While it has never received the same level of commercial recognition, Resistance is Sony’s answer to Microsoft’s ubiquitous first-party Halo franchise, and arguably is a much stronger series at its core. While Microsoft seem content to keep Master Chief in rather staid surroundings, Resistance has proven itself to date as nothing if not a progressive and iterative first-person shooter series, consistently upping the ante as it moved towards its pinnacle in last year’s third chapter.
It therefore makes sense that Sony would want to push forward its most accomplished shooter onto the PS Vita – the first FPS to demonstrate the capabilities of the handheld’s snazzy dual analogue controls, along with all those other lavish bells and whistles grafted to every inconvenient inch of the device.
And for the most part it works. The PS Vita is more than adequate when it comes down to offering an intuitive grip on first-person gunplay, enabling accuracy and control that’s just shy of equalling its console counterpart. Nevertheless, the Vita being the multifaceted everything-and-the-kitchen-sink device that it is, developer Nihilistic Software has decided to shoehorn unnecessary (but not wholly unexpected) gestures into gameplay to such an extreme that it often detracts from the otherwise accomplished FPS mechanics.
As inconsequential as it sounds, opening doors is a total nuisance. If you tap just outside of the highlighted zone or find yourself shy of the trigger area then you’re likely to unload an explosive shell from your secondary ammunition. It’s the result of the clunky and inconsiderate implementation of the touch screen; exactly how it expects players to use two fingers to swipe in opposite directions to form a shield while maintaining control of the player character is baffling – a less frustrating solution would be to map gestures to the rear touchpad, but this feature of the console has been outright ignored by the developer. Which is a shame, because with some careful consideration to the overall interplay between design elements, Resistance: Burning Skies could have been more than just a decent first-person shooter.
Wisely it doesn’t try to compete with the main entries in the series to date. It may be founded on contemporary first-person tropes but Resistance: Burning Skies feels more akin to something from the PC in the late Nineties (which as far as backhanded complements go is pretty chafing). Where this tone benefits Burning Skies is in the intense focus on hefty guns, brawny enemies and pacing, all of which was present in the series before, but here both aesthetically and in tone owes more to Half-Life than Resistance 3.
But where this works against the portable spin-off is in scope – it feels distinctly limited. And while it is stuffed with exciting ideas, it can’t hide the fact it is the least ambitious entry to date. Most of the game is confined to grimy corridors of some scientific facility, filled with the same enemies, so any excuse to get out in the open feels positively liberating as you head into the final stretch of the game’s seven-or-so hour campaign.
For the majority of the time, though, the game is exceptionally paced. You’re never lingering too long in one location, always springing to the next objective, or hurried urgently along as the invasion slowly cripples the unsuspecting American pie Fifties town. The story isn’t interesting in the slightest (small-town fireman searching for family, kills aliens and uncovers government secret) but it doesn’t impede the flow of gameplay either (a healthy choice both for a portable title and a first-person shooter). Instead, it maintains this pace by introducing new weapons and upgrades, both staggered exquisitely, becoming available to the player at precisely the right moment to sustain interest and drive momentum.
There are only eight firearms in the game, which, admittedly, doesn’t sound hugely inspiring. And while Nihilistic has cribbed the majority of these weapons from previous instalments, there’s enough diversity in terms of power and functionality that stomps out any strong urge to preference one over another. Secondary fire functions in much the same barmy way as players have come to expect in the series thus far; explosive-tipped arrows, remote control drones and remote detonated mines just a few of the explosive-skewed deadly ammunition Burning Skies packs.
But the game runs out of ideas as it reaches the final few chapters. It not only becomes increasingly repetitive as it nears the climax but also puts a significant strain on players’ patience as Nihilistic injects enemies with a higher HP and more powerful weapons, rather than finding a more engaging way to challenge players. It’s a jarring difficulty spike that almost undermines everything the game has so far accomplished as it impressively leaps from one set-piece to the next.
There’s also a problem with visibility. For a game designed on a portable console, several segments of the game (including the majority of the opening mission) are set in dark corridors, making it almost impossible to see where you are going unless you happen to be playing in pitch-black surroundings. What is otherwise an exciting, action-packed first-person shooter that showcases the hardware’s potential is let down all too often by similar minutiae offences.
Ultimately, it’s a make-or-break game for Sony’s handheld. If you can ignore its faults there’s an above-average first-person shooter with interesting ideas, and as the inaugural FPS on the console it confirms that a fulfilling and comprehensive experience in the genre can be produced. That game isn’t Resistance but it’s a positive outlook for the future of Vita.