Killzone: Mercenary PS Vita preview: Hands-on with the shooter the handheld deserves

“We have this thing at Guerrilla Games where we love to develop technology that gets the most out of the hardware,” announces managing director Hermen Hulst. “And when we first saw the Vita, we knew this was a piece of kit that would finally allow us to deliver the full Killzone console experience on a handheld device.”

They’re bold words, but they do ring true: go back and play Killzones past and you’re struck by their determined use of the Sixaxis controller when arming an explosive that’ll rupture a dirty great hole in some Helghast facility, or turning the crank of a blast door and watching allied troops tumble in. Guerrilla stuck to PS3’s tilt controls when other devs, well, didn’t. That pedigree gives you a good feeling about its Vita shooter, a collaboration between the Amsterdam HQ and Guerrilla Cambridge.

Fighting a war on two different fronts can be tricky – just ask Napoleon.

But will Mercenary really feel like a console experience? Can Guerrilla Games serve Vita the top-tier shooter it deserves? To do so, it needs to succeed on both campaign and multiplayer fronts, just as the likes of Rico and Templar had to get down and dirty on both Vekta and Helghan. But fighting a war on two different fronts can be tricky – just ask Napoleon. Will this plucky Mercenary specialise in any one area?

“That’s a completely unfair question,” responds Hulst. “With any Killzone game we’ve done for the home console, we’ve always said that multiplayer is the other half of the game. I think multiplayer is just as important for us, particularly for longevity, but also it’s such a different experience. I’m not going to pick one.”

In fact, the two halves of Mercenary are tied together even more closely than in previous Killzones. This time, it’s all about the money. You play Aaron Danner, an ex-military soldier of fortune who got sick of following orders and instead fights only to amass moolah. “These guys aren’t fighting the good fight,” says Hulst. “They’re fighting the highest-paid fight.” The game begins just after the ISA’s liberation of Vekta from Killzone 1 and replays classic Killzone 1, 2 and Liberation moments from a new perspective – and with so much bloodshed, your military contractor outfit’s raking in the dough.

That means you get to choose your loadout for each mission, spending cash you earned in the last outing on new weapons, armour and gadgets. The better you perform, the more cash you get to throw around. “The better you play, the higher the pay,” quips Hulst.

Here’s where solo and online play really intertwine: that cash also carries over into multiplayer. This single design choice throws out the multiplayer shooter rulebook, because rather than having to endure the ritual ten-hour humiliation of dodging rockets while throwing lumps of wet paper at your enemies until you level up and earn a decent gun, you can instead work up a tidy sum in the campaign and then hit the ground running online.

With that in mind, Guerrilla’s introducing a new single-player mode called Contracts (no tuxedoed baldies or rubber ducks in sight) that gives you new objectives in a mission after completing it the first time. “Every time you complete a level you then get a set of challenges that encourage you to replay that mission,” explains the game’s art director Thomas Jones. “So maybe there’s a Demolition target in there [that earns you] extra money. You get a certain weapon if you do it in a certain time.”