Killzone: Mercenary – the review

Killzone Mercenary (PS Vita)

Looking good: a screen grab from Killzone Mercenary taken from my PS Vita.

Looking good: a screen grab from Killzone Mercenary taken from my PS Vita.

Killzone: Mercenary, where have you been all my PS Vita’s life?

Mercenary is a shooter that you’ll actually want to play. It’s the shooter that my PS Vita has been crying out for. Oh, sure developers have tried FPS games on the Vita before but let’s face it: They sucked. Pure and simple (I’m looking at you Black Ops: Declassified and Resistance Burning Skies. You were shit).

Killzone Mercenary is the real deal. And if Mercenary had been available earlier,  my Vita would have seen more action over the past few months rather than pretty much gathering dust, sitting unused.

Why, Sony, why has it taken it has taken so long for a great first-person shooter to appear on the Vita? Not through lack of talent as there are plenty of talented people in your development studios. There was really no excuse for it. I mean, the Vita has two analogue sticks: It’s made for the FPS, right?

Placing the player in the shoes of soldier-for-hire Arran Danner, Killzone Mercenary is set between the events of Killzone 2 and Killzone 3 and interestingly, in a first for the series, the player will fight alongside both the ISA and Helghan after a twist near the end. Danner is a, after all, a mercenary so he goes where the green is.

Let’s get the visuals out of the way first, though: they are stupendous. The two images with captions are screen captures I did during game play. Looks pretty good, right? It’s like the developer took the PlayStation 3’s Killzone and zapped it with a shrink ray: It really does look that good. Is is too much to say this is the best looking game the Vita because I think it is. It is jaw-droppingly beautiful and really is the best looking game on the Vita.

But good graphics does not a game  make, it needs a solid story to back it up. Well, Mercenary’s story is nothing we haven’t seen in countless shooters before (filled with betrayal and backstabbing) and you can see what’s coming a mile off but it’s a shooter, after all: It’s not a Shakespearean play filled with enlightened exposition and wonderment. It’s a game where you shoot people to earn money and complete objectives. I also found the controls took a bit of time getting used to – crouch and sprint are mapped to the circle button which makes things interesting during an intense firefight – but things fell into place soon enough.

Killzone-Mercenary-Preview-03-600x339Mercenary uses the Vita’s touch screen cleverly, too, letting you melee kill foes by tapping the triangle button then following an on-screen prompt indicating which way to swipe.

Being able to do that means you’ll use it – and I used it a lot, against both normal Helghast grunts and heavily armed heavies. In fact, I probably used it too much (and handily, many of the Helghan turn their back on you when you melee them), but there’s just something satisfying about swiping the touch screen to kill a Helghan (although, does Danner really have to stab some of them in the balls before knifing them in the head? That just made me squirm)

The touch screen is also used to set mines (placing each thumb on the screen then rotating them charges the mine) and kills earn valour, or money, which can be used to buy new weapons, ammunition, better armour and other gadgets  from black market weapons chest conveniently dotted about the game world. Every kill earns you money: headshots earning you more than a shot to the chest.

If there’s one thing frustrating about Mercenary’s game play, it’s its checkpoint system, which isn’t very good. I would have liked to have seen a more robust save system and while yes, the Vita has a good standby mode, if you quit a level mid-mission expect to have to start again from the beginning. It’s annoying.

I’ve only touched on the single player campaign here because, well, I haven’t had a chance to try any online yet. I got a code to do that but haven’t had the time. Perhaps when more people are playing it I’ll give it a whirl.

Airborne assault: Flying in a Helghast ship to assault an ISA cruiser.

Airborne assault: Flying in a Helghast ship to assault an ISA cruiser.

OK, to round up. Yes, Killzone Mercenary shows little innovation when it comes to game play (and Killzone is a stupid name for a game) and yes, the story is cliched and yes, if you hate the Killzone series then this portable version isn’t going to change your mind, but it’s a freaking console quality shooter on a handheld and it’s a good one  –  and that should be celebrated as far as I’m concerned (and if it was shit, I would tell you as much).

Not so long ago I was thinking Sony had forgotten about the Vita completely and hoped no-one would notice. Well, we did notice  but if Mercenary is Sony’s way of saying, “Sorry about the previous shit Vita FPS games. Try this for size” then I forgive you, Sony. I forgive you.

Game Junkie Verdict: buy, buy,  buy.

My take on Sony’s pre-E3 press event

“Where was the love for the PS Vita,” was my first reaction after watching most of Sony’s pre-E3 press event this afternoon (NZ time).

Actually, no it wasn’t: my first reaction was “When can I play The Last of Us? That looks so freaken amazing,” after Sony closed out its presser with a demo of Naughty Dog’s next adventuring game.

For Sony it was all about the games and the PlayStation 3 – and there were a lot to take in – but very little love for the Vita, a console that isn’t a year old yet and is struggling to gain traction with gamers. Apart from an Assassin’s Creed game for the Vita (Assassin’s Creed 3:  Liberation)  and cross platform connectivity with All Stars Battle Royale, Sony had nothing for the Vita. That’s a worrying proposition, especially for early adopters of the handheld. Does the lack of first-party support mean that Sony is worried as well?

 Sony’s CEO Jack Tretton opened the event by thanking gamers for giving the company the inspiration to do what it does then welcomed on to the stage French game maker David Cage, the man behind the innovative but ultimately tedious Heavy Rain, who revealed his new game, Beyond: Two Souls, a game that spans 15 years and lets players “live the life of a video game character”, namely Jodie (voiced by Juno actor Ellen Page).

After Beyond Two Souls came PlayStation All Stars Battle Royale, which I flicked between while I was doing some work, then AC3: Liberation,which brings a female assassin this time around, then Assassin’s Creed 3, which showed a sea battle aboard naval ships and involved sailors, rigging, cannons, explosions and lots of shouting. Some Far Cry 3 co-op multiplayer was shown as was a rather tedious reveal of Wonderbook, an inventive partnership between PlayStation and British author J.K. Rowling where you use the PS Move as a wand to cast spells while reading a magical book. It was fun at first but the on-stage demo just went on for far too long. I got bored with it.

Tretton introduced God of War: Ascension as “one of the biggest and most epic releases on PlayStation 3” and we’ve seen the multiplayer component before but this showcased the single player, which saw the forever angry Kratos take on goat like creatures, a large Kraken and an elephant warrior that met the wrong end of Kratos’ anger. It’s due out early next year.

 The biggest cheers, though, were saved for Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us, which cements for me the developers pedigree as a AAA game maker that knows how to do narrative – and has the visual grunt behind it. Make no mistake it was a brutal trailer with Joel and Ellie, the two main characters in the game’s post-apocalyptic world, having to fend against rather aggressive foes. The combat is visceral and forceful, with Joel slamming a foe’s head against a desk at one stage and shooting another at point blank range with a shotgun, while Ellie throws a brick at another’s head to distract him – before he’s pummeled by Joel. It’s a stark display of a struggling world after a disaster. “Good job with all the killing, and stuff,” Ellie says after they’ve survived the encounter.

The Last of Us is unmistakably Naughty Dog: it reminded me a lot of the Uncharted series with similar visuals and a main character that even moves slightly like him. I guess what I’m saying is that it feels like a Naughty Dog game – and that pleases me a lot.

If I was a betting man, I’d say Sony won the round today, offering more games than Xbox was able to but the game of the day for me, easily Ubisoft’s surprise announcement of  Watch_Dogs, a game set in a society where computers can see everything and nothing is a secret. It actually reminded me a lot of the TV show Person of Interest, which I have enjoyed.

Nintendo is up tomorrow, revealing what it has planned for the 3DS and other things Nintendo. If I can get up in time, I’ll watch it (it’s at 4.30am NZ time). I need my beauty sleep, you know.

E3 2011: Sony’s PS Vita takes centre stage

For me, and perhaps many other people, the highlight of Sony’s press conference today was the PS Vita (the handheld formerly known as the NGP) and the games for it.

Sony announced that the WiFi version of the Vita would sell for US$250 and the 3G model would sell for US$299. New Zealand prices aren’t available yet, and expect them to be significantly higher if pricings for other hardware launches are anything to go by.

However, if Sony has it priced right and it’s comparable to Nintendo’s 3DS then we could have a handheld console war on our hands!

Sony’s Jack Tretton opened the conference talking about the recent PSN outage, apologising for the outage and saying it was a very humbling experience for the company. “We want to convince you why Playstation’s stronger than ever, but not just us telling you but you experiencing it yourself,” he said.

Nathan Drake’s triumphant return

A demo of Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception started things, and it blew me away. Uncharted developer Naughty Dog says the game is raising the bar for PlayStation 3 games and it showed game hero Nathan Drake on what looks like a luxury liner as he makes his way to the bowels of the vessel. He takes two bad guys out from behind then punches out a patrolling guard.

Drake moves deeper into the ship. Now he’s in a lower deck but gets ambushed by baddies: there’s a fire fight. An explosion. “I gotta get outta here,” says Drake, as he tries to escape the ship. The ship starts listing from side to side, and Drake gets trapped under a metal object under water. He frees himself and is now swimming underwater. He’s out, climbing through a hatch, and seems safe but suddenly a huge torrent of water appears from behind him. The demo ends. The game is due out in November. “Amazing guys. We’re going to sell a few copies of that bad boy,” says Tretton.

Insomniac Games shows off Resistance 3 and Sony says PlayStation 2 games, Ico and Shadows of the Colossus, are being remastered in HD and coming out this year. So far, everything we know.

Then Sony throws in something I didn’t know about: a new PS branded 24-inch 3D display that sends two images simultaneously to two pairs of 3D glasses: each person sees a full-screen view on the same monitor rather than a split screen. I think I’ve got that right. It’ll come with a pair of 3D glasses, HDMI cable and Resistance 3 thrown in. It’s going to retail for US$499.

Other games announced include NBA2K12 for PlayStation Move, a new Sly Racoon game and Bioshock Infinite, which will have some form of PlayStation Move support. There will also be a Bioshock game appearing on the PS Vita.

Vita: apparently it means life

Now it’s time for information about the Vita. Sony’s Kaz Hirai says the PlayStation Portable was central to the evolution of the digital living room and Sony had high expectations for the PSP in the years to come but the PS Vita brought new ways to interact with “your world, your friends and your entertainment”. Hirai said Vita meant life and the front and rear cameras would provide Augmented Reality experiences and the Vita “blurs lines between entertainment and your real life”.

Games for the Vita – 80 are in development – include the poster game, Uncharted: Golden Abyss, and it looks like an Uncharted game on PS3 has been shrunk down and stuck into the handheld. You’ll be able to use a conventional control method to manipulate Drake around the game world or the Vita’s 5-inch OLED touch screen or the rear touch-sensitive pad to make Drake jump to ledges or take out enemies. Or probably a combination of both. I wonder, though, how much using your fingers will obscure your view while playing.

Other Vita games include Modnation Racers (where you’ll be able to rub the touch screens to build tracks or manipulate the environment), Wipeout 2048, Little Big Planet (you use the touch pads and tilt function) and Street Fighter vs Tekken, which features a playable Cole Mcgrath from Sucker Punch’s inFamous series.

That’s day one of E3 done: tomorrow it’s Nintendo’s turn to wow the gaming world with the expected showing of Project Cafe. I see that the press conference is at 4am, New Zealand time. I don’t know whether my body can take another full-on work day with a start that early but we’ll. I’ll take the laptop and see if the wireless signal reaches my bed – then I can watch it under the comfort of my duvet.

Sony: credit card details may have been compromised

Here’s an update on the PlayStation Network intrusion, for those readers who can’t read it on Stuff when using their mobile devices.

Sony has brought in an outside security company to do a a “full and complete” investigation following the breach of its PlayStation Network.

Sony’s blog has a Question and Answer update on the PlayStation Network outage that has phone numbers to ring if you have concerns over compromised personal details. You can find it here. The number to call in New Zealand is (09) 415 2447.

VG247 reports that Sony, after learning of the intrusion, began to “enhance security and strengthen our network infrastructure by rebuilding our system” in order to provide consumers with “greater protection,” of personal information.

The firm’s investigation indicated that all PlayStation Network and Qriocity accounts “may have been affected” by the security breach and there is the “possibility” that all users’ information could have been compromised. In order to inform customers of said breach, it is sending out emails to all registered PSN users.

On its blog, Sony said: “We believe that an unauthorised person has obtained the following information that you provided: name, address (city, state/province, zip or postal code), country, email address, birthdate, PlayStation Network/Qriocity password, login, password security answers, and handle/PSN online ID.”

VG247 says that so far Sony has not received any reports of customers’ personal information being used in a nefarious manner but advises users to monitor their credit card billing activity closely.

The only credit card details I had used on the PSN was a work-issue credit card when I played DC Universe Online, but I cancelled the account about three weeks ago. I’ll be keeping a close eye on events, though, but plan on changing my account password and other crucial details today, just to be safe.

Has anyone made steps to change their PSN account details on learning of the situation or contacted their bank over their credit card?