When the PS Vita was announced gamers around the globe cheered as Sony finally decided to make a handheld with dual analog sticks. Unlike the PSP, which had a single analog nub, the Vita’s dual sticks screamed for a developer to make a FPS to demonstrate that the genre could finally be enjoyed on the go. To highlight this fact, Sony green-lit development of one of their first party franchises, Resistance, to showcase what an FPS can do on their new handhel. Resistance: Burning Skies, a game developed by Nihilistic, is on store shelves as we speak. So, the question remains, does this first FPS on the PS Vita deliver?
Burning Skies has you taking on the role of New York Firefighter Tom Reilly. You and your fire hall respond to what is seems like a routine fire call at the local power plang, but things take a turn for the worse as you come across an alien race in the facility, and once you finally exit you discover a full on invasion of some sort is taking place. Of course those familiar with the Resistance franchise will know that these aliens are the deadly Chimera, but for those new to the franchise, these aliens are hell-bent on global dominance during the 1950’s. The story takes place between Resistance: Fall of Man (PS3 – 2006) and Resistance 2 (PS3 – 2008). During the invasion Tom’s wife and child go missing, and your adventure takes you across various locales in New York in search of your family while assisting those that fight against the deadly Chimera.
What became quite evident to me as I was playing is that I did not find myself invested in the story. It did not “hook” me like the other games in the franchise that I have played on the PS3. Many of the cut-scenes that play in between levels didn’t seem to focus on Tom and the struggles he faced (e.g. emotional, physical, etc.) during his adventure. For someone that doesn’t know where his family is, or even if they are alive, the narrative does not communicate any feelings associated with such. It’s kind of sad as the story really had some promise, given the home console versions of previous Resistance games made you care more then that which unfolds in Burning Skies.
The majority of the game’s six levels, yes I said six, consist of going from point A to point B while completing various objectives along the way such as rescuing NPCs or defending an area from a Chimera onslaught. As the novelty of playing a dual stick FPS begins to wear off your trek through the game becomes somewhat monotonous. I found that by around the halfway mark I just didn’t have that “have to continue on” feeling that I get in some other FPS games on home consoles.
Part of the problem lies in the fact that you just go from section to section shooting at various Chimera and facing a boss-like enemy or two throughout each level. You know you are in for a standoff when you round a corner or enter a room and you see various items that you can use for cover (e.g. highway barriers, cars, strange walls, etc) that just scream “hide behind me”. This is the crux of the whole game, and after awhile you feel like you are just going through the motions.
Something that became evident during the various battles is that the computer AI is not as smart as in other Resistance games. They stand in one sport quite often and when they do make an attempt to advance towards you they take more direct routes then they should. Burning Skies tries to amp up the challenge now and then but it does this via the number of Chimera you face, as at times they keep on respawning and it can get somewhat crazy as you have to conserve your ammo with so many enemies to kill. As for the bosses, they are larger characters with very particular points of impact and strategy that you must do to take them down. They are not cheap in anyway, you just have to figure out the best way to kill them.
One of the biggest draws to Burning Skies is the fact that it controls like a true FPS, given the aforementioned dual analog sticks of the PS Vita. I have to say that as I started to play a slight grin came across my face as I was right at home moving around Burning Skies’ environments. Being able to play a FPS on a portable console is awesome, plain and simple. Although the control is awesome, there are still limitations; given there are only two shoulder buttons. This is where the touchscreen comes into play, as you use it for throwing grenades, using your fire axe, and completing some contextual moves (e.g. opening doors or hatches, picking up people to rescue, etc.). Although it can feel awkward at times, especially when you first start to play, it is quite doable and I found it a pretty neat implementation of the PS Vita’s touchscreen feature. You can even choose to double tap the back touchscreen to run (or press the bottom of the d-pad).
As I mentioned earlier, the Burning Skies is composed of six levels. You’ll find that gameplay will take you around six hours or so, which isn’t bad given how some of FPS titles on home consoles can be completed in this amount of time. As mentioned above, towards the end of it you may feel like you are just going through the motions to finish the game as some of the levels can drag out. For a game trying to show something new for FPS gamers on a portable console, this is not that good of a thing at all.
Burning Skies offers up some multiplayer madness for a total of 8 players using the PS Vita’s Infrastructure Mode (online). The game modes are limited to deathmatch, team deathmatch and survival. The latter is an “infection” like mode where each player becomes a Chimera, and the last man standing wins. Overall the online gameplay experience was mixed. I ran into some laggy games, some games where I could not connect, and then some “smooth as silk” games. The mixed experience was quite frustrating to say the least given that I never knew what I was going to get. As with most online games, as you play you earn EXP which in turn allows you to level up and unlock all the weapons that you use during the single player experience. It’s a nice little diversion from the single player mode as you play against other human beings.
Visually I found that Burning Skies was a mixed bag. There were times that I was pretty impressed with such things as lighting and special effects (e.g. explosions), but then there were those times that I just shook my head with the static backgrounds or barren rooms. For example, when I was making my way across the Washington Bridge in the third level, and I looked through a hole in the bridge surface, I could see the water down below as waves crashed, but during the same level I looked across the bridge out into the horizon and I saw a very static image of smoke and clouds which was somewhat distracting as it just looked out of place and took away from the visual experience. As for the enemies, their animations were adequate but the developers limited the amount of different types as there were not a large number of different ones. Even the boss-like enemies were just LARGE versions of Chimeras with special weapons. As for the overall environments themselves, they definitely had some great ideas, but in the end they just don’t seem to have the oomph to push you over the edge and be wowed by them.
In regards to Burning Skies audio, I was somewhat let down. The voice acting was not as good as I hoped. It did not convey any emotion or any drama which you especially given the situation that is supposed to be portrayed on screen. As for the music, it wasn’t that bad, when it played, but this was not as often as it should have been. For what it is worth, the music is fairly good when playing and I appreciated it, but I truly think there should have been more then what was there. Finally, sound effects are adequate. Guns manage to sound different but they don’t pack a punch. Explosions and other environmental sounds (e.g. flames burning, walking on different surfaces, etc) get the job done, but again, not in a lasting or overachieving fashion.
As I sit here writing my conclusion, I am at a cross roads for what to say. Resistance: Burning Skies manages to show how an FPS game can control on the PS Vita, and with that in mind, the game is good; however, the rest of the package is mediocre at best, with varying levels for visuals, average sound, and some underwhelming AI on both sides of the fence (adversaries and your own teammates). Sure, the addition of online multiplayer is nice, but it is not something that makes or breaks the game. In the end I have to say that Burning Skies is an average game that had so much more potential than the product that is now on store shelves. It does deserve a look if you are a diehard FPS fan looking for a true console experience on the Vita; however, all others who pick this up should be warned that there is more sizzle than there is steak.