Sunday, September 22, 2013

Hands on Killzone: Mercenary

I'll bet you're already done wondering if Killzone Mercenary is worth your time. Presumably you've read about it (or seen videos) from more reputable sites before stumbling onto this obscure, infrequent blog run by a harried Ghanaian who can't keep a car running for longer than a week and uses his phones as though they have the strength of construction materials with full computer processing capability.
Incidentally this is also my gaming PC
You've probably heard about how the game technically proficient but doesn't break any new ground. That doesn't matter to me, you're here to read what I have to say & I say Killzone Mercenary is more than worth your time if you enjoy shooters, no matter your preferred platform.

Bring me into your life
"Herrrhhhhh! :D," That was my reaction when I finally got into the game (for my international readers, that's a common reaction Ghanaians have when presented with something extraordinary; for example: a free brand new engine for your car that's been dead for months). That was in the multiplayer only beta copy. Then I laid my digital hands on the full release. Having played it, I can say that Killzone Mercenary stands shoulder to shoulder with the full console shooters. That's no exaggeration. It feels like Modern Warfare 2: Space Nazis Mercenary Edition. While playing it, it felt like the developers wanted to give the full console experience that has been advertised but lacking on the PS Vita. Let's be honest though, it's not breaking new ground. If it was on the PS3, it'd almost certainly fade into the background amongst its peers. That's said, with Assassins Creed Liberation going from PS Vita to full consoles. And it's perfectly alright (for now). Why? Because finally, the bar for mobile shooters has been raised. Here's a list:
- N.O.V.A. 3 showed graphics on phones/tablets could go the full length, but touch screen shooting controls were simply lacking. We'll gloss over products like the Fling, myriad of smartphone gamepads & the infinite amount of mixing and matching between devices, games & configurations.
- The PSP had only 1 joystick, so developers had to compensate & ended up with mixed styles and results.
- The Nintendo DS' design also caused developers to experiment with mixed results.
- The Nvidia Shield could well negate the rest of my post but it's only fair to include it.  Besides, it's essentially a portable Ouya, which Sony took a MASSIVE dump on with the PS Vita TV.  (Then there's also the argument of the stronger library of games that Sony have & Android don't, etc)
- Finally, we are gamers.  Innovation is all well and good and we welcome it, but sometimes the status quo works just fine.
This is where most Ghanaian FPS experiences start
So what does this mean? It means, if you invested (there really isn't a better word) in a PS Vita, enjoy shooting games, you finally have a full fat 100% experience you can take (almost) anywhere. Some of you may be asking about Call of Duty: Declassified and Resistance: Burning Skies. Well click the links and check their compiled scores from various reviews. I'll admit I only played the COD:D and I found it an affront to the series. It appeared to be made by a team that couldn't be bothered to give players what they got on full consoles (the implied promise of the PS Vita), only tick basic boxes in the excercise to create a shooting game for the platform.  A mechanical exercise rather than a work of passion/genuine interest. In any case, enough about what Killzone: Mercenary is in comparison to others. Let's look at it on its own merits.

Gallery link
If you're reading this, I'll assume your eyes are in working order (with or without aid). So look; do the graphics look appealing to you? It's a subjective question but I'll say this, I've been playing for over 20 hours in total and only hit lag about 4 (gameplay) hours ago. Lasted 3 seconds and that's the last I saw of it. That aside, let me ask, doesn't it look like it'd be more at home on the PS3? Nerd moment, it actually was born there. The game runs on a modified version of the PS3's Killzone 3 engine. To me, it works as well as it looks. Characters, environments, effects and occasional boxes and objects being affected by the physics engine show fidelity we haven't seen on a "traditional" handheld gaming device.

The meat of any game. If graphics made a game, no one would still play Tetris & Crysis 1 would've seized the games industry at the time as developers raced to better the graphics fidelity of their titles. How does Killzone: Mercenary stand up? Especially since I claim it can stand up to standard shooters of the day? Well, play 9 Modern Warfare 2's Spec Ops mode games but imagine if they lasted 30 minutes instead of the usual 5 (player pace not withstanding). Add to that 3 playable variants of each level that ask for different styles and results. The variations add an extra length to the game, as they force you to play to a different style each time:
- Precision
- Stealth
- Demolition
Each with a specified set of rules and objectives aside the main mission ones. They really do make you change your style each time and challenge you as a game should.
Let's delve deeper. The Modern Warfare comparison isn't for a lack of ideas on my part. The similarities AKA influences AKA ripoffs are all fully evident. Kills and other ingame actions count to your payroll in the game, like the money hungry mercenary you are. As they count up you can unlock guns, armour, kill streak reward copies and other equipment that make wiping out your fellow man easier. There's even a AC-130 super laser edition that I have too much fun using when I get the chance.
It didn't have quite the same impact but it was the only way to be sure
Oh! Remember the PS Vita has a touch screen? It's implemented in the game. Hacking intel and locks, arming bombs, even switching weapons and melees are all usable through touch. They are mostly well done. Whoever was in charge of them paid attention to the PS Vita's optimal touch zones. As a result, when you get used to it, it almost feels like you're using actual buttons when playing but you don't (usually) have to stretch to get results.  The rear touchpad is used for sprinting & zooming but with my big hands sometimes I'd initiate an action I didn't intend.
Note how most touch actions are close to where your fingers normally rest.

The melees are hit and miss. The swipe across screen versions are "brutal melees" but I can't figure how they work. Most of the time I'm slicing up and interrogating soldiers like a 28 armed butcher high on LSDs and raw caffeine mixed with dark roasted senzu beans, and few other times a hand darts out and takes the life from an enemy faster than a vacuum sucking hope from an Arsenal fan toward the end of the football season. There are no vehicles, only a turret section in the intro of one mission. That's well enough. If I wanted vehicles, I'd close the game and play NFS: Most Wanted instead (another top PS Vita game, even better than the full console releases in my opinion simply because I can play it ANYWHERE).

However, the game isn't perfect. Just because the agama lizard is nodding on deck, doesn't mean the ship can't sink. Some sections are frustratingly difficult and the game's attitude to timers don't account for the unskippable cutscenes. Some weapons are less useful and enjoyable than a scoop of ice cream in the Antarctic wilderness. An early friendly character is only good for giving the tutorial and early tips but afterwards is as helpful as camel feed in a shark attack. Despite these though, what is "perfect"? One of my choices isn't safe for younger readers, but it involves a V8 supercar, marshmallow fluff, an airport runway, and ravishing female company with a strong constitution.
To present this show essentially

The game survives these annoyances but you've experienced all of them before. In other shooters on full consoles and PC. The significance here as I've said before is that this is on a "dedicated" handheld device and to us the player, without compromise.

I'm lukewarm about it. I've experienced worse and there's definitely better, so here's the wiki. What I will say is that a character you have to escort a few times is a decent NPC. The enemy don't interact with him, he usually stays out of your way and in the final mission gives you stuff to blow up. Your character is mute but has opinions and (by your actions) is quite a badass. In conclusion, all this is "inoffensive but still enjoyable".
Maybe because he kinda looks like Ken Block's brother
So is Killzone Mercenary worth your time? Should you get a PS Vita for it? Should you get it if you already have a PS Vita?  If you're like me: a fan of games (shooters in this particular case) with an all encompassing job, family and relationship, get the PS Vita & add this game to your library. If you're not, it's still fully worth it, even when I do manage time to attempt play on my Xbox 360.

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