Killzone: Mercenary Review: The definitive PS Vita shooter

Written by –

The arrival of Guerrilla Cambridge’s Killzone: Mercenary couldn’t have come at a better time for PlayStation Vita. The struggling Sony handheld has been chomping at the bit for that triple-A, must-have release for a good while now, and what better way to end the software lull than with Guerrilla’s celebrated sci-fi IP? Killzone is synonymous with the PlayStation brand after all, and, next to Uncharted or God of War, is about as close to a system-seller as you can get–and let’s face it, the company needs to flog a few more PS Vitas.

As we’ve already commented on, Guerrilla hasn’t compromised anything here; this is the full-fledged Killzone experience, all squeezed into one pocked-sized, throat-slitting package. Mercenary itself takes place after the events of the original Killzone, depicting the brutal and bloody war between the ISA and the glowy-eyed Helghast. You’re Danner, a grizzly gun-for-hire who finds himself fighting for both camps; money is what drives you, and so it doesn’t matter if it’s the ISA or the Higs who are lining your pockets.

Narratively speaking, Mercenary isn’t the most intricate of affairs, although it does attempt to provoke sympathy from the player in certain areas. At times, Danner is forced to see the bigger picture–it’s not always about cold, hard cash. There’s ample backstory thanks to collectible intel, with the Helghast offering a more nuanced performance of the two sides. Still, Mercenary is populated by brutish dialogue from stoic, potato-headed ISA grunts and our iconic, nefarious-looking chaps in gas masks with glowing orange eyes. There’s little to speak of in narrative innovation, and characters are given little time to really grow on you.

Thoughts on gameplay and multiplayer after the page jump.


(function(d, s, id) { var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0]; if (d.getElementById(id)) return; js = d.createElement(s); = id; js.src = “//”; fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs); }(document, ‘script’, ‘facebook-jssdk’));



Mechanically, Killzone: Mercenary doesn’t subvert any perceptions you may have of the FPS genre, but that certainly isn’t a bad thing. Guns feel weighty and pack a punch, sliding into cover is intuitive, and scoring head shots is as satisfying as it’s ever been. Thanks to PS Vita’s dual analogue sticks, you may as well be playing a PS3 game; control is smooth and the unobtrusive touchscreen functionality is seamless in its execution. At no single moment do touchscreen mechanics feel tacked on. Tapping the weapon icon to switch to your secondary gun (your loadout consists of two weapons, armor, a VAN-GUARD deployable, and grenades) feels natural, as does sliding the rear touchpad to zoom in with a sniper rifle to blow an enemy’s head into bloody chunks. Even if you don’t fancy using this sort of input, you can simply use the D-pad to replace many of the touchscreen functions, including weapon switching.

Whether you are going toe-to-toe with the Higs or battling ISA grunts, enemy A.I. is extremely competent. Foes will rarely linger in the open, utilizing cover wherever possible and flanking you if you aren’t quick to keep an eye on all directions. Better still, they’ll lob grenades at you, forcing you to keep on the move. Even when they fire back, they won’t always expose their weak point; more often, enemies will fire around corners or over cover while exposing as little of themselves as possible. As such, firefights require you to dig in and slowly pick away, with skill and precision taking priority over brute force. Going in guns blazing, I was soon met with a Helghast-sized boot up my arse and ended up a bloody pulp on the floor. Thanks to the relentless A.I., I found myself pinned down on numerous occasions, and the thrill of watching bullets zip overhead before popping out of cover to nail a baddie on the bonce is extremely palpable.

However, there’s more to combat than popping heads and slitting throats. At the nucleus of Mercenary’s frantic firefights are cash bonuses. Every action you perform, be it a headshot, scavenging ammo, hacking Intel terminals, blowing enemies up with explosive barrels, or performing melee kills, nets you money, which in turn is used to purchase extra weapons, ammo, and other items via arms dealer caches. These cash incentives really add a new dimension to what might have been an enjoyable, if perfunctory, shooter experience, and I found myself exploring every nook and cranny for pick-ups and intelligence drops, not to mention lining up headshots and stealth-killing for bigger rewards.


The opportunity to change up your weapon loadout mid-level (for a small service fee) also spices things up, allowing you to adapt to increasingly-stronger foes and switch up your playstyle on the fly. Is your current loadout making too much noise? Then get a sniper rifle with a suppressor and rack up the headshots. On the other hand, maybe you lack the necessary firepower to deal with hulking mechs? Go grab a rocket launcher and cause some damage. It’s a great system, ensuring a fresh experience whenever you play and giving you the freedom to do things how you want–rarely are you forced into adopting a strategy or loadout you aren’t comfortable with.

The aforementioned VAN-GUARD system, new to Mercenary, really injects some much-needed variety into the familiar Killzone paradigm. Here, you can adopt defensive or offensive tech to facilitate your journey and complement your preferred playing style. I found myself soaking up too much damage and was never a confident combatant, so I put cash down on a forward-facing shield to help give me the edge. On the other hand, strapping a rocket launcher to your shoulder and tapping the touchscreen to mark out targets has its bonuses too, allowing you to rain destructive death from a distance. There’s something for everyone, and experimenting with all the different weapons and VAN-GUARD loadouts is an immensely enjoyable, if expensive, past-time.

Mercenary’s campaign is woefully short, but this is offset by the fact each mission can be replayed on a higher difficulty setting. Not only that, but you can also tackle each assignment with extra objectives, which breeds ample cash rewards and really puts your skills to the test. In one stage, for example, the primary goal was to extricate a key figure in the war to safety, but I was also tasked with scoring a specific number of melee kills, blowing up tanks with a pre-determined VAN-GUARD tool and eliminating enemy weapon caches. It’s rewarding, and injects plenty of variety into the otherwise familiar standard mission goals. Not that they’re any less enjoyable, though; missions are punctuated with slow-paced moments of dialogue and skirmishes are evenly spread out, ensuring the action is never monotonous and the pace is kept fresh.


If that wasn’t enough to diversify the Killzone experience, Guerrilla Cambridge has also introduced Valor Cards. Each day, the Mercenary server rewards you with a unique card based on your performance in scoring kills and cash–in both single-player and multiplayer modes. The better you do, the higher your card. Conversely, however, if your performance dips, then so does the quality of your card. It’s a fantastic way to cultivate player performance, and during missions, I was ever mindful of that tiny card icon in the corner of the screen, which propelled me to better my performance in-game. There are few things more satisfying than logging on for a game of Mercenary to find your Valor Card has been raised–and equally dismayed I was to see it lowered after a particularly poor session. Furthermore, you’ll get different cards (diamond, club, heart, etc.) depending on your weapons set, encouraging further tinkering with the loadouts.

Multiplayer has always been the backbone of the Killzone experience, though, and Mercenary certainly delivers the goods. Spread between three game modes–from rudimentary deathmatches to team-based affairs with objectives–online firefights are smooth and relatively trouble-free. I had a few instances where I was kicked out of a game mid-match, but overall, my experience was very enjoyable. Before each match, you have time to pick a loadout that best suits you before the game drops you into the thick of things.

Mercenary’s solid combat translates effortlessly to the online landscape, and the Valor Card system also adds a bit of punch to the proceedings. Here, killing enemies allows you to then loot their card, adding it to your own collection. As with the single-player campaign, your performance is also tracked, so the better you perform, the better your rewards, in terms of both cash and new Valor Cards. And while Valor Cards are obvious attractions on the battlefield, sneaky players can use them to set traps for the enemy; after all, what better way to score an easy kill than by waiting in the shadows as someone darts by to claim a card?


The same can be said about the VAN-GUARD capsules. Do you risk approaching one to fully power your VAN-GUARD, or do you play the waiting game and let your deployable recharge on its own, wasting precious minutes of match time? Indeed, multiplayer has a surprising layer of strategy if you dig deep enough, and I was ever-mindful of what my opponents could have up their sleeve before blindly rushing to the nearest consumable.

Sadly, there’s not a great deal of maps on offer. The six that are available are varied enough, though, boasting multiple sniping zones and claustrophobic corridors that are ideal for close-proximity encounters. Meanwhile, multiplayer does a nice job at setting you up with mates, with the ‘Party’ feature enabling voice communication for when teamwork is paramount to survival. All told, Mercenary’s multiplayer is a pleasant, robust experience through and through.

Visually, Mercenary is the prettiest PS Vita title you’ll clap eyes on this side of Uncharted: Golden Abyss. Sure, there’s an abundance of drab, industrial-style interiors and corridors to plough through, but when Mercenary shines, it does so vibrantly and confidently. Free-falling amidst towering skyscrapers as battle cruisers zip past, while stunning lighting and shadow effects fill the screen, really showcases the power of Sony’s pocket brick. Meanwhile, characters are sumptuously realised, which, combined with the punchy sound effects and blood-pumping score, make for a bombastic combat experience. Fortunately, the frame rate is silky-smooth for the most part, and I only noticed a few dips here and there when the action got heavy.

Our final thoughts, after the page jump.


Overall, Killzone: Mercenary is the definitive PS Vita shooter, and a must-have for any FPS fan. If you’re still on the fence in regards to putting down the cash for Sony’s latest handheld, this is the title that’s likely to change your mind. Packed with variety, stunning graphics, and pitch-perfect controls, Mercenary is a brutal and brilliant shooter that sets a new benchmark for the series and handheld shooters in general. Don’t miss it.



The Final Word

The definitive PS Vita shooter and a must-have for any Killzone fan.