Mercenary Kings review: run and gun

Many game players grew up on classic shooters like Contra and Metal Slug, and Tribute Games' Mercenary Kings fits right in. After several months in Steam Early Access, it's officially released on PlayStation 4. The terrorist group CLAW is up to no good and it's up to you, the Kings, to set out and stop them. That's easier said than done, as there are over 100 missions where you'll have to mow down enemy forces and complete objectives. The game starts out mercifully enough with simple gunners and tiny predatory creatures, but soon ups the ante with giant robots and other enemies that require a bit of firepower to bring down. Thankfully, Mercenary Kings provides that in spades. There are over 300 different weapon types you can play around with, mixing up their effects for unpredictable results. Ever see a shotgun lay out suppressing fire with the same effect as a taser? In this game, you will--and it will be bloody. Your character can also be upgraded in a variety of ways thanks to bionics that can make you faster and more efficient at killing. These have to be earned by completing missions in the game, but you'll be thankful to have these skills down the road, especially when going up against the game's more tyrannical powerhouses.

Speak softly and carry a big gun

Although the opening levels may trick you into thinking otherwise, Mercenary Kings is a difficult game. While the gameplay consists of simple run-and-gun tactics, you'll have to think about how to approach every combat situation. You'll find yourself surrounded by enemies, and to make matters worse, some levels have time limits as well. Thankfully, multiplayer makes it much more doable. Up to four people can take part in co-op action, either online or off, and it's a blast. Sure, it can be easy to get lost in the action when everyone's jumping around and shooting, but you'll want to keep enlisting friends to see what the next team will do for you. Unfortunately, there's a bit of repetition. The game will force you to regularly revisit levels, even if you're taking on a whole new mission. There are also occasional bugs that get in the way--particularly with multiplayer match-ups

Expect lots of big bangs

Rookies may take a while to get used to the punishing conditions, especially with that clock. Still, Mercenary Kings has a lot to offer for classic shooter fans, whether they're taking matters into their own hands or enlisting a team. It's a charming retro throwback that does the genre proud. [7]
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game, available for free to PlayStation Plus subscribers. Mercenary Kings is also available now on PC. The game is rated M.