Hands On: Killzone Mercenary [PS Vita]

The Vita needs Killzone Mercenary. It needs to show it can do shooters. And from what we’ve seen, it can.

killzone mercenary

Killzone Mercenary looks stunning – it’s sharp, crisp, well animated and just as richly coloured as the PlayStation 3 games.

Do you think that working in this industry is always cool, fun and exciting? It’s not. Sometimes you have to play games for days on end that no one really cares about, sometimes you have to write a 10,000 character preview in one day and sometimes, well sometimes you receive a call asking if you can drop everything and fly to Amsterdam.


Why? To play one of the most anticipated games yet announced for the PlayStation Vita, that’s why – and this case, well yes, you’re really happy to work in the video games industry.

The game? Killzone Mercenary, which is the latest installment in the titular franchise, and the first in the series for the PlayStation Vita. After three chapters on PlayStations 2 & 3 and the nice isometric shooter on the PSP, Guerrilla’s FPS saga is finally ready to land on Vita with a new story, new features and a brand new protagonist: Arran Denner.

The facts:

  • New main character.
  • Uses same engine as Killzone 3.
  • Multiplayer will offer 6 maps, 3 modes and 8 player battles.
  • Set directly after the events of Killzone.
  • Released September 18th.

killzone vita

Arran Denner is not leading an army, he’s not a superhero – he’s just a mercenary. But he makes for a great story – and whilst the action takes place during the first two Killzone chapters Mercenary’s focus means we’ll be part of the adventure from a very different point of view.

And being a mercenary means Denner will be used to getting contracts. In Killzone, these contracts let the player decide which side he’s on. We can choose the type of contract and – ultimately – gain money at the end of the mission. Of course, clear an easy one and we’ll receive a low amount of money, with tougher challenges bringing a better fee for our wallet. But there’s more: killing an enemy with a sneaking move, a headshot, or making a chain of kills will help us to gain extra money.

And it’s all tracked. All of it. Remember those recent outages on the main Killzone.com site? Well, every single move, kill or decision can change our position in the rankings, with Killzone.com to become a new place where every Killzone player can find who is the best mercenary, or the richest player. We can also check new type of contracts that Guerrilla will add every week through the portal.

Killzone Mercenary also introduces a brand new card system. For every enemy killed on a multiplayer match players will get a card with a low or high grade, depending on how we’ve killed our enemy. The level of the cards will change a player’s valor on Killzone.com too – in fact collecting the the rarest cards for your deck will help you to reach the top of the leaderboards.

The goal that Guerrilla had with Mercenary was easy: make a full, PS3 quality Killzone on a portable device. And as far as we saw, well, they’ve already completed their objective. The real time movie that opened the single player demo we played is stunning and it’s hard to believe you’re really seeing a game like that on the Vita. How is that possible? Easy, Guerrilla has fitted the Killzone 3 engine inside the portable. OK, games like Uncharted: Golden Abyss and Wipeout 2048 are fantastic, but, believe us, you’re going to remember the moment you first get your hands on Killzone Mercenary, even if you’re not a massive fan of the genre.

Thankfully, in the game the controls work great too, using the classic FPS configuration: dual analogs to move and aim, X to jump, circle to crouch and run, triangle to pick up items and interact with other stuff and the right trigger to fire like a proper mad, futuristic Rambo. And what about touch controls? Approach an enemy, sneaking quietly, and then a quick flick of the Vita’s front panel will do the job.

killzone blackjack

killzone vita

There’s also a section at the end of the level we played where we’re trying to escape from huge numbers of enemies and the only way out is to climb a turret and take a rope slide. At this point we can aim and shoot at a wave of Helghast simply by touching their bodies on the touch screen. You can, of course, opt to manually take out all the enemies with your weapon but in this case, well, good luck.

Through the touch screen we can also resolve some simple (hexagonal) puzzles, change our weapon or launch the vanguard, a new range of eight remote weapons that allow the player to exterminate the enemy. One type, for example, works as a flying sentinel and you can kill any enemies just tapping them on the Vita screen, until one of them discover your position with appropriate consequences.

Lastly, with the rear touch pad we can zoom while using the rifle, and there’s gyro aiming by moving the console like in Uncharted: Golden Abyss.

Mercenary features so-called “Blackjack” stations, where the player can purchase weapons, ammo, armor and other items. These stations are huge boxes placed pretty much everywhere in the game. After completing a level in the single player campaign, 3 new sub-missions will be unlocked: Stealth, Demolition and Precision, but unfortunately these were not available to play in the build we had access to.

killzone mercenary

Because the game is set in-between Killzone and Killzone 2, the environments, weapons and vehicles should all be familiar to the player.
main character

And away from the main campaign, multiplayer fans should – once the game is done – be well catered for. At the moment it’s just a local 4 v 4 death match and to be honest, the only map currently available wasn’t hugely impressive: it’s a bit small, and full of weak points.

The good news is that even with a screen full of enemies the engine works without any problems, the frame rate nice and steady throughout.

Before each match we can choose from five types of soldier, each with his own armour, weapons, vanguard etc., but if we aren’t satisfied with our alter-ego, we can select another soldier just before each respawn. The vanguards take a considerable amount of time to become ready though (about five minutes) so constantly flipping between classes isn’t always a great idea.

killzone vita

Multiplayer, once finished, will feature 6 maps and 3 modes. That’s not a massive selection but it’s a fairly deep system, and if the level design is ramped up a little there shouldn’t be too many complaints. There’s also the possibility of DLC down the line, of course.

But importantly, the game looks great, the menus are really crisp and clear and easily navigated with the touch screen, the sound effects are fantastic and the orchestral soundtrack resonates well with the PS3 games in the series.

Our visit to Guerrilla Studios was short and sweet, but coming away we feel that Killzone Mercenary – due out this September – is really one to watch. We really don’t know how the guys at Guerrilla were able to do this with a portable device, but the only thing we can say is that Sony is still moving in the right direction, making great exclusives and helping developers to push the hardware to its limit.

Written by Manuel Stanislao, Edited by Alex C



  1. OMG! I think I’ve had a trouser accident. Damn this game looks good. Do you know if there is a bot mode like console Killzones?

  2. Any word on the resolution? Do hope it’s at least somewhat higher than Golden Abyss’s, if not native.

    • Something like LBP with AA could work, but native would be impressive. Apparently the Vita can do AA relatively cheaply.

      Im also interested in the audio quality, Resistance and Assassins Creed suffer from heavily compressed audio.

      • Ugh AC was horrible, half the PSP games, cancel that, most of them had good sound with headphones plugged in.

    • From the trailer, which looks like it’s direct from the Vita, I would assume at or close to full resolution.

  3. Really looking forward to this. Considering the twin sticks were one of the vitas big improvements on the psp, they’ve been very underused in games so far.

    If the multiplayer works smoothly I’ll be playing this a lot.

  4. Still not gonna fork out £200 for a Vita just for 1 good game.

    Keep trying sony.

    • There’s more than one good game, though. :)

      • Yeah I suppose. I’m just waiting for something unique for the Vita and a price cut.

      • What do you mean, a unique genre?

        Vita has plenty of exclusives in its library for a console which is only a year old.

      • Something unique? Tearaway.

      • There’s Gravity Rush too, easily my favourite game I’ve played on my Vita, even over Uncharted: GA!

  5. Does look good but £40 is too much.

  6. Yes, this does look good.

    Admittedly, I’ve never been the biggest fan of Killzone (only one I ever finshed was Liberation) but this intrigues me.

    It’s probably only because I haven’t played a FPS for ages though.

  7. Never been a huge fan of the Killzone games but this looks fantastic. The visuals are very impressive! It’ll be nice to play from a different perpective. Lets hope we don’t get another whinging bitch of a sidekick

  8. Finally some solid info on this, this game sounds fantastic. I’m so happy to hear gyro-aiming is on board. But now the wait till September feels so long.

  9. Yes yes yes!

  10. Holy crapsticks

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