Platforms: PS Vita
Developer: Nihilistic Software
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
With Insomniac Games now done with the Resistance franchise after three enjoyable (although not ground-breaking) games, the reins have been handed over to developers Nihilistic. The previous portable instalment, Resistance: Retribution, was one of the stand-out titles of the PSP’s catalogue, and now we are just over a month away from seeing if it manages to live up to the standard Sony Bend had previously produced. Switching up from Third-Person perspective to First-Person, it has already gained impressive referrals from the Dealspwn staff in the past, but I had yet to get my grubby mits on it. As such, I jumped at the chance when I was given the opportunity to enjoy the first three levels of the upcoming FPS ahead of its release in June.
The game puts the player in the shoes of Tom Riley, a New York City firefigher, mere minutes before the Chimera invasion hits America in the early stages of Resistance 2. Responding to a fire in a factory, Riley starts out the game with a fireman’s axe, which despite its simplicity is actually one of the more brutal weapons in the game when you line up with a Chimera at the right time of going in for the swing, but more on that later. The most important aspect we need to cover is how well the FPS action translates onto Sony’s handheld console, and I’m glad to report Nihilistic have managed to get the controls down incredibly well.
The standard setup of a console FPS is there, with everything from jumping and crouching, to reloading and iron sights assigned to the traditionally used buttons. However, due to a lack of clickable analog sticks and secondary shoulder buttons on the Vita, Nihilistic have been forced to utilize some alternative methods for the remaining controls such as Sprint. This can be done in two ways; by double tapping the rear trackpad or by pressing down on the d-pad. While it took me a little while to get used to it I actually found it quite intuitive as I continued my playthrough. Secondary fire for weapons is achieved in varying ways, but this is something I’ll cover in a little while.
After smashing down a few broken doors as I made my way through the burning building, it wasn’t long before I ran into my first Chimera, which happened to be a rather intimidating Longlegs. With only the axe at my disposal, I went in swinging at my enemy. Burning Skies provides two ways of utilising the melee attack, by either equipping the axe in your hands via the weapon wheel (once again brought up by holding triangle) or by pressing the axe icon on the right hand side of the touchscreen. The latter option allows players who which are currently holding a gun to quickly swing the axe and then return to their previous weapon, but regardless of how you go about it, if you line up the axe at the right time a rather brutal animation sequence will begin, some of which are just plain brutal.
Especially in the case of the Grims, but they clearly deserve the melee-based brutality for being so relentlessly horrifying.
Speaking of guns, it was at this point that I got hold of the Bullseye, one of the series’ classic guns, including its secondary fire, the tagging mechanism. This is achieved, like many of the other secondary fire modes, by the use of the touchscreen. Placing my finger down turned the game into a trippy version of Duck Hunt, slowing down the action as I manually targeted an enemy by dragging the circle over them and firing as soon as my finger the screen. While I will admit the process felt a little bit alien to me at first, I found it actually felt natural the more I used it. The secondary fire of the Auger, returning to make life hell for the other guy, is unleashed by simply swiping your thumbs away from each other from the centre of the screen, placing the protective shield in front of you. The Carbine’s grenade launcher works in a similar manner to the Bulleye; simply hold and drag your finger to your intended target and release for the fireworks. Grenades, located above the axe icon on the screen, also share this drag-and-drop feature. It’s simple, efficient, and makes great use of the Vita’s capabilities.
And for those worried about the lack of imaginative weapons due to Insomniac’s absence, don’t be. The Mule, a shotgun / napalm crossbow hybrid, is just delightful.
One feature I was not expecting but greatly welcomed was the cover system, which functions in a similar way to the recent Killzone games. Chest-high walls and boxes while crouching put me into protective cover, with the option of using iron sights to pop out for the shot. An ability to lean around corners also exists, assigned to the left and right D-pad buttons, but I felt the feature was a little redundant during my playthrough, although I fully recognise that at later stages on higher difficulties it could end up being the difference between victory or previous checkpoints. This brings me to how health is handled; regeneration. While continuity buffs might scoff at the idea of regeneration and a lack of health packs for an uninfected human, I can forgive the design choice after seeing how the game plays on higher difficulty settings. The game lured me into a false sense of security in the first level, ramping up the challenge for the second and third levels as the increasing waves of enemies descended upon me.
Towards the end of the first level I was introduced to my first piece of Grey Tech; glowing blue cubes that can be used to upgrade your arsenal. Going into a menu, each weapon has eight specific ways of being modified, from larger clip sizes to increased power of secondary abilities, and upgrading uses up the Grey Tech in your possession. The feature allows players to adapt their weapons to their play style, and there are many of these cubes hidden around the levels, along with as the usual scattering of Intel for completists to collect. However, within minutes of adding a scope to my Carbine I was up against my first boss, who charged at me relentlessly until I finally managed to defeat it. Without any gauge as to how I was doing it made life a little difficult, but my persistence soon prevailed. The second and third boss battles in my playthrough fared better in terms of visual indicators and variety, so I can only hope the scale increases as the levels continue.
From a technical standpoint, Burning Skies isn’t the pinnacle of presentation in the Vita’s gaming library, but shows strength in some areas. The shine and beauty of Uncharted: Golden Abyss isn’t there, but the attention to the little details, such as the writing on Riley’s fire axe, make up for this. The animations whilst in battle appear stiff, but fair far more naturally during cutscenes (especially facial expressions.) System performance remained consistent until an onslaught of Grims (no surprise there) but even when slowdown did materialise it didn’t destroyed the experience for me. Level design is incredibly linear, going down the corridor-room-rinse-repeat formula, but I felt the focus on story made up for this.
While it may not convince those new or dismissive of the series to jump into the Resistance franchise, the single player campaign definitely come up on the “fun” side of the gaming scale. Fans of the existing PS3 entries will no doubt get a kick out of returning to the Chimeran war, and what Unit 13 started in the push for FPS action on Sony’s handheld console, Nihilistic have almost certainly nailed down to prove that the Vita is perfectly capable of bringing gun-toting battles to its audience.
Resistance: Burning Skies releases on June 1st for the Playstation Vita.