Killzone Mercenary: Is that a Helghan in your pants?

Killzone Mercenary: Here Helghan, Helghan, Helghan ...

Killzone Mercenary: Here Helghan, Helghan, Helghan …

For a handheld title, Killzone: Mercenary on the PS Vita is pretty impressive.

And Lord knows, the Vita needs impressive titles to bolster its fortunes. It has few must-have titles (and some desperately don’t get titles like Resistance Burning Skies and Call of Duty: Declassified, anyone?). Mercenary could well be the first-person shooter that makes you proud to own a PS Vita.

Set between the events of Killzone 1 and Killzone 2, players take the role of a mercenary called Danner, who has contracted his services to the ISA in an effort to wipe out the Helghast on their home planet of Helghan. And being a mercenary is where this Killzone pops up its first difference to the console editions of the game: money.

Each kill earns Danner money – the more kills he makes, the more money he makes. Making a headshot will net more cash than just pumping a Helghast with lead. Even picking up dropped ammo earns cash. Earned money can used in-game to purchase better weapons using black market lockers (why they’d be dotted around a Helghast base, I’m not sure). You can also unlock a variety of other things but some of them cost huge amounts of cash.

Visually, the game looks superb, and while not on par with what the PlayStation 3 can generate, it shows that developer Guerilla Cambridge (formerly known as Sony Cambridge, the studio behind the Medievil series) are pushing Sony’s handheld to its limits, with dynamic shadows and volumetric lighting. It really is impressive.

The game opens with Danner and a colleague (he’s shot down mid-glide so he’s not even worth mentioning) gliding from an ISA dropship down to a looming Helghan base where you have to deactivate two radar dishes that control the giant cannons causing problems for the ISA ships orbiting Helghan. It’s up to you (Danner) to finish the job and turn the tide of war.

OK, so the premis isn’t very original at all and while I was a little disappointed that the opening sequence was on-rails (I wasn’t able to steer Danner at all) it’s a powerful way to start the game, with rockets and enemy fire flying around as Danner glides towards the base, finally landing on top of a cable car.

So far, so good, and Killzone Mercenary has a hell of a lot going for it, especially for a handheld title, but that said, it ticks all the boxes that a Killzone shooter should so if you’re not a fan of Killzone, chances are you’ll find little to like here.

Stabby, stabby: Yep, you can stab Helghan in the neck.

Stabby, stabby: Yep, you can stab Helghan in the neck.

While the preview code was only one level long, I was able to mix it up a little with both stealth and full-on frontal assault (the former thanks to Danner’s silenced pistol and knife) and the game throws in some hacking for good measure (using the touch screen to match on-screen icons while racing against a timer). Talking of touch screen controls, it’s used wisely throughout the campaign with the rear touch pad letting you zoom in and out with weapons and the main screen used to finish off silent kills of unwary Helghan using a quick time event after you’ve tapped the triangle button.

The Helghast showed some smarts at times during my  play through – after being spotted by one soldier while assaulting the barracks, he called for reinforcements – but other times, stupidity was evident, with more than one not noticing I was in the same room as them (just before I filled them full of lead). Perhaps that’ll be tidied up come September, when the full game’s out. The only time stealth didn’t work was during the what seems a mandatory element in shooters these days: the hold-this-position-until-ordered-where-to-go-next sequence.

So far, so Killzone, which will please fans of the series, and the closing moments of the preview mixed it up a little with Danner having to hold off a barrage of Helghast using a Porcupine missile system, which fire missiles at what ever you tap on-screen (assaulting Helghast, a hovering dropship). One thing I’m not certain about for Mercenary is the multiplayer, as the feature was disabled for the preview.

Killzone Mercenary is looking extremely solid for a handheld shooter and while I’ve no idea how the story holds up throughout the rest of the game or whether it turns all formulaic in the sea of brown-on-brown that the Killzone series is famed for, this handheld title has piqued my interest. Perhaps it is possible to have a decent FPS on the Vita and have a Helghan in your pocket.  Here’s hoping.

PlayStation New Zealand provided a download code for the preview version of Killzone Mercenary.

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