Resistance: Burning Skies, the new first-person shooter for the PlayStation Vita, has received mediocre reviews in the gaming press almost across the board.
However, despite my own complaints with the game, I suggest that potential buyers who are at all curious about the Vita's premier FPS ignore those reviews and try the free demo, which can be downloaded from the PlayStation Network.
Your enjoyment of the game is likely to depend on your expectations and experiences.
To understand why, you need to know a bit about the Vita, which launched in February. It's the first portable system to have two analog joysticks, which are required for effective controls in a FPS. One stick moves your character forward, backward, left and right; the other looks in all directions. All attempts to replicate this control scheme on previous portable systems — using buttons, sliders and touch screens — have, frankly, stunk.
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Burning Skies was supposed to herald a new era of portable gaming simply by including a control scheme that isn't a mess. In that respect, it succeeded; moving and shooting is easy, comfortable and nearly identical to shooters on home consoles such as the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. That alone makes Burning Skies the best portable first-person shooter in history.
However, it isn't just controls that have plagued portable shooters. Shooters on hand-held devices — iPhone, Nintendo DS and PlayStation Portable — typically suffer from vastly lower production values than their console brethren, and that problem, sadly, is prevalent in Burning Skies. I think people expected the game to rival PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 shooters in every way, but it just isn't so. The graphics aren't as good as they should be, the sound is laughably subpar, the enemies are predictable, the story is bland, and level progression is overly linear.
So my verdict is this: If you're used to playing shooters on the DS and PSP, Burning Skies is the revelation you've been waiting for. If you typically play first-person shooters on PS3 and Xbox 360 — a more likely scenario for any self-respecting gamer — be prepared to sacrifice much compared to Call of Duty, Killzone and Halo.
How does it stack up on its own, comparisons be darned? In this gamer's opinion, it's a resounding "meh."
Burning Skies puts you on auto-pilot: walk around, pick up guns, shoot bad guys, zone out during boring cut scenes, repeat. Thanks to the Vita's controls, Burning Skies isn't a total waste, and the gameplay can be fun. However, the best shooting mechanics in the world mean nothing to me without a decent story, and Burning Skies' story is just shy of decent.
You play as Tom Riley, a firefighter who takes up arms against the Chimera alien race that sets about conquering Earth while the human race is preoccupied with World War II. The game takes place in New York on the first day of the Chimeran invasion of the United States, after the fall of Europe.
It's a unique setting, but weak characters and poor pacing plague the story.
That said, you can't rate a first-person shooter without discussing its multiplayer component, and thankfully, Burning Skies continues the series' tradition of having better multiplayer than single-player.
In a world of über-realistic military shooters, Resistance multiplayer has always been a chaotic good time. It reminds me of playing Quake 3: Arena with my buddies in high school. Multiplayer in Burning Skies very nearly lives up to its predecessors.
Finding games on PlayStation Network is quick and easy, and the gameplay is satisfying when going head-to-head with others. As you progress, you unlock new abilities to make your weapons more powerful, adding a sense of accomplishment to completing matches.
I have one complaint with multiplayer, and it is big enough to very nearly ruin the game for me. At issue is the Mule, a hybrid of a double-barrel shotgun and a crossbow that fires an explosive bolt.
Maybe I just need more practice, but I have found no way to defend against anybody toting this monster. A high- level Mule seems to be a one-hit kill from mid- to close range, and the small maps are situated so it's hard to see someone before they're close enough to Mule you in the face.
I have played entire matches in which I was the only player using a weapon other than the Mule, and subsequently, I was only player in last place. I suppose I could have switched to the Mule and stood a chance competitively, but it's the principle of the thing. The best multiplayer games give you a wide variety of weapons and strategies, so having only one viable weapon seems to be a severe oversight on the part of Burning Skies' programmers.
In the few matches I've played that weren't dominated by Mule-toting jerks, the multiplayer was fun enough to make the game worth the purchase price, even if you never touch the single-player.