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Killzone: Mercenary – two sticks, 100 guns

- January 31st, 2013

Killzone: Mercenary

Remember when Sony first unveiled the PlayStation Vita, and we all rejoiced? “It’s got two thumbsticks! Finally, we can play proper first-person shooters on a handheld!” And then: crickets. And then: Resistance: Burning Skies, which was very bad. And then: crickets. And then: Call of Duty Black Ops: Declassified, which was even worse. Maybe this is a dream that just needs to die.

Killzone: Mercenary is Sony’s next attempt to bring a full-fledged, big-boy console shooter experience to the Vita. Will it work? Should it work? Can it work?

Maybe. Yes. And I’m not entirely sure.

I went hands on with Killzone: Mercenary at a PlayStation showcase event in Los Angeles yesterday, and came away impressed… on some levels. The game looks fantastic – if you squint a little and overlook the occasionally janky framerate, you might mistake it for an early generation PlayStation 3 game. And developer Guerrilla Games, the creators of the Killzone franchise, are pouring a ton of content into this thing, with a storyline that casts players as a mercenary working for both sides of the conflict in the Helghast-ISA war. Cool idea.

And it plays well, with a major caveat. Even though the Vita has those two thumbsticks, they’re so wee and nubby that it takes a lot of practice to get a handle on the controls. This was the case with Resistance and Call of Duty as well, although the problem seems less severe here: with some tweaking of the sensitivity settings and a bit of practice, I felt reasonably competent after an hour or so of play.

The game’s multiplayer component is well fleshed-out for a portable, again cleaving to Guerrilla’s mandate to make a console-worthy game for the handheld. During one match, I unleashed an orbital strike laser on my foes, panning across the map and raining hot death down on the saps below. It’s easily the best first-person shooter multiplayer experience I’ve had on a handheld, although given how weak the competition is, that’s not saying too much.

But after playing Killzone: Mercenary, I found myself wondering if trying to shoehorn full-sized shooters onto pint-sized machines is a great idea after all. We wished for it, we’ve got it, but why do we want it? Handhelds are great for quick, casual, pick-up-and-play games, but this feels like the kind of thing I’d want to play on my couch. And if I’m going to sit on my couch, why not play a PS3 shooter on my big screen?

But that’s me. If you’ve been waiting for a “real” shooter on the Vita, particularly if you’re a Killzone fan, this could be it. Killzone: Mercenary is out on Sept. 17 — the same day, it turns out, that Grand Theft Auto V will be released. Might as well book that week off right now.

Killzone: Mercenary

This Helghast solider is almost certainly reaching out to give the mercenary a gentle caress on the face.

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