Eric L. Patterson, News Editor: In everything leading up to the Vita’s launch, one of the biggest points that was often made was that now that the system would have two analog sticks instead of the PSP’s one, we’d finally be able to get “real” first-person shooters on a portable. So far, that idea hasn’t fully panned out yet. Resistance: Burning Skies wasn’t bad, but was an early effort. Call of Duty: Declassified—well, we all know what happened to that. So, in a way, I almost feel like Killzone Mercenary is sort of that first “real” FPS to hit for Sony’s new handheld.
Ray Carsillo, Reviews Editor: I agree completely Eric. Those other games were FPS in name only, but Killzone Mercenary looks to have the polish and feel of something we’d expect on a home console—not a portable. I think the biggest problem of the twin sticks on the Vita, however, is that if you’re like me and have sausage fingers, it takes a while to get the right feel for the controls. I know that while I was playing yesterday, the camera felt a little loose, but that could have been because I was putting the same amount of pressure I normally do onto a much smaller and more sensitive stick.
Eric: I definitely think the worst part of my experience was the controls—but I don’t totally mean that in a bad way. The Vita has analog sticks that you really have to get used to, becuase, as you said, they’re smaller, and feel looser at times. It’s interesting, because before it was going from having your entire hand on a mouse to aim in first-person shooters on the PC, to using just your thumb on an analog stick. Now that we’ve gotten trained on that, we have these even smaller sticks to re-learn. But, do you think you could get used to them, and play a game like this on the Vita? I definitely think I could, just that it’ll take more than than the short play session we had yesterday.
Ray: Absolutely. And, especially with all the new features they’ve introduced into Killzone Mercenary to amp up the replayability, I think you could definitely put enough time into this to get used to the Vita’s sticks. Speaking of some of the new features, what do you think of the arcade-like money system, where you earn cash towards ammo, armor, and gear whenever you kill someone in single player or multiplayer? I like it, as it both hones in on that idea of being a mercenary, while also helping me develop a link with my character, knowing I can use that cash in every mode.
Eric: I think the money system is one of the more interesting aspects of the game. I mean, on some level, it could end up being no different than the standard points you earn in other games.There’s a deeper, more emotional reaction to the idea, though. When I kill somebody, I’m not receiving a random, arbitrary number—I’m getting cold, hard cash. The inherant greed in all of us is instantly attached to that idea! [laughs] So, it’ll be a question of seeing what’s done with it. There was also the valor system, where every character carries around a playing card, which drops when they’re killed. The better the player is, the better rank of card they drop. It was a little thing, but also a neat idea, and I found myself always wanting to snatch them up after a kill.
Ray: Yeah, it felt like “Kill Confirm” mode in Call of Duty, where you always have to snatch up dogtags after a kill to get full credit for it. But, I love that mode, because it allows lesser players to stay in the game if they can snag a few of those cards. Or maybe, in the team modes, they work with a sniper and can go out and get all the cards while the sniper picks off guys from afar.
Eric: The problem I had while playing multiplayer is that I was sometimes getting really distracted—because of how beautiful the game was looking. [laughs] Sometimes it looked like a great Vita title, but other time, I was just so blown away by the visual quality going on in Mercenary. What Guerrilla Cambridge is doing in terms of tech is definitely impressive at times, and it’s nice to see companies who really know how to push the hardware. When you’re playing a game like this, you do believe that notion of being able to play console-quality titles on portable hardware.
Ray: The visuals are absolutely stunning. And the audio quality they get out of those tiny speakers is pretty damn impressive as well. I did notice a few glitches while playing in regards to screen-tearing and lag when a bunch of enemies got on screen at once, but I know that we’re still quite a ways out before its September 17th launch—so we can forgive it at this point. And I that the multiplayer was addictive for a bevy of reasons, but we can’t forget about the single player either. Nine missions are expected to provide 6-8 hours of gameplay according to the devs we talked to last night. Not too shabby.
Eric: Yup. We didn’t get a huge look at single player, but I do like how that mode’s structure is more about taking jobs from different clients, versus a “save the world” kind of theme. Not only does it add a new twist to things, but it also allows you to aid—and be pitted against—both sides of the war between the ISA and Helghast forces. There was, of course, one other big factor to the game that we saw, especially in the campaign portion: touchscreen interactions. What did you think of them?
Ray: I think the touchscreen interactions were hit or miss. Slowing down time when you went in for a melee kill was cool, but needing to swipe across the screen to press a button or throw a lever was unnecessary, and hurt the pacing of the action in several frantic instances. I wish that more companies would take a page out of Assassin’s Creed: Liberation‘s book and give me the option of doing things with or without the damn touchscreens for most of my actions.
Eric: Like all systems, developers feel this need in the first year or two after launch to focus on some of the new trademark features of the hardware. I don’t necessarily feel like Killzone Mercenary needs the touchscreen interactions, but at the same time, thankfully they’re on a low enough level that they also don’t particularly bother me. So, you know—other than elements that will no doubt get polished up during the remainder of the game’s development time, and the need to get used to playing a first-person shooter on the Vita’s analog sticks—I came away with a very positive impression of Mercenary. I may not be the biggest first-person shooter fan in the world, but I think for those who are—and who are looking for that kind of thing on the Vita—this is probably going to be a top-notch game that will satisfy a lot of players.