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Preview: Killzone Mercenary Multiplayer Beta Impressions

Killzone: Mercenary Screenshot - 1135938

I couldn't care less about Killzone.

To me, it’s always been Sony’s brutish, brown-grey attempt at a “Halo killer.” I respect that it’s a decent series that offers more than technical prowess, but sitting somewhere between Gears of War and Halo doesn’t do anything for me when I can just play either of those games instead. That said, I’ve been having a blast with Killzone Mercenary’s multiplayer beta on Vita, and despite never caring about the series before, I’m ready to hop in.

Of course, you can’t talk about a triple-A series on Vita without discussing its positioning in the handheld’s library, and Mercenary is indeed poised to fill an embarrassing gap in the Vita catalog. The dual thumbsticks, graphics power, and online functionality all but scream for a proper online FPS, and Killzone Mercenary fits the bill. That said, whenever a game successfully fulfills a supposed “gap” in the Vita library, the next question is always, “Do we really need THAT kind of game on Vita?” Allow me to explain why the answer to that question is a resounding “Yes!”

Killzone Mercenary gameplay

The first thing to note about Mercenary is that it isn’t struggling to exist on Vita the way so many other triple-A series have. Uncharted: Golden Abyss was pretty but low-res, and Assassin’s Creed 3: Liberation’s open world barely ran on Vita, but Killzone is sure-footed right from square one. The game runs at full resolution and maintains a solid framerate throughout, with graphics that approximate the look of Killzone on PS3. Simply put, Mercenary puts the Vita’s entire library to shame thus far, and indicates that the handheld still has a lot of untapped power.

Talking about graphics first may seem like the standard course of action for a Killzone game, but honestly, it’s the way those smooth graphics lead to playability that is most impressive. The Mercenary online beta featured 4-on-4 multiplayer on a single map, showcasing the game’s Warzone mode. In it, teams participate in five rounds each with unique objectives.

Each match starts out with a take on Call of Duty’s Kill Confirmed, where downed players leave behind cards that must be collected in order to score. The match continues with pods dropping around the map, where one player must play a simple hacking minigame while the rest of their team protects them. After that, players must incapacitate their opponents and interrogate them through some simple touch commands. The match culminates with another round of hacking and some basic team deathmatch to decide the winner.

Killzone Mercenary hacking minigame

The objective variety is indicative of Killzone Mercenary’s overall attitude. Yes, the game is generally about outgunning the other team, but the players that take the time to play objectives and experiment with alternative weapons that will have the most success. Mercenary isn’t brimming with tools and guns the way Call of Duty and Battlefield are, but each weapon seems thoughtfully designed with a purpose in mind.

In my time with the beta, I saw most players running around with the basic loadout, mainly because it takes some time to unlock things. Each purchase unlock was a difficult decision, but they also encouraged me to make use of every tool. Better players have caught me with proximity mines, used toxic gas for area denial, or went on a rampage with a Vanguard, KZ:M’s version of a Killstreak.

Vanguards allow players to rain missile strikes from above, turn invisible, control a tiny assassinating UAV, reveal enemy positions, and more. I went with the Carapace, a front-facing shield that blocks incoming fire as long as you aren’t shooting yourself. I paired this with a shotgun so that I could barrel towards other players and blast them without much issue. I can already see plenty of smart combos coming out of this -- you could reveal enemy positions for sniping, set up proximity mines around you before launching airstrikes, and more.

Killzone Mercenary beta map overhead

These tools also make smart use of the touchscreen. Homing missiles put circles around enemies, and touching those launches the missiles their way, for example. I also found the on-screen grenade and weapon swap buttons to be quite intuitive and useful. The game’s take on melee kills is a bit more involved because of this as well, as a melee engages you in a touch-swiping duel where the person being attacked can counter and survive. None of these motions feel forced the way some early Vita games did. Killzone: Mercenary simply uses the Vita’s full potential in smart ways.

If I had any complaint with Mercenary so far it’s that I’ve never been 100% happy trying to aim. The game gives you all the options you could ever want for sensitivity on the analog stick, but the Vita stick is either too small for fine aiming, or the aiming controls aren’t as polished as they could be. Hopefully this is improved in the final version. Still, like I said in my last preview, players can elect to aim using the Vita’s tilt function, and some combination of tilting and aiming (with some practice) could alleviate any of the game’s aiming quirks. In the heat of the moment I sometimes had a hard time, but on the other hand I could snipe from across the map if I was playing smart.

Whether you wanted it or not, Killzone: Mercenary might be the Vita’s first proper, confident triple-A shooter. Despite being on a portable, it’s a game that wants to hang with the big boys, and that’s a good thing. It’s shaping up to be more than “a great shooter for a handheld.” It’s looking more and more like it’s just going to be a great shooter in general.

Enjoy random thoughts about the latest games, the Sega Saturn, or the occasional movie review? Follow me @JoeDonuts!

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Joe Donato Video games became an amazing, artful, interactive story-driven medium for me right around when I played Panzer Dragoon Saga on Sega Saturn. Ever since then, I've wanted to be a part of this industry. Somewhere along the line I, possibly foolishly, decided I'd rather write about them than actually make them. So here I am.
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