When the PSP was first released, many gamers thought they could finally play console-like shooters on the go. However, it didn’t take long for the limitations of the system to shine through. As a result, I was cautious in my approach to Resistance: Burning Skies on the PlayStation Vita – and perhaps that’s why I found it somewhat satisfying, even given its own limitations.
I can say straight off the bat that we finally do have a handheld system capable of a satisfying FPS experience. The addition of the second analogue stick on the Vita seems to be all that was required, and at its most basic, Burning Skies is able to show the potential of the system – but little more, unfortunately.
Continuing on in the Resistance universe popularised on PlayStation 3, you play as Tom Riley, a US firefighter caught up in the Chimera invasion of the East Coast. Story wise, it’s pretty standard fare – you are separated from your family and spend most of the game trying to track them down. While this does provide some impetus to proceed from point to point, some of the decisions the character makes over the course of the game are strange at the very least – it seems he deliberately separates himself from his family early in the title, and somewhere around the middle, he puts himself directly in harm’s way to save a bunch of strangers. Perhaps these decisions appeal to his firefighting sensibilities, but they don’t seem like the choices of a father desperate to find his family.
In fact, there are quite a few strange aspects of the story, particularly around a supporting character named Ellie – it’s never really made clear who she is and where she comes from, but she seems to have a lot of clout within the resistance. Further, she also seems to understand EVERYTHING – not only does she give you pointers throughout the game, even though you both thrown into the same unknown situation, but at one point she knows EXACTLY what to do with an alien technology that she comes across for the very first time. It just doesn’t make sense.
The simple, (mostly) straightforward storyline also means that this title is extremely linear. Even if you TRY to take a different path, you won’t get anywhere. It’s a little frustrating – and it really makes the jump button feel useless. It could have been added as a function of the “Reload/Action” button, and the developers (Nihlistic Software) could have freed up a button for other uses… which leads on to the inevitable discussion about the controls.
For the most part, the Vita is laid out in a similar fashion to a dual shock controller; however, there are some glaring omissions – namely the left and right trigger buttons, and clickable thumbsticks. What this means is that four hard inputs need to be mapped elsewhere… To the touchscreens, of course! But it just doesn’t work. For example, to initiate sprint, you need to double tap the rear touchscreen. This isn’t terribly difficult to do, but when you’re in the thick of things, it’s a huge pain. Further, secondary weapons are mapped to the front touchscreen, meaning players need to hold the Vita with one hand while trying to pinpoint with an index finger. It works, but it’s clumsy and can result in taking undeserved damage.
Some touchscreen abilities DO work, though. At first, you’re asked to drag grenades from the side of the screen to a specific location – in this way, you can select where to place thrown targets. This is somewhat annoying, but soon you learn that you can simply tap the grenade icon, and a grenade will be thrown at the location of the reticule. This works perfectly – as does the icon for a melee attack (which, incidentally, is a firefighter’s axe).
What this demonstrates to me is that there IS a great future for FPS titles on the Vita – Burning Skies just didn’t quite provide the killer app that was required initially. I guess with all the special weapons that are generally a staple of the Resistance series, more buttons are required than are available – perhaps other titles won’t have the same restrictions.
I do hope, however, that other titles DO far exceed Burning Skies in another area, though – graphics. While note completely terrible (and occasionally quite impressive), Burning Skies looks like it would be more at home on the PSP. Considering some aspects of the title look great (the final battle for example), other areas are a complete letdown (such as the bland environment immediately AFTER the final battle). It may well be that the team simply ran out of time given the title was intended as launch window.
Burning Skies also includes online competitive multiplayer, following the usual Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch conventions. A Network Pass is included with retail and download copies, but those that rent or try second hand may be letdown by this requirement. While nothing genre-breaking, at the very least there is some real hope for the future, in regards to the recently announced Call of Duty: Declassified, in particular.
And that last point really sums things up nicely. As much as I actually enjoyed the shooting mechanics of the title, it’s bland storyline and linear maps left me wanting more. The clumsy controls took some getting used to, and the visuals left a lot to be desired, but overall Resistance: Burning Skies is an enjoyable title, which really demonstrates the potential for FPS games on the PlayStation Vita. Perhaps not a must-buy if you are after a great handheld shooter, but a worthy purchase if you’re happy with an OK one.