucky for the Vita? Or perhaps it's too little too late?
Killzone: Mercenary is a new take on the franchise and leaves behind all of the characters from its console counterpart. This means it allows easy access for newcomers and gives a brief overview of the factions that are at play. The ISA and the Helghast; these factions have been warring for decades and the consistency of this has made it a goldmine for mercenaries who fight for money rather than honor. This is the idea behind Killzone: Mercenary. Missions usually consist of freeing prisoners, hacking into the opposition's security or simply killing all of the enemies in a given area. All of this is done for money, or "Valor", the in-game currency that increases your rank and allows for weapon purchases and unlocks that will give you a significant advantage against the Helghast.
The currency is interchangeable between both the single player campaign as well as the multiplayer modes, which is a great incentive to get people to play the campaign first. Spending the cash in either mode unlocks the weapons and armor for both modes too, which is a nice touch. Speaking of touch, the game's entire menu is touch-based only, and even during the game you will be touching the screen an awful lot. Some gamers may find this quite irritating, but in some cases I couldn't imagine the controls working in any other way especially with the hacking mini-game. The melee uses the touch screen heavily too, and matches the brutal kills with the swipes of your finger. Of course compared to the PlayStation 3, the Vita doesn't have the R2 or L2 triggers, or click-able analog sticks, so it's safe to assume that the touch screen had to be used any way.
Killzone: Mercenary is quite easily amongst the best looking games on the Vita, arguably better than Uncharted Golden Abyss. It looks amazingly similar to the console counterpart, and even the brilliant death animations, seen in the PS3 version, translate perfectly, adding life to characters as they die, ironically. Stunning lighting effects, coupled with excellent animations, make this game a joy to look at, despite the grim environment. This truly is a console-quality game in the palm of your hands, and we're hoping it's not the last.
The story mode is well-produced, but is very basic and does not expand on the characters' stories or their motivations. It simply focuses on the task at hand, and very little else. You have an objective and you must complete it, no questions asked, something you could argue is the life of a mercenary but this really detaches you from the protagonist, who you won't even remember by the time you finish the game (Aaron Danner, by the way). The missions feel quite long when you consider that this is a handheld title, usually short burst missions are what you get, but these are fully fledged, and require what feels like a substantial amount of time to get through.
However, overall the campaign isn't very long, roughly 6-8 hours if you play stealthily and quicker if you go guns blazing. I found the stealth mechanics quite poor, as it was difficult to tell when you could alert an enemy with a sound or from what distance they could see you. This brought on a lot of frustration and I would advise you to play this game as a shooter the entire way through to save yourself the trouble. After you are done with the single player mode, you will no doubt want to look for what else is on offer. You will be glad to hear that the multiplayer mode is good, damn good, and possibly the best I have ever played on a handheld device.