Monday, September 9, 2013

Review: Thoughts on Killzone Mercenary

Okay, this is more a thoughts and feelings piece than a definitive review (many of those are already out there). So, to start with, I'd give Killzone Mercenary a very solid 8/10 if I was reviewing it for a magazine/site without hesitation. I'd also vote for it in any technical achievement category in the end-of-year games awards, as doing this on the Vita is a fricking marvel.

Why only 8/10 and not higher? Because I'm looking at the game, not the tech, and whatever comes next will undoubtedly be better, in many ways. If Sony farm out this engine to other teams, new developers will add more interactivity, plot, deeper degrees of exploration and refined character advancement features, raising the gameplay elements to new levels. Basically, someone could happily do SkyRim or Fallout or a decent CoD on the Vita. But for now we have:
  • A solid first person shooter with a fun, if rather fishy, plot. 
  • Brilliantly detailed world, where its a shame you can't explore more of it.
  • Awesome multiplayer for a portable.
  • True this-gen visuals on the go.
  • Reasonable depth and replayability (this is not a five hour game!).
  • A spirit guide to the future of Vita gaming

Where the game knocks you out is in the massive vistas, looking down from the top of a skyscaper, to a war raging over a city. Then charging a complex, with some pretty big indoor arenas, full of grunts and figuring out the most effective path to take them down. Rinse and repeat that and you have the core single player game. But watch for the details, the massive ships hovering in just the right place so you can see them out the shattered glass of the Courts building, the detail on the display screens in the same place (disabled access sign and all). KZM continues to impress, Helghast troops, while limited in variety, roll, fire from cover and die gruesomely at the end of your blade. Then they do something really dumb like not shooting your buddy in plain view, while your sneak around the side. Secrets are modestly hidden in corners and once you learn a level and stop looking at your feet, the combat flows fluidly.

There's also lots of nice changes of pace, especially when you bat for the other team, with a hellish assault and then some nice anti-sniper play. The game isn't long enough to have many of these but they are definitely welcome and well-choreographed, without being too restrictive or scripted. 

Where the (any?) game could be better is that unless you have stacks of funds from previous play, you're pretty much stuck with the weapons you have, bar some slow grinding, and while its hard to run out of credits (and bullets), the lure of ghost mode and stealth weapons is often more of a pipe dream. I'd rather have had three pre-loaded character types you can select for a level and play them different ways off the bat. In reality, you slug it out on the first playthrough, wondering what the possibilities of BlackJack's gear are, instead of enjoying them when you want to (surely the core of a portable game). You might disagree, but I'd prefer more pick-up-and-play-ness to this than the slightly stilted weapons progression on offer. 

While I'll happily play it again and again, I can see where the "reviewers" who did their write-up based on one play through are missing out. Carrying on, multiplayer, despite the big day-one patch, is still a work in progress. A delightful creation nonetheless, but it feels like more stability and tweaks are incoming in future patches. But for now, just get out there and enjoy the simple mechanics and endless shooting for what it is (assuming the connection or servers aren't glitching). 

Killzone packs in the spectacle for a Vita game with grand views, modest battles against tanks, hulks and other higher ranks, and an urgent tactical need to refine your skills and pick up new kit. The use of trophies extends the play nicely, going back to challenge a mission in a slightly different way, without throwing insane odds at you. It looks stunning and I can't wait to see what the rest of the game has to offer, so byeee!

UPDATE: Free DLC multiplayer maps and a low-cost Botzone mode add even more value to Killzone, MP lives on to this day (well into 2017) as a thriving community. If you see Killzone cheap and are new to the Vita, it may be a three year old game but is still one of the design pinnacles for the handheld.

Note that  Guerrilla has also kept the game website live with the latest stats, kills and credits being counted to this day. You can even watch map-view replays of battles to see where the experts set their traps and rack up the big kills.

Price: £21 (Amazon UK) / £14.99 (PSN)
Developer: Guerrilla Cambridge
Score: 8/10
Progress: Completed solo game, loving MP
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