Killzone Mercenary is not the PlayStation Vita’s first run at a blockbuster first party shooter. That honour fell to the Resistance franchise and it was met with a very mixed response from critics and fans. The much lauded arrival of a Call of Duty game for Vita – Black Ops Declassified – was also less than stellar.
But Killzone has a dearer place in the hearts of many PlayStation fans than either of those franchises and Guerrilla Games have consistently shown that they’re very capable of wringing the best out of hardware. So Mercenary is poised to prove a point.
Happily, from the short play time we had with it at E3, it seems well equipped.
The visual style is still very much stuck with that Killzone tradition of dark and oppressive surroundings lit with bright blues and the sinister orange glows but it looks fantastic. It seems to be running at native resolution, which is less common than it should be on the platform, and it is textured and modelled beautifully.
Perhaps the best endorsement of how good it looks can be given in the form of an anecdote we brought back from Sony’s E3 press conference. After the queueing and the rush to find seating, we were in the balcony seats. As invited guests filtered in from the sunshine, there were a range of big screens around the stage – the ones they showed off PlayStation’s upcoming line up on during the show.
Each screen had someone standing in front of it on the stage, playing a game. Shadow Fall was there and so was Mercenaries. Both looked almost indistinguishable, upscaled onto those screens and from the balconies. It was only really the interface that gave away Mercenary’s platform.
Obviously, up closer, it isn’t PS4 quality but it’s also not what I would expect from Vita quality. Sure, we’ve seen some impressive output from Sony’s handheld but it always seems to come with a caveat. Golden Abyss looked great but that aliasing was dreadful. WipEout 2048 and Gravity Rush were stunning but in a very stylised way. Mercenary just looks great – no disclaimers.
The interface is what you’d expect too: it works as a normal FPS with on screen areas to tap for switching to grenades (which are then thrown with the trigger) and a melee prompt appearing, with swiping controls to finish the job when you get close enough.
The movement feels weighty enough, which is much appreciated with those tiny sticks, and the guns – although obviously limited in this demo – were solid and had plenty of impact. Sound, through the attached Sony Pulse headset, was impressive too, although with so much else going on around the stand, it’s impossible to give a fair assessment.
Given the history of this genre on Vita, I went into my time with Mercenary filled with scepticism. Would it be another franchise that aims high and sails below the bar? I expected a pared down version of the Killzone world and although the missions are planned to be shorter, the scale of gameplay certainly doesn’t appear to cut any corners.
There’s been a lot of indie developer love for Vita recently – smaller games with interesting mechanics or alluring visual styles. But the promise of a home console experience in your pocket might not have been quite as over-estimated as many of us were beginning to fear. Killzone Mercenary is coming and, if what I saw is a fair indication, it’s going to blow away the competition on PlayStation Vita.