Killzone: Mercenary Review

Killzone: Mercenary is the Vita’s third chance at a first person shooter worthy of being the killer app its two stick control system requires. Does it stand tall aside the franchise that spawned it, or are the skies burning yet again?

There’s something extraordinarily special about Killzone: Mercenary. It’s that feeling you had when you first played GoldenEye 007; the same sense of awe you had playing through Call of Duty 4; it’s the opening voiceover of Killzone 2; it’s all of your favourite things about first person shooters in one neat, handheld package.

And it is that feeling that carries on throughout, that which has you smiling at the incredible, meticulously designed quality of a game on a system which can fit in your pocket. A game, which by all means, allows you to experience one of the finest first person shooters around – across both single player and multiplayer – anywhere and everywhere you go. To put it simply, Mercenary is an incredible feat, entirely unmatched in its handheld field, and one that you’ll be playing for a long, long time.

It would be rude not to take a moment to acknowledge just how incredible this game looks. While the visuals aren’t Mercenary’s only killer feature – or even its best – they are unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. No one has ever matched the solid quality that this game has managed to achieve on a handheld device – it’s actually easier to believe that there’s something going on to do with Remote Play here, allowing you to stream the game from a home console to the Vita.

That is until you open the first door only to be met with a Helghast trooper, deftly disposed of with a tap of the triangle button and a swipe of the screen as your knife enters his abdomen, before thrusting the blade into his masked skull. Yes, there are touch screen controls, but they work perfectly here, allowing for an added level of immersion without complicating things.

Controls, in fact, are one of Mercenary’s real strong points: along with the melee, there are some intuitive buttons on screen for switching weapons, using grenades and even activating new Vanguards – we’ll get to them later. The fact is that the controls are tight and weighty as Killzone should be and ultimately responsive, dispelling all doubts that this had to be coming from an outside stream. It’s all quite standard, with L to look down the sights, R to fire, sticks to move and aim and even the delightful rear pad double tap for sprint.

“Mercenary’s single player campaign is a finely-tuned, perfectly crafted slice of gaming that avoids the shortcomings of Killzone 3”

While it’s not the visuals or controls that necessarily make the game, there’s no need to worry about the other elements such as the plot, the gameplay or even the pacing; Mercenary’s single player campaign is a finely-tuned, perfectly crafted slice of gaming that avoids the shortcomings of Killzone 3, instead matching that game’s high points with its predecessor, and adding in a heavy dose of new mechanics.

And there are a few unique twists on the Killzone formula: you’re not an ISA trooper, you’re the titular Mercenary, Arran Danner, who is rewarded with cash rather than pride and morale. This makes the game feel somewhat more fast paced, yet a lot more expansive, with opportunities to buy weapons, armour and equipment from the Arms Dealer rather than simply picking them up, levelling up as your new weapon’s bullets meet enemy flesh. You’re even able to view a short demo of these weapons before buying, and the cash you’ve earned and items you’ve bought carry across from single player to multiplayer in the most natural of ways.

It’s as if they’ve checked every single box here; everything combines impressively to create not only a genuinely fun shooter, but one that has some impressive, brave storytelling. And while the story falters at some points, it’s completed with a fantastic villain to rival Radec, plenty of surprises throughout and some well-voiced dialogue. While it can be played as a much more stealthy game at times, you’d be forgiven in the heat of the action for getting this game mixed up with the upcoming PS4 title Killzone: Shadow Fall due to the way it plays out.

Even the sound design is quite phenomenal, from the pre-menu title screen to the centre of the action. While the Vita’s speakers are hardly well suited to pumping out sound quite like this, a good set of headphones really lets you feel the grunt of your weapons, hear the perfectly suited music and completely sets the tone for the game.


Mercenary features a total of nine missions, each of which have plenty of surprises and incredible moments throughout, lasting around half an hour to forty minutes long each, if you’re not rushing through. While that might only equate to around four or five hours on one run through, the game offers plenty of reasons for you to come back aside from experiencing the story again.

“You’d be forgiven in the heat of the action for getting this game mixed up with the upcoming PS4 title Killzone: Shadow Fall”

Beyond the three difficulty levels are intel – which you’ll find by interrogating enemies with a quick time event, or by hacking into computer systems with a brilliant hacking mini-game – as well as separate contracts for each mission. It’s these contracts that really extend Mercenary, each giving you four objectives to complete in the level, with three additional styles of play.

Along with the standard Primary contract, there’s the Precision contract, which to complete you’ll have to accomplish tasks such as achieving headshots and speeding through the mission; the Covert contract, requiring a more stealthy approach; and the all-guns-blazing Demolition contract, which involves achieving multi-kills or even taking separate routes to destroy enemy equipment. These are fun, more arcade-styled ways to play that offer plenty of longevity.

And yet we’re still barely scratching the surface of the new mechanics on offer. Valor playing cards are awarded daily – personal achievements which appear next to your title, with opportunities to collect full decks, and Vanguards bring a fresh power-up system to the series. These Vanguards, purchasable from the Arms Dealer or obtainable from Vanguard Pods, offer a variety of limited-time perks, akin to killstreak rewards in Call of Duty, including a missile launcher, a remote-controlled drone, a jammer, a proximity tesla coil and even a stealth suit, which is brilliant for those who like to sneak around.

There’s plenty to do across the nine single player levels, then, and while the story stays the same, the gameplay often changes with these different contracts.

That’s not where it ends though, not at all. Now is where Killzone: Mercenary plays perhaps its best hand, as you step onto the multiplayer battlefield for one of the most refreshing and fun team-based shooting experiences you’ll play this year.

Each lobby allows for a maximum of eight players and there are three modes, the former two being free-for-all and team deathmatch variants, while the third, Warzone, offers something perhaps familiar for Killzone fans but at the same time, something that has undergone a bit of a change. Instead of teams winning a point unfairly by a single kill or capture, each singular point counts towards the total. So, instead of a round of 20-18 equating to 1-0, it will now show up as 20-18, with further rounds adding to the points total. Similarly, the free-for-all mode is judged by balance rather than kills, so it’s as much about which way you perform these executions as it is about getting them.

“With online gameplay like this, who needs PS3?”

In Warzone, the game essentially switches between five different objective modes every five minutes or so. These objectives include a standard team deathmatch with Body Count; a mode which utilises the new melee mechanics with points for interrogations (also revealing the opposing team’s locations – neat); one which you must hack into Vanguard Pods which drop from the sky, giving you a personal Vanguard; and one which is very much like Kill Confirmed, awarding points for picking up the Valor cards foes leave behind.

This retooled Warzone creates a brilliant and varied way of playing across the six (and only six – eight would have been the magic number) well designed multiplayer maps, offering countless hours of on-the-go multiplayer action for anyone with a Vita. With online gameplay like this, who needs PS3? It’s really impressive stuff, and it plays better than the majority of home console shooters manage. It looks stunning too, there’s no worry of poorer graphics in multiplayer – in fact, due to the nature of some maps, it even exceeds some of the visuals found in single player.

It’s entirely well-balanced, there’s plenty to unlock and it’s perfectly integrated into the game without at all feeling like an afterthought; if Killzone: Mercenary’s single player campaign isn’t considered essential, then the multiplayer certainly is.

What’s Good

  • Incredible visuals.
  • Unmatched gameplay on the handheld.
  • Story is fantastic, better than that of Killzone 3.
  • Single player offers plenty to do and is a blast from start to finish – and beyond.
  • Amazing multiplayer which can be played anywhere with an internet connection.
  • Levelling and weapon buying system is integrated excellently.

What’s Bad:

  • Story loses momentum at points, though soon picks back up again.
  • There are only six multiplayer maps.
  • It’s only available for Vita.

And – remember – this is on something that isn’t much of a change in size from the GameBoy Advance. What a difference a decade can make.

So, while Mercenary might not be the best shooter in the world, in its own field – as a handheld title – it’s almost perfect; there’s no other experience like this on a device as small as this. And, judging the game from that perspective, it’s an experience that will stick with you for a long time, much like GoldenEye, Call of Duty 4 and other revolutionary shooters have managed in the past, and one entirely worthy of its acclaim.

This isn’t just a game you need to buy if you own a Vita, this is the game you buy a Vita for.

Score: 10/10


  1. Scrolled through for the score so I know whether to cancel my preorder or not but, phew! Loved the beta and glad the full game appears to be as good. Now to go back and read the review properly…

  2. Yeah I did the same. What is worrying SixthAxis 10/10. VideoGamer (on Metacritic 6/10). Hmmm why such a vast difference of opinion? That review alone is going to kill its Metacritic score.

    • There are lots of 8s and 9s as well from other places.

    • The thing that bothers me about the other reviews I’ve seen is that they seem unfairly harsh on things that aren’t the fault of Killzone: Mercenary.

      For example they say it’s a great game, amazing graphics, and a must have title for Vita owners and if people bought a Vita on the promise of this game they won’t be disappointed… All sounds great then, but then they get into analysing FPS as a genre and it gets marked down for not being original – it’s a console quality FPS on a portable console for the first time, is that not enough? If you want original buy Tearaway! Or some reviews even criticise the Vita itself and Sony’s strategy around it – cost of memory cards or whether it should even be used to have console sized games in the first place etc – and mark it down further!

      This is definitely one of those games where you need to read the content of the review rather than just the final score… The consensus seems to be (aside from a few niggles that might bump it to an 8 or 9) it’s a great game from a tired and overused genre on a platform that still needs to prove itself. For me reviews should stop at ‘it’s a great game’.

      I wonder if these same publications will give the likes of the next CoD or the next Halo a 5/10 just because it’s an FPS that doesn’t really break the mould and sticks to tried and tested ideas? Killzone may not be perfect but I always get the sense that it’s judged more harshly than it’s peers just for being another Killzone, whereas the likes of CoD and Halo seems to be judged more favourably just because it’s from that franchise. Case in point some reviews of the awful CoD Black Ops Declassified are higher than what some have awarded Killzone: Mercanary!!! I would give the multiplayer beta a higher score than that rubbish!!!

      I look at FPS reviews a bit like I look at critic reviews of Hollywood summer action films – the critics will give it 5/10 because it’s not filmed in black and white with subtitles and 3 hours long, but the movie fans will give it 9/10 because it does what they want from a Hollywood action film. I expect Killzone: Mercenary will do exactly what people want from an FPS on Vita – I for one was sold 5 minutes into the beta…

      • Could not have said it better myself. For this game to get a 55% from one review, is quite mind boggling. The MP beta impressed me enough to just buy the game and then I will make my own mind up, but I will eat my hat if this game turns out to be worth a 55!!!!

      • Completely agree. I honestly don’t get what some reviewers want out of game sometimes.

        Solid review here though, but what’s with the What’s Bad > Only for Vita all about. Come on, part of the fun right :)

      • I also just feel I need to add my appreciation to this comment, as it more or less echoes my own feelings regarding some of the other reviews of the game. No, it isn’t genre defining or particularly innovation, but it was never trying to be.

        What it is, is an explosive, finely tuned, main console quality level FPS crammed onto a hand-held device, and that is something to praise.

      • Spot on Apnomis.Always nice to meet a fellow Piranha 3d fan.

  3. Would snap this up straight away if not for my punt memory card. Will still get it eventually, no doubt.

  4. Hmm think I might cancel and wait for the bargain bucket as its getting really mixed reviews on Metacritic. Even the official PS Mag only gave it 7/10. Most sites are saying its nothing special. :'(

    • I’m not sure what’s going on with OPM, they seem to be very harsh with their scores these days, it looks a lot like attention grabbing, last gasp attempt to generate intrest in print media.

      • This. I can’t wait to see who gives GTA V an 7/10 or below for pure shock value, hoping to get easy clicks.

        I’m saying it’ll be Polygon, or OPM again.

  5. huge difference in opinions on this game it seems. I’m sure it will be amazing on the Vita if you have one. I haven’t so will be waiting for the PS4.

  6. Yeah. I had it on pre-order and was really looking forward to Friday and reading the review here was very happy. Until I looked on Metacritic. Cancelled now. Very disappointed.

    • How is a Metacritic score of 76 bad? Besides the fact that the low scoring reviews compare this to a Home console shooter.

      • I guess I was expecting too much. I thought it was going to be arguably the Vita’s best game. At high 70s its actually scoring worse than Uncharted at the moment. Its probably on reflection not a bad game but I was expecting more. I didn’t say it was bad.

    • What an idiot. Try buying games you want and decide for yourself whether you like it or not rather than relying on reviews to tell you what to do.

      • Calm down, no need to call someone an idiot for expressing an opinion

      • I wouldn’t say that is idiotic at all. Most people don’t have infinite gaming funds and therefore would like to know if a game is worth picking up before wasting £30-40 on it. A 76% overall score sounds like a game worth picking up after a price drop personally.

      • Indeed. When games are likely to drop in price quite soon after release, using a metacritic score as a quick way of telling if you should splash the extra cash for a game on day one is a half-decent method.

        However, with games which polarise opinion, such as this one seems to be doing, it would be better to read some of the reviews, to see if they’ve properly justified their opinions.

      • Err excuse me for having an opinion. As I said I don’t think its a bad game and as I also said i’d probably pick this up when its dropped in retail price. I can’t spend unlimited cash on all the games I think I might like.

    • Are you kidding me? As someone who has played this game for the past two weeks I can easily say it is one of the best PlayStation Vita games out on the market right now. I put it on par, if not higher, than Uncharted. It offers a very solid FPS experience with an interesting story and refreshing game mechanics.

      Unlike Uncharted, Mercenary has a MP mode – adding even more replayability to the game, something that has been missing from a lot of Vita titles. I was shell-shocked when I read the other reviews this morning and saw the average metacritic. As someone who has played the game and reviewed it for my own site I would’ve thought it to be in the high 80 to low 90s, not this crap at 77. It’s sad that in today’s industry 77 is considered a low score by consumers.

      If you like FPS games…buy this game, you won’t be disappointed as you’ve said.

  7. I am insulted! How is “It’s only available for Vita.” under the “What’s Bad” section? Please remove from the “Bad” section.

    • I think it’s a bit tongue in cheek – as that’s essentially giving it praise, wishing it was available for appreciation on other platforms.

    • Yeah, it was just a light-hearted joke. As in “I want this on everything!”

    • Somebody woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning!

      • Yeah, wait till you see a review say a well rated Mario is “bad” cause it’s only available on Nintendo consoles…

        ..oh wait. That doesn’t happen!

      • Did you sign up specifically to criticise that one lighthearted comment?

      • Yes, I did. I was disgusted!

      • Gosh TSA’s new member of the year already.

      • Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells.

      • ha ha, this made my week

    • You mean you ‘feel’ insulted. That’s unless you are an actual Vita and you’ve used your own A.I. to evolve to a point where you’ve managed to grow a conscious.

  8. have pre-ordered this and am sure it will be as good as you say

    Dissapointed at the campaign length and small number of MP maps though

  9. An experience like GoldenEye and CoD4 – wow, seriously? It’ll be interesting to see if that’s the case, as that’s some comparison!!

    • Not necessarily quite like GoldenEye or CoD4, but in terms of what it does for the handheld market, it’s on the same level, that was my main point.

      • Of course, in context. Certainly a platform leader if the Beta is anything to go by ;)

        It seems a lot of the poorer scores are because direct comparisons are being made to console FPSs, which is just a bit silly – it clearly can’t be as good as the leading console FPSs, yet still looks like it’s getting pretty close, which is very impressive in itself.

  10. Great review. Looking forward to it!

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