Like many gamers, I have been waiting with bated breath for a decent FPS on the Vita. With Resistance being merely “okay”
, and it being best to simply forget that Black Ops Declassified ever happened
, the new Killzone may be our only hope for a quality, portable FPS. I saw some very promising things in the single player preview
that I wrote last month but now that I have spent some time playing with the recently launched multiplayer beta, it has become clear: Killzone Mercenary could be the portable FPS we have all been waiting for!
Sony and Guerilla Cambridge have made a lot of promises on the road to the game’s release, but then again, so did Nihilistic with Resistance. The difference here is that Killzone is delivering on the goods. I already explained
at length how well the game controls, delivering an almost console-like experience in the palm of your hands. The only issues that I had with the game lied solely in a lack of length on the analog sticks, not with the game or its integration of the Vita’s control options. The question is whether or not that incredible solo-experience would carry over to multiplayer and it certainly does.
To be fair, I have to admit that the options in the multiplayer beta are quite limited. you only get one game mode and a single map, but even these limited options provide a much more robust and polished experience that the entirety of Resistance’s multiplayer offering. The gametype available is called Warzone. This is a five part match that is broken up into distinct phases; each phase lasts roughly 5 minutes has a unique objective that varies the gameplay greatly and makes for some lengthy and intense matches. Scores are calculated per phase and taking a majority of the phases wins a match.
The first phase of the match is called Bounty Hunter and is similar to Call of Duty’s Kill Confirmed mode. When you take someone down, they drop what is called a valor card, and this round challenges you to collect as many as possible. Valor cards are the game’s way of identifying your skill level and are present at all times, they just happen to be the main focus of this round. We aren’t talking about character level or how much experience you have racked up over time, but how you performed on the battlefield. The higher the card, which is taken from a deck of playing cards, the more deadly you are ranked. Obviously, having something like a 3 or 5 (where it initially ranked me) means you are pretty much a n00b, but when you see someone who’s name has a King of Ace next to it, watch out. Every day the game will re-evaluate your performance and issue you a new card, which may or may not be of a higher valor, so your hard work and dedication will pay off in time. The higher the valor card you pick up, the more points it is worth and this round is merely a race to collect the most.
The second (and fourth) phase is Hacker which brings the smartly-integrated hacking system I discussed from the campaign into multiplayer. There are a number of capsules that will fall out of the sky across the map and it becomes a race to reach them and hack into their consoles for points. Cracking into them via the hacking-minigame is far from instantaneous, so it becomes important for a team to defend a player who is attempting to hack their way in with their arm-mounted PDA. Completing a hack will not only earn your team points but also give them power in the form of special armaments on occasion and generate a new capsule somewhere on the map. Just like the valor cards, you will find these capsules present in the other rounds to but they are there for strategic advantage in terms of the power up benefits they can provide and not the deciding factor of the score, as they are here.
The third phase is called Interrogator which forces teams to take a non-lethal approach to battle. The goal here is to take down your opponent with a melee attack so that you can question them (automatically) and obtain data and information about their team. Doing so not only awards your team points, but will also reveal the location of all of their team members on the map to you, giving you an advantage. The game includes a melee-counter option which means simply rushing and engaging someone doesn’t mean that they are down and out; they may be able to get the upper hand on you in these altercations and turn the tables, which increases the tension level exponentially.
As I said previously, the fourth phase is hacking, just like the second. The fifth and final phase however is Body Count, which means that you simply have to let the bodies hit the floor. No valor cards, no intel, simply drop the bad guys and watch the score shoot toward the sky. This is a nice way to let loose a little bit after four rounds of more strategic play. You can still do all of the other things as the valor cards and capsules are all present, they just no longer count towards your team's final score.
All of this is playing out on a map entitled Shoreline which looks amazing for a portable game. While it is a smaller map, it is filled with a lot of paths and tunnels which makes it easy to ambush your opponent despite the relatively small layout. There is a lot of detail to the level and a lot of things going on in the background, including waves constantly crashing up against the sides of your paths and even leaving drops of water on your camera. This is an entirely different world from the bland and repetitive maps that Resistance used. I can’t wait to see what other maps they have in store for the final release because this one is destined to be an instant classic for the game and hopefully there are others just like it coming soon.
Just like the solo experience, at the end of the day you are a mercenary in this game which means that everything that you do earns you credits that you can use to buy new weapons and equipment. You will get credit bonuses depending where you finish at the end of the match and even more if your team comes out on top. Plus, every little thing that you do such as taking out an enemy, hacking into a capsule, or picking up dropped valor card will throw a few more credits in your pocket. You have to finish the entire match though if you want them to be deposited into your account for spending at the arms dealer.
The arms dealer is where you get to customize your preferred loadout(s). You only start off with one, consisting of just armor as well as a default primary and secondary weapon. However, once you rake in some credits you can add things such as more advanced guns, grenades, and even van-guards (think kill streaks) as well as eventually setting up secondary (and more) loadouts. Additional slots are awarded as you rank up over time, so if definitely pays to put in the effort to raise your individual rank with constant play.
Aside from general features, the one thing that makes the Killzone Mercenary multiplayer experience so enjoyable is the fact that nothing is done to “dumb”it down. This is the same, robust gameplay that we have come to know and expect on our main consoles, just placed in a “to-go”package. There aren’t any concessions made to scale the experience back in any manner, the Vita’s power is allowed to shine and the result is a fantastic experience both alone and with your friends. The netcode, at this point, works very well and there is little to no noticeable lag in the matches. Joining and loading games seems to happen pretty smoothly as well. If this is as solid as it is now, I can’t wait to see what happens when the rest of the content is unlocked in the full, retail version of the game. It may have taken them nearly two years to do it, but Sony is poised to prove thatnot only can a first person shooter be done on a handheld, it can be done well. Very, very well.
Killzone Mercenary will be available exclusively for the PlayStation Vita on September 10, 2013.