I was trying to avoid writing about this one because I would much rather investigate game design than possibly recommend a game, but I spent a couple days with Killzone Mercenary and a few things impressed me:
1. The levels are nice and compact, the interface is intuitive, and the mechanics work surprisingly well.
2. Regarding those mechanics:
A. Interrogations are optional stealth based side missions that work like this: you have to sneak up on a commander and then input some touch screen slashes to threaten and eventually coerce information out an enemy. The touch screen game is good, but whats more impressive is that it comes in the middle of combat hence if you’re spotted while interrogating well its probably lights out for you. This means each commander (I believe 6 a level) constitutes an optional stealth puzzle that will take a good amount of observation and a little luck to solve. There is a dart gun that can be purchased to make it easier.
B. The hacking mini-game is actually robust and interesting. It works a lot better than the one found in Deus Ex. It works like combinations of triangles appear in hexagons, you have a set of keys on the sides used to solve them. Hence it becomes a bit of a mirage, do you use do triangles opposite of each other or two clumped together to decipher the locks in such a way that you can continue picking at them. It took me a few tries to get some of these puzzles and they were particularly good in design. They feel like a good ios puzzle game in the midst of an FPS.
C. Stealth is definitely the harder route in this game. Making it through the game undetected would take a phenomenal amount of observation and work or a good dart gun or silenced weapon. The game makes you invest your money in weapons along that route that then in turn augment your skills. Hence play styles are complimented by your arsenal.
D. The money. Killzone Mercenary is about just that: money. Every kill, every piece of ammo collected, increases your cash reserves and dying takes away 50 credits for “life insurance”. However, the number of weapons and options available means I found myself consistently trying to increase my score. Violent take down reward double what a silent does, but often then alert guards meaning the rest of your potential kill combo has been reduced to 70-90 credits of value. The system works and fits rather well with the game.
3. Killzone feels like a good designer (Piers Jackson of Little Big Planet fame) combining some minimal elements that add up to an enjoyable time. Its the way the mechanics never break the magic circle, but rather enrich it that makes it worth while that said I do have a few complaints:
4. Ok sure the game has deep weapons to assist sneakers, snipers, and smg / shotgun wielding psychopaths like myself, buy at moments in the game it appears to offer you a choice, those choices would have made the game deeper as the player taking a moral side in the conflict would have been refreshing. I should have been given the chance of defecting to Helghan, executing children, etc. instead these moments come pre-planned and scripted. When the third twist occurs I was expecting some player made decisions in terms of the narrative instead I was just given a pre-planned storyline, yet I feel the game originally intended to make choice part of the story and not to so deterministically declare the “bad guys”.
5. The story line is ok. Nothing overtly memorable, choice would have made it more interesting, but again it didn’t shock me the way other games have.
6. Sometimes I thought there was a mechanic to a boss when there wasn’t a mechanic. For instance with the last boss it made sense to get into a hatch and hide inside the vechile in order to satisfy a condition to beat him, instead it turns out my damage output just wasn’t enough.
What I learned: games don’t have to be terribly original provided everything works and Killzone Mercenary is a game that primarily works. The gunplay is passable (I played on the hardest difficultly), the hacking game is great, the optional stealth interrogations are great and make you think, it is a game with in a game. And in that it shows how digital environments can and should contain a plethora of play options and not just one base assumption about what players should do. It really shows how much strength there is in finding the right fit for certain mechanics to make a game enjoyable. As an English Teacher I design new games weekly. New experiences that will allow my students to use language in a proper environment. Most of them fail. Killzone is remarkable for consistently hitting the mark with good mechanics and finally finding a hacking game worth playing, that said purchase with caution. It is intended for teen audiences looking for gunplay and action sequences. Regardless good job Guerilla Games Cambridge.
Entry filed under: media.