When Sony revealed the Vita, the inclusion of a second analog stick / nub had FPS fans drooling. Finally, it appeared, the industry’s most popular genre would be making a transition to the portable platform in full force. Now, roughly six months after the console’s launch, we are getting our first look at a true FPS designed specifically for the handheld market using traditional, dual-analog controls. Thanks to the work of Nihilistic Software, one of Sony’s most successful series from the PS3 is ushering in the FPS era to the Vita.
The series has made quite a name for itself over the past couple years on Sony’s main console but the question remains if the series can make the transition to the smaller platform and if the Vita is capable of delivering a true FPS experience. As it turns out, the answers to those questions come from opposite ends of the spectrum. While the game fails to deliver the same excellent storytelling and engulfing experience as the PS3 installments, it shows, without a shadow of doubt, that the Vita is technically capable of delivering the full FPS experience that gamers love and expect in today’s market.
It’s August 1951 and as New York fireman Tom Riley, your day begins just as any other on the job. Unfortunately, the events that will soon unfold are anything but “ordinary”. Dispatched on what he and his crew believed to be a routine fire emergency, Tom soon finds himself in the midst of the Chimera invasion that we have become all too familiar with in the previous games. Within a matter of minutes, Tom goes from being a public servant to a freedom fighter alongside a human resistance group fighting for the lives and freedom of both mankind and his family.
While the previous Resistance titles have been lauded for their character development and storytelling, Burning Skies won’t be earning any such accolades. The story is too brief and fails to create a connection between the player and the characters; it would be an understatement to say that it doesn’t live up to the standards of the PS3 games in that sense. You never get a chance to connect to any of the characters and things happen so quickly, that the entire game is over and done with before you have a chance to emotionally react to anything.
On one hand, that approach can be respected in a portable game where you want players to have the ability to get quick satisfaction from brief gameplay session(s). On the other hand, being that this is supposed to be a Resistance title, fans will expect and ultimately want more. Thankfully, there are a variety of large scale boss battles featured throughout the game that help to ramp the fun factor of the game immensely which counteracts this issue slightly. The resulting experience comes across as more of an arcade shooter than a story driven one, which is what people expect from a Resistance game. Sadly, the same lack of quality that brings down the game’s campaign also hinders the effectiveness of its multiplayer options. Once again, decent framework has been set up but not much was built on top of it.
As with any respective FPS offering, the game includes online multiplayer modes meant to extend the replay value of the title. It has all of the bells and whistles that you would expect in a modern shooter: experience and customization options, custom loadouts, and a variety of game modes; just like the story however, it all feels scaled down from what is expected from this series. All of the modes are limited to 4 on 4 matches and confined to 6 generic maps based visual on locales seen throughout the game. It all feels uninspired and simply tagged on as an afterthought; what should be the heart and soul of the game is nothing more than a generic proof of concept. This could have easily been so much more with expanded progression options and additional game types, not to mention the ability to join up with more than 8 total players. Also, as a multiplayer side note, 90% of the campaign focuses on you being accompanied by a partner. There isn’t any good reason why the same story couldn’t have been presented with cooperative multiplayer options, which would have at strengthened the overall experience a bit. Instead you are locked into the experience with an the game’s AI.
While the modes and content of the game leave a bit to be desired, Nihilistic has absolutely nailed the gameplay and control mechanics. The game feels and plays just like the rest of the series, complete with the weapon wheel used in the other games and the ability to upgrade a variety of weapons. Good usage is also made of the Vita’s unique features as well, including the usage of the screen’s touch abilities for secondary fire options with all of the weapons. Touch controls are also used to interact with the environment throughout the game for opening doors, throwing grenades and picking up / interacting with items.
The game feels like a full blown FPS thanks to the Vita’s dual analog nubs. They feel tight and ultra-responsive, perhaps even too responsive when you begin. It does take a little bit of time to get used to the smaller design used in the nubs, but before long it will feel as good as any other FPS game you have played. Despite the solid, technical foundation, the combination of the lackluster story and some glaring design issues prevent Burning Skies from living up to its full potential. Those design issues include an inability to replay individual levels following their completion; if you want to revisit a certain chapter to either collect any missed upgrades of collectible intel items, you will have to start the game over from the beginning.
Nihilistic did include the option to start a “New Game Plus” following completion of the story which allows you to replay the story on a difficulty level of your choosing with all of the weapons and upgrades that you acquired during your adventure. There isn’t really any reason to do this though as you can earn each and every trophy in the game, including a platinum, in a single play through on the normal difficulty level and a single online / multiplayer match. The experience is “one and done” and there is absolutely nothing that pushes you to do any more than that.
With all of that being said, Resistance: Burning Skies is an entertaining adventure and ultimately an adequate handheld offering but it pales in comparison to what this series has been capable of on the PlayStation 3. Technically speaking, it has more than enough potential but the content falls short of the mark. This is a nice, portable FPS game, but it is a poor excuse for an entry in the Resistance series. If nothing else, this is proof positive that the FPS genre has a future on the Vita and it does make me excited about the future. Hopefully Sony and other developers can take note of the groundwork laid here and build on it in the future.