It’s in the close-range fracas that you’ll enjoy Mercenary’s smartest Vita addition – touch-controlled melee kills. Hit triangle to engage, then swipe the screen in the indicated direction and watch in mild discomfort as Danner does the most disturbing things with a knife this side of a Tarantino script’s first draft.
But because levels are designed specifically to draw you and your foes within shivving distance of each other, numerous times you’re drawn into a comical infinity loop of melee kills, finishing one Higg just in time for the next to line up and present his neck. If you try to fall back to assault rifle range, you’ll take an awful lot of lead to the vitals. If you persevere with the stabby assembly line, you’ll eventually come unstuck since you take damage during the slow-mo melee animation. What’s a heartless merc to do?
It’s not all rainbows and paychecks being this Mercenary, then. There are technical niggles to contend with, easily the most aggravating being wild difficulty spikes that appear across the campaign, the side-effect of letting the player choose their own weapons at any time, I guess. There are appearances too from old favourites like bullet decals that appear over thin air, attached to the very edge of the surface you’re trying to shoot past, a joyless hacking mini-game, and a deeply annoying sprint control activated by tapping the rear touchpad.
These niggles aren’t the sole culprits keeping Killzone Mercenary back from greatness. It isn’t Danner’s fault that the phrase ‘brutal melee takedowns’ has become synonymous with everything we’re growing a bit fatigued with in current-gen shooters – orange and blue, facestabs, sweary men in huge boots, one cover shootout waiting after the next – but that fatigue sets in during Mercenary’s earnest love letter to those maxims nontheless.
There’s a but, of course. Mercenary’s multiplayer component is much stronger than its already accomplished solo offering. Balancing issues caused by player-chosen weapons are gone. Hell, even the VAN-Guard super-death-machines feel suitably balanced, and the 4v4 matches don’t feel barren compared to their larger scale PS3 online scraps thanks to expert map design.
“Danner does the most disturbing things with a knife this side of a Tarantino script’s first draft”
The valour card system adds yet another level on top of the arcade scoring system, totting up the cards you collect from fallen enemies, taking into account their rank compared to yours, and crunching the numbers. The result is a dynamic global leaderboard that keeps the elite players from becoming untouchable – in theory. We’ve yet to see how multiplayer pans out in the wild, but don’t be surprised to see it become a system seller for Vita.
You’ll find some things you like about shooters here, and they’re done well. You’ll also find some things you didn’t know you liked about shooters, like excited ‘headshot!’ UI messages with accompanying points payouts. The problem is that those moments don’t constitute a ‘thing.’ The closest Killzone Mercenary comes to having a thing is in its touch controls, and as satisfying as they are the marriage of console shooter and iOS game doesn’t elevate it into the realm of the exceptional.
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