Platforms: PS Vita
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
We appear to be approaching a second wave of Vita releases at the moment, and in this salvo comes the much anticipated Burning Skies. The debut of the Resistance franchise on the Vita arrives without the franchise creators Insomniac at the helm, who have since moved on to other projects. Enter Nihilistic, the developers behind Playstation Move Heroes, to pick up the torch and run with it. With the previous handheld instalment Retribution being one of the PSP’s standout titles, and the Vita needing to show it can handle a FPS game, to say there are expectations to be met is a slight understatement.
The story setup for the single player is fairly run of the mill: New York fire-fighter Tom Riley gets caught up in the Chimeran invasion of America at the start of Resistance 2, and takes it to the enemy with his fireman’s axe. After being separated from his wife and daughter, he joins up with the Minutemen, a group of resistance fighters who knew the Chimera war machine was coming, and after a few rounds of helping them out, fights his way to his family. There are additional plot points throughout the game that tie into the expanded universe, but the important thing is that you’re going to be killing Chimera. Big Chimera, small Chimera, even bigger Chimera. Basically, lots of Chimera.
However, here comes the big question. Is it the FPS the Vita has been waiting for?
When it comes to controls, Burning Skies gets it spot on in my opinion, and I actually found the aiming to be more responsive than Uncharted: Golden Abyss. Anyone who has played a Resistance game on the PS3 (or any console FPS over the last decade) will be able to pick up a Vita and know what to do for the most part. Primary fire and iron sights are designated to the shoulder buttons, X jumps, Square reloads, Circle crouches, and Triangle brings up the weapon wheel. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Vita title without the use of its extra contraptions, but I felt their implementation was done in a commendable manner. Sprint can activated by double tapping the rear track pad or by pressing down on the D-pad, and melee attacks, along with alternative fire modes, are activated by using the touch screen.
The way the touchscreen is used is thankfully not too intrusive on the action, and actually makes sense in terms of mechanics. Melee attacks (which are brutal when they connect) can be done by either tapping an enemy when they are in range or by using the Axe icon on the right side of the screen. Grenades can be lobbed by tapping their icon or aimed by dragging the icon onto the screen. This slows the down the action to provide a chance to aim your throw, which is then performed by releasing your finger from the screen. Alternate fire modes also make sense, with the Bullseye tagging system having you manually tap an enemy to tag it like some sort of Duck Hunt mini-game, and the Auger’s shield drop activated by swiping your thumbs away from each other. The only exception of this not being intuitive is the rocket launcher, which just felt like a chore to lock targets for.
An upgrade system is also in place by collecting Grey Tech that is scattered throughout the levels. These glowing blue cubes can be spent to unlock mods for your weapons, such as a scope for the Carbine rifle or allowing three shots from an Auger at once. Six upgrades exist for each firearm and are split into two categories, which mean that you can only have two mods active at one time. This provides a level of choice for players, but also ensures the player doesn’t become too overpowered. However, as players are able to change mods on the fly, there isn’t too much of an issue in that regard.
While the controls and customisation are well done, the sad truth is that the same can’t be said of other aspects of the game. For instance, Falling Skies isn’t the best looking game on the system, lacking the shine of Golden Abyss, but the general style is presentable and works as a whole. You could understand this choice if it meant performance was improved, but Burning Skies suffers from horrid frame rate stutters when large amount of enemies appear on screen (making the Grim’s Zerg-esque rush a horrible experience for all involved.) Add to this dead Chimera vanishing seconds after killing them, and NPCs warping around the levels, and it all starts to add up. These are issues that should not be present in what is supposed to be a flagship title. That’s not to say everything is bad about the presentation. I actually thought the NPC expressions in cutscenes were very good, but the fact they don’t translate to in-game at all (ie. mouths don’t move when they are speaking) was severely off-putting.
That said, the body-gibbing in Burning Skies is rather gruesome, and as mentioned before, melee animations are satisfyingly brutal. The Steelheads in particular get a rather painful end from the axe.
The level design does nothing adventurous, sticking with a corridor shooter than leads players from one arena to the next, with the occasional and fairly obvious side-room that contain collectable intel. Then there’s the enemy AI; a mixed bag that swings between predictable and downright sneaky. Difficulty seemed to shoot up and down far too sporadically as well, leading to unforeseen ends and highlighted the occasionally poor checkpoint system (the one before the final boss being a horrendous placement.) A lack of any visual indicator for all boss battles (bar the last one) to know how well you are doing was disappointing as well, leaving players will no option to but to hope the next well placed shot is the one that finishes the job.
The single player campaign doesn’t appear to last that long, as I was able to get through the game on the hardest difficulty setting in a day’s worth of playtime. It doesn’t help that the storyline, while interlaced with the occasional good line and competent voice acting, didn’t manage to engage me as much as the developers would have liked it to. I will commend the effort to keep the game within the confines of the lore of the series though, with radio broadcaster Henry Stillman included in proceedings to add a sense of familiarity for fans.
Of course, the single player component isn’t all that is available, as Multiplayer modes are also on hand, even if they don’t necessarily offer anything new. Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch are there in small 4-player modes or large 6-8 player modes that translate well if feel a little underwhelming in comparison to their home console counterparts. Survival mode offers something Retribution players may be familiar with, pitting 3 human players against a single Chimeran player. Like a virtual version of British Bulldog with guns, if the Chimeran lands a kill, the fallen player joins their side and attempts to kill the remaining humans, who must try and survive for 5 minutes to win the match. It’s an interesting take but much like the rest of the modes feels a little too small in scope. Kills transfer into XP which unlocks new gun and mods, but I worry that there isn’t enough here for long term commitment to the game, especially with no clan or grouping capabilities.
It’s a shame that I have to say this, because I’m a fan of the Resistance series who has enjoyed the adventures of Hale, Capelli, and Mason, but ultimately Burning Skies hasn’t lived up to the expectations we had for it. It is by no means a bad game, and it demonstrates that an FPS could be done extremely well on the Vita, but overall it is a missed opportunity that Sony will be kicking themselves over. Resistance fans may get some enjoyment out of returning to the apocalyptic alternate history of the series, but it’s a feeling that will not last.
- Control mechanics translate extremely well with use of the touchscreens.
- Upgrade system allows for variation in weapon loadouts.
- Evidence that the FPS genre can make the jump to the Vita.
- Performance issues haunt the experience.
- Short and linear single player campaign.
- Replayability is lacking across the board.
The Short Version: What should have been the spearhead of Sony’s second rush of Vita games has ultimately been pushed out the door before it was ready. The control scheme is spot on, but cannot conceal the flaws that exist elsewhere in the game. If you are really desperate for a portable FPS experience this should do the job, but Burning Skies cannot be recommended as a full-price purchase.