Preview: ‘Killzone: Mercenary’ – C.R.E.A.M., Or Cash Rules Everything About Mercenary

One of the major points that Sony has been pushing about the Vita is its robustness, the ability to bring console-sized experiences to the handheld both in terms of gameplay and graphically. Now whether this is the kind of thing Sony should be chasing in the handheld space is up for debate, but the publisher isn’t messing around: playing “Killzone: Mercenary” during a preview event last night offered some console-level gameplay and visuals.

Not a quickie port by a cut-rate studio, the FPS from Guerrilla Games uses the “Killzone 3″ engine to deliver a surprisingly robust experience in both its multiplayer and single-player modes.

Mathijs de Jong (director, Guerilla Games Amsterdam) came stateside last night to show off the Vita-exclusive shooter. In an opening presentation, de Jong told the assembled journalists that the game is being developed by the Guerilla Cambridge Studio which developed maps for “Killzone 2″ and “3.”

According to de Jong, “Mercenary” offers Guerilla the opportunity to show something different in the “KZ” universe, allowing players to outfit themselves with their own gear and choose their own tactics as a freelancer fighting for both sides. The second handheld “KZ” game works, according to de Jong, because the player now has access to two analog sticks to player the FPS the way it was meant to be played on the go.

The story will be integrated into the wider “Killzone” universe, with the first missions taking place across the first “Killzone” as well as the PSP release “Liberation” with hero Arran Danner working (for pay, of course) alongside the ISA, and later keeping an eye on the Vektan ambassador. When that job goes sideways, Danner finds himself watching out for the ambassador’s son, who might hold the key to changing the course of the conflict.

The theme of the game is that freelancer Danner is doing it for the money, with the player earning money across the campaign and multiplayer to buy new gear for the character. Key to these is the Van-Guard, a wrist-mounted weapon deployment system whose recharge times are reduced by racking kills and earning money. Players can also pick up Valor Cards from downed opponents (think “Modern Warfare”-style dog tags), with the leaderboards checking to see how highly-ranked your kills were.

“Mercenary” will feature 4v4 multiplayer across six maps, with the ability to use the Vita’s social functionality able to tell you if friends are playing nearby. Other Vita-specific functions involve swipes to execute takedowns and using Van-Guard weapons, while sniper rifles can be aimed by tilting the Vita itself.

Guerilla made both single and multiplayer levels available for journalists in attendance, with a pair of campaign “Contacts” playable alongside the multiplayer map “Shoreline.”

The first campaign Contract I played followed Arran as he attempted to disable the powerful cannons on the surface of a Helghan planet so that the ISA could move their ships into position for an invasion. Helghan soldiers, aware that the ISA would be attempting some kind of infiltration, patrolled the base, meaning slow and quiet was the way to go. I crept around in a crouch, waiting for the onscreen prompt to execute a stealth kill without alerting any of the other guards. The Black Jack shop boxes dotted liberally around the map allowed me to replenish my ammo, Van-Guard charge, upgrade my armor, and purchase new weapons, although ammo could easily be picked up off of downed enemies (from my time with the game, it seems like the same can’t be said for their weapons).

Later, I deployed the Van-Guard weapon in my arsenal, a drone with a pair of mantis-like pincers; get an enemy in sight and the reticule goes red, and pressing the trigger launches the drone at the enemy for an insta-kill (like all Van-Guard weapons, this one had a limited charge, requiring me to hurry up and get in as many kills as possible before the unit fizzled out). Following that, I had to disable a pair of shielded consoles, which I then had to hack and defend from alerted Helghan forces. Once they were defeated and both consoles were hacked, I humped it over to the main console where I could transmit control over the guns over to the ISA, finally having to defend the transmitter from incoming ISA forces landing in dropships.

In the Shoreline multiplayer, me and the other seven players engaged in a prolonged shootout for points (the map was set to Free For All). The gun play would be interrupted by mad dashes across the map to capture a Van-Guard drop, tilting the fight at least momentarily towards the player who was able to gain access to this ordnance. The matches, set at 10 minutes, seemed to breeze right by with a rapid jump-in, select loadout experience that never dragged. The tight map guaranteed the one thing that’s essential to a shooter: it never felt empty. Either one of the other seven players was in my crosshairs or I was in theirs.

Weapon swapping and melee attacks are executed using taps and swipes respectively, as is activating your chosen Van-Guard weapon. The circle button controls both the crouch and running, which takes a little getting used to in the heat of combat (it’s really just the difference between a tap and sustained press). These idiosyncrasies aside, it plays for better or worse like “Killzone.”

And that’s what it comes down to: if you like “Killzone,” Guerrilla has seemingly delivered another top-notch shooter in the series. It just so happens that you can take this one with you.

“Killzone: Mercenary” will be available in September 17th for the PlayStation Vita.

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