Killzone: Mercenary – Review (Vita)

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What is it about Killzone games and showcasing a system’s graphical power? Killzone 2 and 3 showed how good the PS3 could look and Killzone Shadowfall seems to be making a case for the PS4. In amongst all this comes Killzone Mercenary for the PS Vita, Sony’s handheld machine.

Not only are Vita owners crying out for a big budget game (I love the indie stuff but we do need a batch of bigger budget titles as well) but the history of the FPS genre on Vita is chequered, to say the least. I ploughed quite a bit of time into Resistance: Burning Skies and Call Of Duty: Black Ops Declassified’s online offerings but they weren’t fantastic.

So have Guerrilla Cambridge managed to deliver on the promise of a big budget, graphical powerhouse that plays like its big brothers?

A definitive ‘yes’ is the answer.

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Killzone Mercenary gives you a big, set piece filled campaign mode, broken up into individual missions with handheld gaming in mind. The missions themselves vary in length – some were 20/25 minutes, whereas some edged towards the hour mark. I was playing on the hardest setting though, so your mileage may vary if you’re playing on lower settings.

One thing a lot of people noted in their previews was that you have a lot of choice in how to approach missions – quite often there may be two or three different ways through an area. For the main game you can play however you like and attempt to rescue a situation that has spun out of control.

However there are also three other versions of each mission: Precision (Quick), Covert (Sneaky) and Demolition (Loud!). While these add specific fail states (i.e Stealth through the lab etc.), it’s not just as simple as replaying every level the same way with a couple of different conditions – some of these objectives will take you to totally different areas of the level that you might have missed on your first playthrough.

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The game controls like the PS3 versions of Killzone, which is a good thing in my book. The weapons have a nice heft to them and they feel different enough to warrant switching them out if you need a change. To do that you’ll have to visit Blackjack. He’s the in-game black market dealer for weapons and the like. You’ll need to use in-game cash to purchase a weapon or van-guard ability before being able to use it. You can then chop and change (for a price) during missions at arms dealer crates scattered across the level.

The campaign itself was thoroughly enjoyable, this time positioning you as a merc rather than ISA grunt. So while you will still be fighting the Helghast you’ll also have missions where you’re facing off against the ISA. It certainly felt strange killing the ISA in a story driven context but it did give the game a fresh direction, which was good.

I played through the entire campaign, then went through again doing each mission on the covert settings and am now on my third playthrough as demolition. I don’t remember the last time I played a campaign more than twice? In fact, I’m not sure if I ever have since the Mega Drive days? Which tells you a lot about Mercenary but also about how much I love the Killzone universe 🙂

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Multiplayer will be the big draw for most people though and I’m pleased to say Guerrilla Cambridge have managed to squeeze an impressive online offering into the package. The action here is 4v4, with 6 maps of differing size and there is a fair bit of variety within the levels. Each of them have their own nooks and crannies, as well as lots of verticality.

This means you can get the drop on your enemies if you know the maps well enough and gives the game a lot of replayability. You level up across single and multiplayer so if you’re not within reach of a wi-fi signal playing the single player stuff offline will net you in-game cash to spend and anything unlocked via Blackjack is available both off and online.

Some people have reported trouble connecting to games in the online beta but I haven’t had any problems so far and I expect the final game to be more refined so hopefully that won’t be an issue.

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Overall, Killzone Mercenary is a fantastic offering for long suffering Vita FPS fans. There is a substantial campaign here with lots of replayability but, crucially, broken up into manageable level sizes. Online the game holds up – of course it’s not quite as big as the PS3 offerings – but there is a lot of fun to be had here. I am a huge Killzone fan but I believe even with no knowledge of the other games Mercenary is a top quality title that everyone can (and should) enjoy.

Rating: 10/10

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Killzone 3 – Review (PS3)

It is always a struggle to build and improve on a game that still impresses two years after its release but in bringing us a sequel to Killzone 2 Guerrilla Games has done just that.

Picking up the story directly after the events at the end of the last game and stretching over the next six months, Killzone 3 jumps straight into the action.

You reprise your role as Tomas ‘Sev’ Sevchenko with the ISA (Interplanetary Strategic Alliance) trying to get off the planet Helghan – only to be met with the full force of the Helghast, who have regrouped following the climax of Killzone 2.

If you’re looking for a game to redefine or revolutionise the first person shooter genre then you are looking in the wrong place. Killzone 3 brings very little to the table in terms of new ideas but most people picking this up won’t be expecting it to.

This game is about taking down the Helghast, even if you are on the back foot.

The new ideas that do make it into the game (Jetpacks/the multiplayer ‘Operations’ mode etc) are handled brilliantly. Guerrilla has done a great job of taking on board fan’s feedback and tweaking the controls/feel of the game for the better.

I wasn’t entirely sure how they would improve the multiplayer beyond a few tweaks but they have knocked it out of the park.

Redesigned classes, with abilities that are more relevant to each class, are the biggest difference but you also now have two more game types (on top of the already awesome Warzone) in Guerrilla Warfare (Team Deathmatch) and Operations – an objective based battle in which the top players from each team feature in the cut scenes between action.

The maps are brilliantly designed with some great scenery and feature different parts of maps for various modes. For example the Frozen Dam map – in Guerrilla Warfare only the small section at the front is available to play in, in Operations you make your way through the map section by section (like Rush in Battlefield: Bad Company 2) and in Warzone the map is open in it’s entirety.

I’ve seen some reviews criticising the single player story of Killzone 3 but for me it was perfect – I loved the new bad guys and felt that the developers did a good job of bringing the player closer to Sev, and buddy Rico, than ever before.

I would’ve liked to have seen more about the background of Helghan or perhaps some stuff on the civilian population (I’m presuming there still is one somewhere on Helghan?) but those are personal points of interest so it’s not like the story is missing chunks of information.

The A.I, for the most part, impresses and I’d forgotten how unforgiving the game can be if you try to break cover and expose yourself completely. Although with the new brutal melee kills that are activated at close range, you’ll be tempted to try and get as close to the Helghast as possible.

There is a lot more variety in the level design this time around as you traverse in snow and jungle terrain and the game looks as gorgeous as expected. Not quite the same ‘smack-you-in-the-face’ leap as Killzone 2 but impressive nonetheless.

Overall then Killzone 3 doesn’t quite grab you in the way that the previous game did but that doesn’t really matter in the end. Guerrilla Games have delivered a game that improves on it’s predecessor in pretty much every way it could. A must buy for any PS3 owner.

Rating: 10/10

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Feeling Sad? Upset? How About A Little DLC?

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It took a long time but a couple of months ago I took the plunge and set up a wallet on the PSN (Playstation Network) Store.

Effectively I’d only been using the store to download free demos as I’d had no interest in DLC (Downloadable Content) but that was all about to change.

For a start my wife had played Flower and really enjoyed it – possibly more so because it didn’t require 20+ hours to get through it. So I decided to add some funds to the online wallet in case any more PSN games caught her eye.

And secondly, Killzone 2.

Two multi-player map packs have been released with last week’s ‘Flash and Thunder’ pack following on from the ‘Steel and Titanium’ maps in April.

These map packs cost £4.79 each and you get two new levels in each.

I’ve found the levels to be really enjoyable with a few new ideas implemented in each.

Wasteland Bullet in the first pack introduced external hazards that could kill the player on the moving train, like making sure you time your jumps between trains so scenery rushing by doesn’t kill you 😆

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This has been taken to the next level on Southern Hills in the latest pack which feature a nuclear blast 😮 It’s cool though if you’re inside it won’t kill you 🙂

The games missions remain the same it’s just within a new setting.

My issue here isn’t with the quality of the product – no complaints on that front but are these packs really worth £4.79 when the game itself cost around £40 (and probably less now)?

Possibly but I still think a more attractive price point could’ve been found – maybe £2.99 each? Or maybe if you bought the first pack get the second one half price?

To put this into context EA (I know, I know they are made of money :lol:) have continued to put out DLC to support Burnout Paradise, including a pack that added bikes to the game as well as cars… FOR FREE!

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Although it must’ve cost EA a lot of money to offer that for free it garnered a lot of respect from gamers and proved they are interested in looking after their consumers.

Take for example Home – Sony’s online social space. Now it was fun to set up my avatar, have a look around and see it in action but am I really gonna pay to have a certain t-shirt or piece of furniture in my virtual apartment?

Not at £1.79 for a virtual t-shirt. 😮

Now I might not be the market for this type of thing but seriously where is the value in that? I could pretty much buy two tracks on iTunes for that!

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Home has amazing potential but to even tempt people like me to buy stuff it needs to be priced at or around the iTunes model – that is what people are used to paying. £0.99 is what we’re thinking when we consider buying small DLC and £1.79 in comparison looks much higher.

Obviously I’m not suggesting all DLC should be £0.99 but surely it’s better to have a ton more people downloading these little bits at a lower price than less people at a higher rate?

As an aside Home is becoming an interesting prospect – the idea of game launching (meet up with friends in Home first then it puts you all in the same game room for whatever you want to play) is a great one and the social aspect is interesting. Chatting to other gamers could be fun if you’re in the mood.

For me the one thing they need to sort (other than pricing) is the loading times. I know it’s still in beta and I’m sure they are working on it but it’s pretty annoying. Couldn’t it automatically download a few of the main spaces in the background so they are ready when you want to move on?

LittleBigPlanet is another game that revolves around DLC but while I commend their dedication to user created levels being downloadable for others to play I feel the main DLC (costumes for the Sackboy characters) is again slightly overpriced and needs a rethink.

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On the other hand something like the Metal Gear Solid pack was pretty good value in LittleBigPlanet as it offered not only new levels but new tools to help you make better levels yourself.

DLC IS the future of gaming.

We will get our content via digital streams – the introduction of the PSP Go! and Sony’s continued support of the PSN Store show they are serious about digital content going forward.

Whether it’s user generated ala LittleBigPlanet or add on packs for existing games – I just hope Sony and the developers can work together to bring the prices down on this type of content.

Killzone 2 Review (PS3)

The much hyped saviour of PS3 has been in the works for half a decade and the final game has finally emerged – not blinking into the light like a newborn baby but bursting out armed with a pump action shotgun struggling to fight off the weight of expectation.

Following on from the first Playstation 2 game and Killzone Liberation on the PSP, Killzone 2 picks up the story as the ISA (Interplanetary Strategic Alliance) decide to take the fight to the Helghast on their own planet after the Helgans attempted to invade Vekta, the planet the ISA calls home.

And it dumps you pretty much slap bang in the middle of everything, as anyone who’s played the demo will know.

Unfortunately for you and your ISA buddies the Helghast aren’t quite as beaten as your superiors would have you believe.

So is Killzone 2 as good as, the pretty much universal, top scores it’s received? 😕

Let’s start with the graphics. Yes this is the best looking game I’ve seen – the way the light falls and the smoke effects following explosions are fantastic. The whole game looks amazing and in particular the deaths of the Helghast stick long in the mind with their brilliant motion capture stumbles, slumping to the floor as their legs give way. There are quite a few different animations as well so it doesn’t get too repetitive.

Which brings me on to the sound. The score is superb, wratcheting up the tension as you try and blast your way through another fire fight.

One of the things that got me was the cries of your fallen comrades. You can revive teammates when they fall with a tap of circle next to them. It helps with the feeling of panic as you’re penned in by enemy fire and across from you your buddy is on the floor crying ‘help me! Medic! Please! Help me!’  😦

As well as that the Helghast themselves had some brilliant death groans – and some particularily gruesome screams if you set them on fire. They don’t die instantly from the flamethrower, instead failing around for 8 or 10 seconds desperately trying to put themselves out.:eek: The Helghans also had some good dialogue. It was nice to hear them shout ‘grenade’ as it’s usually just your own side who let you know about incomings!

Which brings me on nicely to the enemy AI. This is easily the most advanced AI I’ve encountered. From the simple (scattering out of the way when a grenade is thrown at them rather than just sitting there waiting for it to go off as usual) to the difficult (flanking you, flushing you out) it’s all done so well that it leads to some genuinely tense fireplay. You’ll need to keep them penned in with cover fire otherwise these guys will actually come and find you – and kill you probably.

The Helghast are not sitting ducks whatsoever. You feel like you earn each kill and the sense of achievement is excellent after a tight skrimish in enclosed conditions. 😎

You also care what happens to your colleagues – I often found myself exacted revenge for fallen buddies, whether it was a main colleague or one of the many army back ups from the bigger gun fights.

The singleplayer campaign is short but sweet – clocking in at just over 8 and a half hours on medium. I found medium to be more than difficult enough for me but that’s down to personal preference. I’d rather get through a game on medium than get annoyed with it from dying too much on hard. As it was I died plenty on medium!

Multiplayer isn’t ‘live’ yet but there is a singleplayer ‘Skirmish’ mode against up to 15 other ‘bots’ for practice. Very cool mode, with a new objective every 5 minutes. So it’ll be assasination (one team protects the other tries to kill) or capture the flag-esque objectives. After 20 minutes a winning faction – Helghast or ISA is announced and you start again. Obviously it was only against bots but they were pretty leathal on Elite setting.

As I mentioned in my previous first impressions the stutter is still there when loading the next section but after the third or fourth level I kind of stopped noticing. Would’ve been much better if this had run smooth all the way through but it’s a small complaint.

I also found my buddy AI improved as the game progressed which had been a gripe in my initial hands on with the game.

One thing I would’ve found helpful is a little bit of direction. On occasion I found myself without a directional marking and no idea what I was supposed to be doing/killing so a friendly ‘it’s over there’ or ‘get rid of the tank’ would have been nice.

Very small picky things which I suppose goes with the territory when looking at something as hyped as Killzone 2.

I’m not sure whether this game will revolutionize first person shooters – there isn’t much here that develops the genre. However it could be something to revolutionize the PS3 itself as it really showcases what a powerhouse the console is.

Killzone 2’s biggest achievement is, possibly because of the brilliant graphics, sound and AI, that you feel involved and become embedded in the Killzone universal whenever you pick up the pad.

In one particularily frantic battle I ducked into an alcove on the verge of death and a second later a Helghan backed into the entrance. I let off a round into the back of his head and it wasn’t until he fell that I saw he was ISA not Helghast. 😥 It sounds ridiculous but I actually felt my stomach go over a little when I realised what I’d done. That’s how much this game sucks you in.

It’s not perfect by any means but it’s easily the best first person shooter I’ve played and I recommend anyone with a remote interest in this genre to check this out immediately when it’s released on the 27th.

Rating 9/10