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PS Vita's 'Killzone: Mercenary' is shaping up to be the best handheld FPS ever

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It would seem that Sony Computer Entertainment is making 2013 the year of Killzone. With the PS Vita getting its own Killzone title in Sept. and the PS4 launching with Killzone: Shadow Fall this holiday, Killzone fans certainly have a lot to look forward to in the coming months. While Killzone: Shadow Fall continues the narrative of the original trilogy, the structure of Mercenary is an original and exclusive experience designed for PS Vita.

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The Killzone franchise is no stranger to the portable scene. In 2006, Sony released Killzone: Liberation on the PlayStation Portable. Distinct from previous Killzone titles, Liberation was not a first-person shooter. Instead, the title was a third-person top-down isometric shooter. Killzone: Mercenary, unlike its preceding portable brethren, is a first-person shooter that looks, feels, and plays just as well as the console titles.

Killzone: Mercenary, in many ways, plays just as any first-person shooter does, but features exclusive to PS Vita help give the game a distinct, fresh feel. One of the highlight exclusive additions in Mercenary is the option to aim using the PS Vita’s gyro controls. After taking aim by using the ‘L-trigger,’ move the PS Vita in the direction of your enemies and shoot – those familiar with the gyro controls of Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D will feel right at home.

Gyro controls are a welcome and accurate alternative to standard analog aiming, which, to their credit, work incredibly well.

Anyone acquainted with the Killzone franchise will find that Mercenary remains true to the series’ roots. Basic functions like moving in to cover are all represented. However, Killzone: Mercenary does differ slightly as the game focuses on rewarding you for killing and completing various tasks. Upon completion of in-game objectives, you will earn points that can then be used to buy new weapons, armor, and other upgrades.

Likewise, you will earn varying amounts of points in accordance to how you kill enemies – stealth assassinations and headshots will earn you more points than a standard firefight kill, for example.

One of the biggest additions to Mercenary is the weapon loadout system. An arms dealer by the name of BlackJack has weapon crates dispersed throughout missions where you can spend the points you have earned to equip yourself with a new main weapon, sidearm, grenade type, and more. This allows you to approach a mission and adjust your game strategy whenever you feel necessary.

Additionally, it increases replay value as you can revisit a mission, play with a different weapon, and hope to achieve a greater point total.

Killzone titles have always been about remarkable visuals, and Killzone: Mercenary is no exception. Though the game may not be quite as sharp as Killzone 2 or Killzone 3, it certainly ranks as PS Vita’s most impressive – take a look at these screens we captured during our time with the Killzone: Mercenary preview build. Even at this level of visual awe, Killzone: Mercenary plays remarkably well.

Regrettably, in this preview build, Mercenary did suffer from frame-rate drops during intense battles. Hopefully, this is fixed before the game releases because, otherwise, Killzone: Mercenary plays like a winner and has the makings to be the best handheld FPS ever made.

Killzone: Mercenary is shaping up to be the quality first-person shooter the PlayStation Vita rightly deserves.

Guerrilla Cambridge and Sony Computer Entertainment unleash war with Killzone: Mercenary for PlayStation Vita on Sept. 10 in North America.

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