For a series that’s always been at the bleeding edge of modern FPS design – both in terms of technical performance and muscular gameplay – it’s fair to say that expectations are sky high for Killzone: Mercenary – the first PS Vita entry in Guerrilla’s acclaimed franchise.
Until last week’s reveal, all the studio had shown off was a brief teaser clip at Gamescom last September. However, the wraps are now finally off the game, and you can breathe easy – it looks absolutely stunning, packing all the visceral grit and gristle of its home console brethren into the PS Vita with real style.
Don’t believe us? Remind yourself of the new trailer below..
We sat down with Piers Jackson, who’s leading development at Guerrilla Cambridge (the same team responsible for the exemplary LittleBigPlanet PSP), to find out more about the game, with particular attention paid to its generous single player campaign. Read on below, and come back next week for a closer look at multiplayer. And if you’ve got any questions relating to how the game plays, feel free to ask away in the comments.
Where does Mercenary fit in the full Killzone narrative?
Piers Jackson: Mercenary starts shortly after the beginning of Killzone 1. We commence the game with the battle for Vekta in full flow – you actually start out in a destroyed Vektan city and the opening few levels are all about liberating the planet. We then transition into the Killzone 2 universe and the invasion into Pyrrhus. The story itself wraps up at some point in the Killzone 2 universe.
The game looks phenomenal on PS Vita. Was it a challenge shrinking the full console experience onto a handheld device?
Piers Jackson: In some regards we’ve tried not to shrink it at all – we’ve tried to get a full Killzone experience running on PS Vita. The system is incredibly powerful – we’ve got graphics that are comparable to Killzone 3 running on a handheld.
How easy was it getting the Killzone game engine up and running on the system?
Piers Jackson: It’s optimised in a lot of locations but the core AI system is based precisely on Killzone 3. We’ve had to replace a few of the audio and rendering systems but the back-end leading into them is pure Killzone engine architecture. We’ve also got certain things in the renderer that are unique to our system – we’ve added reflection mapping on the floor and particle systems can actually be lit as well.
There may be a few areas we’ve had to tone back a bit, but we’re pretty convinced that we’ve come up with something that touches most of the technical features from the main Killzone engine.
You’ve managed to retain that crunchy, weighty feel to the controls that really helped define the game on PlayStation 2 and 3…
Piers Jackson: So much of it is in the acceleration curves on the controllers and, obviously, as we were using the Killzone control input system, a lot of that came over for free. We needed to rebalance it slightly for the PS Vita stick inputs – which are slightly different than the DualShock – but that is the feeling you expect from Killzone; that weightiness. If you don’t have that you’re not making a Killzone game. It was imperative that we kept it.
How do you change your thinking when you’re designing an FPS for a portable system rather than a home console?
Piers Jackson: There are elements in terms of visibility that you have to pay attention to – how far away you’re positioning enemies, and what you’re positioning them against. When you’re playing on a large TV screen you can get away with more. Having said that, we have a really high-resolution screen on the Vita so the characters stand out very well, even at a distance.
Multiplayer is obviously important but I know Killzone fans are really hoping for a meaty solo campaign too. How much content can they expect?
Piers Jackson: We have nine single player missions. On average, on a first-time play-through, they’ll take between 40 minutes and an hour each to complete. So, it’s a lengthy game. It’s got a full narrative too – every mission brief is set up as a full story. There are twists and turns. It’s a very detailed single player experience; it’s not cut back in any way.
How are you encouraging repeat play-throughs?
Piers Jackson: When you first get to a level, there’s a standard play-through mode. Once you’ve completed that you’ll unlock three challenge modes – Covert, Precision and Demolition. Each challenge mode will dictate that you need to play the level in a different way. You may have gone in guns blazing first time, but if you take the Covert challenge you’ll need to be much more stealthy – you can fail it if you get detected.
Precision is usually about accuracy and how you’re taking out the enemy – headshots, melee kills, interrogations. There can also be a timed element to it. We also have gun challenges in there as well, so you may have to play the mission using a certain weapon.
Demolition is largely about exploding things, as you might expect! You’ll have additional requirements in the mission that you’ll need to destroy.
Big action set pieces are a key component of any great shooter. Is it harder to pull those off on a handheld device?
Piers Jackson: We’ve got some pretty hefty set pieces in there. We have a halo drop, as you might have seen – that’s a pretty epic way to open a mission! We really don’t skimp on set pieces. We blow up giant cruisers, we have flight sections – there are all sorts of big moments.
What new gameplay mechanics can fans of the series expect?
Piers Jackson: The shop is the biggest one for us really – the fact that you can go into a level kitted out however you want. You can then purchase new weapons as you go, to tailor the experience as you see fit.
Stealth is another big one – we have light stealth in the game. If you’re being quiet and using silenced weapons the AI will not pick up on you. If you kill a trooper and the body is left lying around and another enemy finds it, they’ll come and hunt you down. We’ve extended the AI to cater for additional play-styles.
Those are the big ones, but obviously the melee system now uses the touch interface. And outside of the core mechanics, I think the fact that we’re showing the Killzone universe from a different angle will appeal to core fans as they get to see the universe in a different light.
You’re the first studio outside of Guerrilla HQ to develop a Killzone title. That’s a lot of pressure!
Piers Jackson: It’s worth pointing out that a good number of our art team have been working on previous Killzone titles so it’s not like the franchise is entirely new to us. When we embarked on Mercenary obviously we worked very closely with the guys in Amsterdam to maintain the continuity, and we’ve had a very tight relationship throughout the process.
But it’s been great. It’s been a rush! It’s a big project, and a very exciting one – it feels great to finally be showing this to people outside the studio.