Review: Killzone: Mercenary (PlayStation Vita)

Reviewed by Thomas Hugh, posted Aug 30, 2013
Like most gamers I like a good FPS but it isn't my favorite genre. I don't play realistic military shooters as I play games for escapism, so tend to go for titles such as Bioshock, Dishonored and Singularity. That being said I do like a good SciFi romp and have played Killzone HD, Killzone 2, Liberation and now Killzone Mercenary. I have yet to play Killzone 3 but it is in my to-do list and I have Killzone Shadow Fall preordered for PS4.
Aug 30, 2013
  • Release Date (NA): June 9, 2013
  • Publisher: Sony
  • Genres: First Person Shooter
  • Single player
    Local Multiplayer
    Online Multiplayer
Killzone: Mercenary (KZM) is the 5th game in the series and the second title on a handheld system. Back in 2006 Killzone Liberation launched for the PSP as a top down isometric third person shooter. This time around Guerilla Cambridge have created a console style FPS for the PlayStation Vita. Is it console quality? Is it Vita's killer app? Read on to find out!
Thomas Hugh



In Killzone: Mercenary you play as a gun for hire called 'Danner'. There is a story in the campaign mode revolving around a virus and bio-weapon and you are hired by the ISA (the good guys) to go in on various missions filled with tasks and objectives. The story isn't the strong point of the 9 mission long campaign, it is there and it's coherent but it just serves as the catalyst to get you on your way to murdering thousands of Helghast, the main opposing enemy force within the Killzone series. The game was developed in England, so it is a welcomed change to hear British accents voicing the entire cast.

The first thing you will notice when playing KZM is the gorgeous visuals. The graphics are amazing and vibrant and stand out on the Vita's OLED screen. Gone are the dark browns and greys usally associated with the shooter genre and in their place are bright futuristic cityscapes filled with detail.  The only game that comes close to matching Killzone's quality, visually on the Vita is Uncharted Golden Abyss.

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Of course a mercenary must be paid for his work, and that is the main premise here, you get paid to kill! Each kill is awarded with cash depending on the method used to dispatch the enemy, as well as the enemy type. For instance a regular kill on a regular grunt will net you $50, whereas a headhsot will gain you $75. The same shots on a sniper type enemy ups the ante to $90 for the body shot and $120 for the headshot. Enemy A.I is fairly competent so getting the blessed headshot isn't always an easy option. Completing objectives in certain ways and collecting ammo also gets you paid, as well as the difficulty setting.  At times this makes you aware of your tactics as you will want to be earning the most cash possible in order to upgrade your weapons, armor and gadgets.

Upgrading your wares takes place at supply crates found scattered throughout the levels. Blackjack's Armory is filled with various guns, armors, grenades as well as your Vanguard system of choice.  Vanguards are a special gadget type weapon, which for a short period of time add a perk to the player. Ghost makes you invisible for about 60 seconds, only appearing to other players if you are firing your weapon or running. Sky Fury gives you an aerial drone to control so you can rain down huge particle beam blasts from above whilst tracking the enemy on your radar screen. These abilties can be used throughout the campaign or during online multiplayer and are equipped to your loadouts.

You start out with just one loadout but can have up to 5 once you have ranked up enough to unlock them.  This means during each death when playing multiplayer you can instantly switch up your loadout and have completely different weapons and armor to try out different tactics against your enemies, without having to wait for the next match. Armors have different attributes such as protection, speed and noise reduction, adding a further strategic element to gameplay.

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Each of the 9 campaign levels can be played in different ways after completing the story mode.  These missions are called Contracts and add longevity to the single player experience as well as mixing up the gameplay, with objectives based around weapon type, play style and accuracy.  You can choose from Precision, Covert or Demolition and each contract has it's own rule set which must be met in order to complete the objectives. Precision may require a certain number of headshots with a specific weapon type, as well as a time limit. In Covert you must only use stealth, destroy security cameras and use non-lethal and silenced weapons. These contracts show that a lot of attention to detail has gone into to creating the levels, as well as the enemy placements.

Levels often contain objectives that will sometimes bring up a touch screen mini game such as activating a bomb, or hacking a terminal to gain intel.  These puzzles are well made and are not intrusive to gameplay. Activating a bomb is a simple directional based gesture, completed in a about a second. Hacking a terminal is it's own mini game of match-the-shapes before the time limit runs out. In the single player campaign you are given a fair amount of time to complete the task, but when attempting a Vanguard hack in the middle of a multiplayer battle, panic soon sets in as you are wide open to attack and unable to move should you suddenly come under fire.


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All of your stats are tracked and there are leaderboards for both single and multiplayer and as you use each weapon type you will gain Valour. Valour is used to determine which card you will carry and have displayed next to your name when playing multiplayer. When killing an oponent they will drop their card for you to collect and building up suits and decks unlocks further cash bonuses and adds to your overall achievements list. Never before has digital murder-on-the-go been so satisfying!

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Multiplayer rounds are fast and furious. We have Mercenary Warfare which is the free-for-all, every man for himself mode. Guerilla Warfare is a 4 vs 4 team deathmatch and Warzone, my personal favorite, is a 4 vs 4 objective based game that lasts for 20 minutes.  Warzone consists of 5, 4 minute phases. Body Count - kill the enemy, Interrogator - extract intel from incapacitated enemies (also reveals enemy positions), Bounty Hunter - collect Valour cards from fallen enemies, Hacker - secure Vanguard capsules and a final Body Count - kill the enemy. All of these tasks earn points that go to the overall score of the team and the team with the highest score at the end of the final phase, wins.

There is nothing more annoying than when you have started the melee mini game, in order to gain intel, during the Interrogation phase of Warzone, to get some guy on your team shoot the enemy you are already working on, losing the team any points at all.  If you just want to shoot everything then don't play Warzone!

There is no in-game messaging system so you cannot talk to your team mates unless you were all in a party chat before launching the game.  Not having in game VOIP makes it impossible to talk to new people you may have only just met, and you can't home-button-out to the messaging apps as it will cut your connection to the game.

Another annoyance is the lack of any host migration during a round.  If the host is on the losing team and decides that he has had enough and rage quits, everyone is kicked out of the session and you lose everything that you had gained up to that point. Cash, kills and Valour are all gone.  This definitely needs to be addressed as it is really disheartening to play 19 minutes of a 20 minute game only to have the host pull the plug at the last minute!

Brutal Melee could also do with speeding up a bit. Whenever attempting a melee kill, a touch screen based mini game is started that can be countered by the enemy. This often leads to a lengthy display of to-and-fro that usually ends up with someone else coming along from either team and shooting you or your opponent. This is especially apparant with an interrogation melee.

The Brutal Melee animations are varied, violent and fun to watch ensuring that they never get old.

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I finished the Killzone Mercenary campaign on Veteran difficulty, according to the game's timer, in 4 hours and 19 minutes.  That may seem short but I timed myself playing the game from the minute I got it and my time was closer to 7 hours.  I feel that the campaign length is perfect considering the platform and any longer would be unecessary.  I really enjoyed the escort mission level and felt the campaign could have done with a bit more variety to the actual objectives, but overall it is a solid experience that I intend to play through a few more times.

Multiplayer I clocked around  5 hours before writing this review and I intend to stick with it as it's a blast to play and the most fun I have had competitively since the Gears of War series, which feels like a long time ago now!

If you own a Vita this is a must buy game for you.  Unless you hate the FPS genre, even then I would say give the game a try, it's really that good!


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+ Amazing visuals
+ Intuitive use of the touch screen
+ Lots to do
- Only 6 maps for multiplayer
- No host migration
- No in game chat or messaging (party chat can be used but must be set up before the game starts which makes it a pain to speak with people you have just met or want to message!)
10 Presentation
From the minute you see the splash screen at start up, you know that Killzone Mercenary is beaming with quality. The best looking game to date on the Vita, it will be 'the game' all other developers try to top in the future.
9 Gameplay
Standard FPS gameplay is enhanced by a good variety of weapons and gadgets. The abilty to run and slide as well as use zip-lines to traverse the levels feels fun and fresh. Mini games using the touch screen to plant explosives or hack terminals are a good way to complete objectives and break up the levels.
9 Lasting Appeal
With online multiplayer providing indefinite fun and 27 contracts to master after completing the single player compaign, Killzone Mercenary has a lot of content. Hopefully more maps, modes, armors and weapons will be added via DLC to enhance and extend the multiplayer experience.
out of 10
Overall (not an average)
Killzone Mercenary is a must buy for any PS Vita owner. The quality is unprecedented for a handheld system and the performance is outstanding. Online multiplayer is fast and fluid and the campaign and contracts are fun enough to justify multiple playthroughs. Whether you enjoy FPS or not, it is hard not to like this game.

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