I paid for AI and I liked it.
On April 15th, Killzone: Mercenary released its third DLC, the second DLC to actually cost money (prior to that being a downloadable LMG). Priced at $2.49, the DLC does not offer a new map pack. Nor does it offer a new weapon, VAN-Guard or gear, or even a single player level for the fantastic campaign mode.
So what exactly does your $2.49 net you?
If that sounds absurd to you, well... It kind of is, but it also kind of isn't. See, the story goes that Killzone: Mercenary was apparently never meant to have a Botzone mode available in the first place, which was understandable, given that it was a portable device chugging out great graphics at a smooth 30 FPS. But it did highlight an enormous problem present in the base game: It wasn't portable.
Oh, sure, you can play Killzone: Mercenary's single player on the bus, you didn't need an internet connection, and the campaign levels were replayable a good many times. However, the loading screens were long, the campaign levels were a tad lengthy, and in each level there were three portions of unskippable cutscenes, which, while pretty, really cut into your play time.
You can imagine how excited I was to hear months later that an offline Botzone was announced. And it took many moons to arrive, as well.
So while it isn't exactly day one DLC, it is DLC nonetheless, which raises a very important question. Is it really fair to pay for Artificial Intelligence in your games, especially given the fact that it was a feature that had been available in previous Killzones? More importantly, is it even worth your money?
The biggest problem I had with Killzone: Mercenary was that I never actually play my Vita when I have an internet connection. When I do, I usually resort to popping in Killzone 3 on the PS3, instead. I purchased Killzone: Mercenary with the vain hope of being able to take that experience with me on the go, and while it didn't quite provide a true "Killzone" experience, Killzone: Mercenary was a fantastic game in its own right, even the multiplayer mode, which sadly I never actually get around to playing. So the introduction of Botzone is a damn good thing in my book, especially given that I'm on a bus for an hour going and an hour returning, every single day of the week. I do not want to spend that time on the campaign, watching the same cutscene over and over again, I want to shoot stuff. Botzone gives me exactly that, and effectively allows you to access multiplayer maps offline, greatly expanding single player content.
Everything you are capable of doing in Killzone: Mercenary short of 360 no-scoping (I'm actually not even sure if that's possible with those tiny analogue sticks), a bot can do as well. Not necessarily better, but not necessarily worse, either. Bots slide into cover and pop out to shoot you, ducking back behind cover the very instance they stop shooting or need to reload, and try to get the upper hand on you by flanking you every which way when you take your eyes off them. They're good shots, sometimes even too good, but they do have a tendency to miss on lower difficulties. In addition to all this, they're not shy of using melee attacks, particularly when your back is turned so they can steal your intel and reveal your team's location on the map, and they absolutely love to use those VAN-Guards on you as much as you love to use it on them. Heck, they even revive you if you're on their side, much in the same way a player would in a similar situation. When it comes to multiplayer bots, they do everything you could ask of them.
"You there, tell me! Where's the bathroom?!"
Well, not quite. It should also be noted that this is the first game in the series to allow you to progress both offline and online, and that goes for the campaign mode as well. meaning, unlike in Killzone 3, you don't have to play with people better than you to unlock all the cool gear, and with the "mercenary" style shop system, you're not confined to a single order unlock order, allowing you to progress at your own rate.
There are three levels of difficulty to chose from: Bronze, Silver, and Gold. Guess which one is the easiest and which one is the toughest. It is a lot of fun to experiment difficulty combinations between teams, giving your team the weaker AI while making the enemy tougher, or making four Gold (or Bronze, if you're feeling bloodthirsty) bots take you on your own. As such, you can even choose how many bots will be available on each side (up to four), or how many bots overall in the free-for-all.
What is sort of depressing, however, is that you can't customize the game mode to your liking. You can't set the time limit, or the number of kills required to win, or VAN-Guard drop rates like you would in other offline games, but Killzone: Mercenary never had these options even in the Private Match mode, so I can't really hold this against Guerrilla Cambridge. Still, would have been nice to choose fast matches instead of ten-minute long ones.
The saddest thing about the DLC isn't that there aren't any Warzone bots, it's why there aren't any. When you take it at face value, you think "but it's a portable device, bots completing objectives must be hard to program." You might be right. However, the bots do, actually, complete all those objectives in the other modes. Kill confirmed? They collect tags every now and then. Hacker mode? They love those VAN-Guard capsules enough to kill each other over. Interrogator? They even have the mental capacity to shoot your legs to disable you instead of kill you and proceed to beating the information out of you. Bodycount? We know they're pretty trigger happy and good shots. So why their skills couldn't translate into Warzone is a real headscratcher. There's no word from Guerilla Cambridge that this would get fixed, and in fact, they even stated months in advance that they'd be exclusively designed for Mercenary (Free-For-All) and Guerilla Warfare (Team Deathmatch) modes, so don't hold your breath.
Since the update I have only been playing Botzone, so I can't vouch for the rest of the game, but as for Botzone, I found that there had been some occasional FPS drops during gameplay, down to as little as 10 FPS whereas before the game used to run at a perfect 30. They're very short, and very occasional, so I don't think that it should be very problematic, nor am I certain this occurs outside Botzone, but nonetheless, you should know about it before going in.
If you're like me, and never spend your time with a Vita when you have an internet connection (and also own Killzone: Mercenary) then I urge you to pick up Botzone right now. You will not be disappointed.
If you spend most of your time in Killzone: Mercenary online, well, probably get it anyway. The Vita is a portable device and should be treated as such. You never know when you'll find yourself in a long line at a fast food restaurant. At $2.49, it's not too pricey given what it offers in the long run.