I've been plowing through the Killzone: Mercenary online beta with the rest of the Plus community for nearly a week now and, come Tuesday afternoon, everyone on PSN will be able to get in on the action. Read on for some new impressions, as well as some tips that should help get you rolling once the beta opens up to the masses.
At this point, I'm feeling pretty confident that Killzone: Mercenary is going to be the first-person shooter Vita fans have been waiting for. I realize that this statement is coming after only checking out the online mode at E3, playing a single level of the campaign and, most recently, pouring a decent number of hours into the online beta, so don't mistake this as any sort of final judgment. But even so, I know what I've played, and what I've played has been lovely.
I've said a number of times how great the game looks, sounds and controls. It's basically what you've come to expect from the Killzone series on the PS3, all crunched down into the palm of your hands. And once you get used to those controls (which shouldn't take more than a couple of minutes), it should be smooth sailing as you blast your way through the Helghast/ISA conflict. Most touch controls are also mapped to the console's buttons, meaning that you can play the game whichever way makes you feel most comfortable. And seriously, turn on that “gyro” aiming. It only activates when you're looking down the sites and it allows for extremely precise fine-aiming when you're trying to pull off a head shot.
Now onto the details. Assuming nothing about the beta changes once it opens up to all of PSN next week, the map you'll be playing is called Shoreline and the mode is Warzone. In total, the retail game will feature six maps and three game modes. Warzone can take up to a half hour to plow through, but Mercenary Warfare (free-for-all) and Guerrilla Warfare (team deathmatch) should provide those shorter bursts of action that compliment a portable platform so nicely.
The map is well built and offers loads of alternate routs, cover and verticality. There are several nice touches, too, like areas where sea foam sprays across your screen, slowly spinning fan blades you need to run through, a semi-hidden route that leads to a nice sniper perch, exploding barrels and swinging cables and banners.
You'll need to pick up ammo on the fly, but there's always plenty lying around. When you begin the game, you'll only have a single loadout and a pair of weapons. Leveling up opens up additional loadouts for your character and you can spend the in-game currency to unlock additional weapons, armor and gear. Everything you do in Mercenary earns you money, from picking up that ammo to killing an enemy, saving a friend, and collecting a player's card. When someone dies, they leave behind a card that signifies how well they've been playing the game. The higher the card, the more money it's worth to you. In other words, the elite players will hit a point where they aren't making as much money off of noobs while those new to the game will be raking in plenty of cash as their occasional kills bring down the big boys.
But all of that is pretty easy to figure out. What will come in most handy is information on the various game modes within Warzone. Like in previous Killzone games, Mercenary's Warzone mode is broken down into five sections that occur in a random order. The team that earns the most points across these modes wins the round. I was recently in a showdown that my team lost by a single point, and those final minutes of play were as nail-bitingly hectic as anything I've experienced on a console shooter.
Body Count is good old fashioned team deathmatch. Just kill everyone on the other side and you'll be fine here.
Bounty Hunter is an interesting twist on that formula, though. If you or a teammate don't pick up the card your enemy drops when they die, the kill doesn't count toward your goal. Similarly, if you can grab a fallen ally's card before the enemy, they can't earn the point. Those cards work to focus the action, meaning there's a great risk/reward system at play when deciding if running out into the open is worth the risk that an enemy soldier is watching a fallen card through their gun site.
Third is Interrogator, yet another spin on the team deathmatch formula. In this one, you need to “interrogate” your fallen enemies, which means you don't actually want to kill them. Clip them with a grenade, swipe them with a knife or aim for the legs. Once you hear a grunt, that means they're downed and can fight back. Run up to the body and perform a melee attack to initiate the interrogation. You'll need to perform two quick screen swipes to get a success. The risk is, of course, that interrogating an enemy leaves you totally exposed. Working as a team to pick off single enemies and protect the “interrogator” while they do their work is crucial.
The final mission type, Hacker is played twice. VAN-Guard capsules drop on the multiplayer maps all the time, giving the first player to reach it a nice perk (like a guided air strike, radar jam, etc.) In this mode, your team simply needs to claim more capsules than the enemy. Hacker revolves around those VAN-Guard capsules. Only, when you access them, you need to perform a quick mini-game. On the screen, you'll see a geometric shape that looks like a pizza with four “slices” highlighted. Along the left and right side will be similar shapes with only two slices highlighted apiece. Your job is to tap one of the icons on the side (featuring two highlighted slices that match two of the highlighted slices in the middle), and then touch the middle shape as well. The slices will match up and disappear, leaving just two slices left in the middle. Now you just need to tap the shape on the side that matches what remains in the middle image, tap the middle image, and you're done. Hard to put into words, but hopefully that will help once you see it on the screen.
For those who don't have PS Plus, look for the Killzone: Mercenary beta to go live Tuesday afternoon. Look for the retail release on Sept. 10.