Killzone: Liberation was a game released back in 2006 which was fairly well received. Since then we haven’t seen another portable game from the Killzone franchise until Killzone: Mercenary which was released back in September (this year). Killzone: Mercenary was developed by the newly named Guerrilla Cambridge for the PS Vita. The Vita has had problems when it comes to killer apps (I have a list of 3 games so far that reach that criteria) and Killzone is annoyingly close to that. It just falls short is some key areas.
Firstly, its story is a bit weak. The idea is that you are a Mercenary (go figure) who basically does jobs within the Killzone timeline. He then is tasked with helping out the Vektan Ambassador on Helgan which, surprise surprise, goes awry. That might have worked if Guerrilla Cambridge left out the B-movie quality moral event. It is not only bloody obvious (I could see it happening from the beginning) but it is clearly used as a devise to make you work for the Helghast and not used to progress the story. This irritated me and came off as quite cheap. One of the biggest gripes I had, while playing the story, was its length. I think I completed it within 4 hours which is just unacceptable. Granted I was shocked as it felt longer that that but 4 hours is not a good length (I wasn’t rushing and it was on medium difficulty).
Luckily Guerrilla Cambridge has managed to develop a really good shooter on the handheld. Despite, the story and weak story, I felt like I was playing a proper console version of Killzone. The mission design is well thought out and the shooting mechanics are very Killzone-esque. It is remarkable what they have managed to achieve with this game. All the mechanics are back for this instalment (like the face on wall cover mechanics) with new touch screen controls. The touch screen controls work and do not feel out of place. This was an issue I had with other Vita games (notably Uncharted: Golden Abyss) where the touch screen controls did not feel natural. Guerrilla Cambridge has really shown up past developers of Vita games. Simple swipes to preform melee kills work because they are not overly complicated and the hacking mechanic works because it is quite simple (though they should have done a better tutorial for it). The mechanics make this game fun and it is just a shame the offline experience ended so quickly. After the story you can replay some levels (called Contracts) with differing objectives but I felt this was a bit of a cop-out and could have been more fleshed out.
Graphically this game is brilliant. Few games have made me go wow on a handheld but this is an exception. For a handheld game, it is one of the best looking games out there with character models and environments look home console quality. However, I still have an issue with their art direction (brown smudge) as a bit of colour would have brought that extra bit of life into the environments. Sound is equally impressive. The weapons really feel and sound like the pack a big punch. Voice acting isn’t as good as previous Killzone games but the actors do a valiant job of trying to give some character to the story.
Online is where this game really shines. I have started to go off competitive multiplayer (as it all starting to feel the same) but Killzone was remarkably fun and crazy such an experience can be played on a handheld system. I found no issues with connecting to a match nor did I have an issue finding players to play against. The entire system is different from most competitive shooters which are more about getting to a certain criteria/level than creating your own character. Killzone: Mercenary employs the system of gaining money by doing differing actions to then buy your own load out. It really works and fits with the whole ethos of the game. The only issue I encountered with the system is the balance of the special weapons. There are two or three weapons that are a must while the others can be ignored (i.e. a complete waste of money). There is no point having a portable game if you can’t take the thing around and I am happy to report that I had no issue playing this game online in a public café with free wifi. Also, despite being a powerful game, the battery life doesn’t seem to be destroyed by this game. It is a testament to how well-designed this game is.
Overall, this game is great but it does fall a bit short of being brilliant. While being a well-designed, beautiful handheld game, it is the story length and quality that is lacking which really brings this game down (This is the reason why it can't possibly be higher than an 8/10). It is a huge shame as this game could have been the shining example of an FPS on the Vita. Don’t get me wrong ever Vita owner should get this game but don’t be surprised by the weaker offline component.