The PlayStation Vita is a good, powerful handheld machine that's run some piss-poor first-person shooters. After rushed, clunky Resistance and Call of Duty shooters, the system will get a Killzone in September. It merely needs to be mediocre to improve Vita FPSing dramatically.
After having played the Vita's Killzone: Mercenary last night at a Sony PlayStation preview event near the beach in Santa Monica, I think it's safe to say the game is at least non-awful. Yay! Put that on the back of the box.
Resistance's problem was bad, boring level design and moronic artificial intelligence.
Call of Duty had barely any content.
Neither looked particularly good.
Taking the last point first, Mercenary's got the looks. See the trailer above for proof. It also controls nicely, allowing for twin-stick and button-based controls but also allowing for taps on the screen as an alternate means for activating some special weapons. Enemies in the game seemed less stupid than the Vita Resistance ones, but I'd need to play for more than five minutes each of competitive deathmatch and single-player to be sure.
I'm not sure how seriously to take the story, which puts the player in the boots of a mercenary who will take jobs from both sides, ISA and Helghast, during the brutal war that has occurred across the PlayStation 3's Killzone 2 and Killzone 3. A developer for the game told me that the game looks at the subjectivity of right and wrong during war-time, what with the player being able to work for either side. I didn't get a sense that this is a game with deep messages. You are, after all, shooting bad guys to earn money to upgrade weapons and, oh, see that bit in the trailer where we stab a guy in the crotch?
In terms of content, there looks to be a lot. Nine missions, estimated to take an hour or so to play through each. Eight-player multiplayer. The virtual money earned in solo or multi-play can be used across both modes for upgrades and unlocks.
If you're into the Killzone lore, here's the official plot summary:
Arran Danner, an ex-UCA soldier turned mercenary, helped deliver a crucial blow to the Helghast in the liberation of Vekta and is hired once again to spearhead the ISA counter-attack against Helghan. A seemingly routine mission to evacuate the Vektan Ambassador and his family from Pyrrhus goes awry, leaving Danner in the middle of a deadly power struggle for the life of the Ambassador’s young son. As the invasion unfolds, it becomes clear that the boy’s fate could change the course of the war and both sides will do whatever it takes to get hold of him, forcing Danner to question whether the price of victory can sometimes be too high, no matter how big the paycheck.
I like a good first-person shooter campaign, but after being burned by Resistance, and appalled by Call of Duty on Vita, I can't help but be heavily sceptical. The developers might deserve more mercy than I'm giving them. This is a different studio: Guerilla Cambridge, formerly Sony Cambridge, dev team behind LittleBigPlanet Vita. For me, it's hard to shake the memory of being done wrong by the genre on a platform that has, increasingly, become a device for playing delightful indie games. Obviously, the machine can specialise in more than one thing. Technically it should be able to get the FPS genre right. Third big try's the charm?
This preview included a hands-on preview of the game. We played about 10 minutes' worth; could have played more if time permitted.