Hands on impressions of this long awaited title from a fellow gamer and long-time Killzone player.
Killzone Mercenary; you say the name to anyone who has a Vita and more likely than not you’ll get a reply of “I’m so $%#@ing excited”. The Killzone series is fast becoming something of a first-person shooter staple on the PlayStation, selling over seven million units across two consoles and a portable; now with the leap to Vita, many feared that the game would take a giant hit in the important areas (much like fellow FPS franchise Call of Duty did with their first foray; Declassified). After playing this preview build I can assure you that’s not the case – though this early code still has a few wounds.
Let’s talk about the Killzone Mercenary Preview Build.
You start the preview on a drop, jumping off a transport platform and skydiving (complete with a flying-squirrel suit) onto a shuttle pod; dodging missiles and bullets galore on your way down. Upon dropping into the pod you gain control of the player character and your first orders are given; open the security door. From there you must battle through dozens of enemies while taking out two radar dishes and capturing an AA-gun, pretty standard Killzone fare if I do say so. A+ for true-to-console here.
Primary and secondary weapons are guns, ranging from pistols with silencers/suppressors to RPGs and machine guns. They range in prices and abilities but once bought are cheap to “re-equip”.
Vanguard Systems are a wide range of mercenary-use equipment, including the ‘Mantys Engine’ – a remote-control airborne drone which is useful for reconnaissance and can be lethal at close range. The other equipment under the Vanguard Systems moniker includes a particle beam, camouflage suit, jammer, shield, various drones and a shoulder-mounted rocket launcher. These upgrades are expensive but quite powerful, each with a completely different effect.
Grenades come in different flavours, such as fire, gas, flash, frag and proximity (mine).
Armor is based on a point system, with three 5-point categories (protection, mobility and noise suppression) and various combinations of fill depending on a need.
Changing these weapons and defenses is possible through in-game “Arms Dealer” boxes, which are scattered throughout the game area in a fairly plentiful fashion. If anything I found there to be too many of these, as every time I rounded a corner for cover there was one in the way. A for effort, B for execution in this area.
See here for a photo gallery of the weapons available from the Arms Dealer boxes in the preview.
There are two main ways to go about playing Killzone Mercenary; quiet or loud. For quiet, you sneak around delivering melee attacks and carefully placed silenced bullets to targets while getting the mission objectives completed and not getting noticed. The opposite of this is loud, which involves running-and-gunning, grenade throwing, ammo-conservation and quick reflexes.
The path you take is your choice as both seem to work quite well if done right. Giving them an A+ for effort here as well, and a B+ for execution. Sometimes things that should be silent to your enemies just aren’t (ie; long distance headshot).
The control scheme for Killzone Mercenary is pretty top notch; all the buttons take care of the physical actions (aside from melee, sniper zoom) and the touchscreen deals with changing of equipped gear, activating advanced weaponry, melee and also giving a second option for a few physical controls. The back touchpad seems to only deal with sniper zoom as far as I could tell (though admittedly this is a portion of the game).
This style of control scheme keeps your hands on the physical controls unless you’re dealing with quick one-off actions and seems like a great way to keep the console feel with limited buttons. A+ in this sector as well.
Though definitely not on-par with the PS3’s Killzone 3, it does give those who want to compare some things to talk about. Most of the game is beautiful, both in cinematics and gameplay – though there are a few concessions that have been made in moving from the PlayStation 3.
Most of the visuals are top notch and would give most other Vita games a run for their money. Lighting was fantastic and in one scene (when looking through a sky-light) I believe I actually said “Wow” aloud to myself while playing. Textures did a good job of creating depth and mood, with minimal flatness across the board. The boundaries of objects seemed to be tightly set, as I found no instances of phasing through objects like I usually do in this type of game (*cough /CoD/ cough*). The frame rate was solid and high enough to seem quite fluid, other than in one type of situation (which I’ll talk about in the next paragraph). For 95% of what I’m seeing this seems like a level of graphic quality found on home console, but we’re not quite there yet.
The most prevalent issue I’ve come across so far is the explosion/sprite generation, which is pixilated at best and looks like an NES Mario game at its worst. Along with the pixilation, explosive sprites seem to temporarily freeze the game if covering enough of the screen – I experienced this most often from point blank muzzle flashes from enemies. At the moment of generation, the “flash” on the screen causes a pause in frame display (for around 100-400ms) before continuing as fluid as if it never happened. There are also some anti-aliasing issues, though they seem to be much more prevalent in the screenshots (whether due to the difference in pixel density as usual, or due to them compensating over multiple frames I’m not sure). Overall score for this section is an A- (I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt regarding the issues being “bugs”).
Audio is very crisp and pleasing to the ear, the sounds not too harsh or unrealistic to be bothersome. I played with headphones on through most of my three play-throughs (so far) and didn’t think any of the effects or dialogue sounded any less than spot-on. Voice acting seems well done too, with good lip-sync across the board. B+ in this section, as it’s true to form but I’ve never found Killzone audio to be too interesting to listen to.
Judging by what I’ve got in my hands at the moment Killzone Mercenary is shaping up to be a flagship title for the Vita, in more ways than one. It covers all the right bases (with only few draw-backs) and does so while giving a home console type of experience; there’s not much more you can ask for.
The few draw-backs (delay during large sprites/explosions, certain areas of pixilation and jaggies) are small and easily fixable or overlooked depending on which you pick to tackle. Compared to the other FPS titles, Killzone is already dominating for me.
Overall verdict: A-, the game seems to be well put together in most aspects but there are a few kinks and oversights to be taken care of. Game play and look seems very true to Killzone roots and the fifty or so minutes of play they gave us (I assume this is the first “level”) are very enjoyable.
Killzone Mercenary releases September 10th in North America, 4th in Europe and 6th in the UK – my educated advice is to pre-order now.
If you want a look at some screens, I’ll be updating my photobucket album for the next few days.