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For many people Resistance: Burning Skies is the type of game they bought their PsVita for. A twin stick shooter with next gen graphics, a meaty story campaign and ranked online multiplayer. It took a while to show up, but Resistance promises to live up to all the Vita's pre-release hype. So, how well does it fulfil that promise? It's something of a mixed bag.
Burning Skies is set between Resistance 1 and Resistance 2. The series portrays an alternate version of the 1950s in which the Earth is besieged by an alien virus that transforms people into a monstrous race known as "The Chimera." Initially confined to Europe, they travelled overseas by Resistance 2. This title explores their initial invasion of the United States from the perspective of Tom Riley, a firefighter. Tom becomes separated from his family in the initial attack and must try and rescue them while crossing paths with the army, a resistance group and a shady government agency. Isn't it always the way?
The story isn't really anything special. The characters all have something of a B-list feel that is common on handheld spinoffs. It's not bad, by any stretch, but the game never lets you forget that you're enjoying a side dish that only hints at the delicious main course it accompanies. Still, it does feature quite a large range of characters that are all fully animated and voice acted so it does deliver on the whole "big budget game in your pocket" angle. There are also some nice retro style animated cutscenes that move the story along and fit in nicely with the series' 50s aesthetic. The problem isn't so much the people, but that the game never really takes you anywhere very interesting. This was something of an issue on the PS3 titles where the only setting was "Ruined Buildings," but here the buildings aren't even that ruined yet. It's mostly a very red brick incarnation of America's east coast. Even the Chimera's buildings don't seem as alien as they used to. Part of this is technical limitations, but there's definitely a lack of inspiration in the design.
From a gameplay perspective, Resistance is a game of two very distinct halves. The core gameplay is tried and tested, solid as a rock First Person Shooter. Walk with the left stick, look with the right, fire with the shoulder buttons. Once you're used to holding the Vita in your hands, you're good to go. This is where the game really shines because so much of the console's identity is centred around having two sticks. In the run up to release, Sony seemed to be shouting from the rooftops that First Person Shooters could now be enjoyed on the bus, in the bath or discreetly in meetings. Unfortunately, the console didn't launch with any. We did have Uncharted which was gorgeous but lagged terribly. Now Resistance is here and we can finally experience it for ourselves. Is it an earth shattering revelation? No. It's exactly the opposite. It's comfortable, familiar and as natural as a home console, which is everything it needs to be. The game also features a generous amount of weapons, both Human and Chimera that have their strengths and weaknesses, all work well with the game's core shooting mechanics, which is quite an achievement for a handheld.
Then we have the other side of the coin which is, to say the least, problematic. The basic shooting mechanics needed to be solid, and they are, but Resistance is a popular series with its own game mechanics that need to be included for an authentic experience. One of the hallmarks of the series is its quirky weaponry. Every gun in the game has two modes of fire. This can be as simple as a rifle that also fires grenades, or something more colourful. For example, one of the Chimera weapons can fire like a normal machine gun. Alternatively, you can fire a homing tag and it rapidly fires bullets that will track down your target. On the PS3 this is no issue, the control features four shoulder buttons which is more than enough. The Vita only has two and they're both already used for aim and fire. Inevitably, the secondary fire functions end up being mapped to the touch controls. This wouldn't be so bad, the instead of asking the user to simply tap the front or back in place of pressing a button, the game forces you to do something more complex. In the case of the homing gun, you are required to hold your finger down on the touch screen, then hover over the enemy you want to target. It's not that complicated, sure, but the game get's pretty fast paced and it's a slightly fiddly function that is very different to the main controls. Most weapons involve something like this and it creates an irritating disconnect in the game every time you do it. In the end it's easier to just rely on the primary fire and forget about the more interesting options. It makes for a less charismatic game, but it's much smoother to play.
Visually, Resistance is effective but not impressive. It doesn't look as stunning as Uncharted or Virtua Tennis, the Vita's two finest titles by far. It even seems to suffer in comparison to more stylised games like Little Deviants, but it's generally on a par with my expectations for Vita games so far. It runs at less than native resolution, which gives it a soft look and the visuals certainly aren't helped by the grimy style of it all. There were times when I wasn't sure if something was supposed to look smudgy intentionally or I was looking at a dodgy texture. It lacks the wow factor of the best Vita titles, but it still knocks the socks of a 3DS, PSP or Wii title. The character and enemy models are all decent, well animated and detailed. The first shot of the game sees you driving through the streets on the back of a fire engine and it looks shockingly bad, but once you get to the interior sets where you'll spend most of the game, it really doesn't look that different to the first Resistance game. As time goes on, I have a feeling Resistance will probably look worse in comparison to the latest Vita games, but we're still in the handheld's first year and it's hard not to be impressed by everything it is doing right.
Sound design is pretty nice on this title too. As I said before, it features full voice acting, and it also has a decent but forgettable soundtrack to accompany things. It's a lot of fun through a pair of headphones and sounds pretty clean and exciting through the console's own speakers too.
Lastly, I'd like to give a brief review of the multiplayer. I can't speak at length as I generally prefer to play the single player campaigns but I have tested it out and played it for a little while. To access the multiplayer you need to activate a code in the box, or buy a pass if you bought the game second hand. I still don't like this attack on the used game market, but I seem to be in the minority and so they're still getting away with it. The multiplayer is the usual, derivative setup you get on all shooters now. There are deathmatch, team deathmatch, free for all options etc. which is pretty standard. Gameplay seems to be identical online. I never had any trouble finding matches, nor did I have disconnection problems or lag.
Overall, I liked Resistance: Burning Skies. I enjoy this series and while this particular entry won't blow you away, it's a nice way of returning to franchise for a little while. Gameplay is solid when it comes to basic shooting, but suffers a bit when it tries to get more sophisticated. It works, but it's never quite as natural as I would have liked. The story isn't bad but is largely forgettable and the graphics are clean and functional but never really impressive. It's not the best title the system has to offer and for a first part title with such a big budget, it does feel a bit B-list, but it works and it's fun.