Resistance: Burning Skies Review
Game: Resistance: Falling Skies
Developer: Nihilistic Software
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Available on: PlayStation Vita Only
When we first clapped eyes on the Vita, the first thing going through our geeky minds was the possibilities offered by a handheld that was the first to offer two true analogue sticks in the same manner as a grown up console controller. The PSP had its strange sliding nub, and the ability to produce a bastardised version of the twin set up using attachments that covered the face buttons, but this seldom produced anywhere near the same levels of control required, something which I can remember being particularly frustrated by when playing the otherwise excellent PSP Katamari Damacy incarnation. The 3DS offers a dubious and unwieldy attachment too but the sleek Vita comes fully loaded straight out of the box. What this means is that the OLED-screened beauty is capable of hosting first person shooters; a genre which sells by the bucketload to PC and grown up console gamers.
Resistance is SCE’s flagship FPS franchise, and one which has delivered three highly entertaining instalments for the PlayStation 3 to date, as well as an admirable third person offering for the PSP. Sony have given the reigns to Nihilistic Software to pop the handheld gaming world’s FPS cherry. In the past the developers have been responsible for some real turkeys as well as some sundry film and superhero tie-ins. Could the Californians put their shady past behind them, and come up with a game to boost flagging Vita sales, and show the world that it is eminently able to offer true first-person gameplay on the move?
STORY: The Resistance series tells the story of an alternate post-war history, with the world under attack from the rampaging, malevolent Chimera, an alien race who have invaded Earth, capturing humans and transforming them into terrifying soldiers to carry out their nasty extra-terrestrial plans. Burning Skies focuses on a spin-off story, and places you in the shoes of heroic firefighter Tom Riley, who finds himself caught up in all manner of doo-doo in the midst of the Chimeran invasion of America’s East coast. His wife and daughter are missing, and in hunting them down he becomes embroiled in the exploits of a group of freedom fighters, who discover a sinister, and completely insane plot involving mad scientists and all manner of nasty experimental goings-on that may or may not have involved input from the United States Government. Riley is a true American hero, and over the course of the six lengthy sorties he kicks some serious alien behind, even employing their own gruesome technologies to do so. That and a sodding big fire axe.
GRAPHICS: Visually, Burning Skies is something of a mixed bag. The many different types of Chimera look fantastic and are superbly animated, coming at you in their myriad of horrific forms, and looking superb even when within fire axe range. There are some awesome bosses, some of which fill the screen, as well as some delightfully grotesque mid-level mayors which will make you pebbledash your grundies as they slither towards you. The weapons also look top banana, the guns floating around the bottom of the screen are intricate wonders, particularly the alien hardware, kitted out with cool flashy lights, bells and whistles. Some of the backdrops and settings can seem a bit samey, with a palette of greys and browns, possibly to be expected given the grim apocalyptic setting. However, there are some excellent set pieces, particularly the stonking level set upon a huge, crumbling bridge, which sees you having to climb and jump your way to safety whilst picking off alien scum. Some of the NPC human characters look a bit odd – Riley’s daughter in particular has the look of a Bioshock Little Sister about her – and I found that the explosion effects and the way enemies behave when they are dispatched, a little unsatisfying. For example, ripping through a foe with a railgun should produce a cracking visceral burst of blood and entrails, however, here the enemies just disintegrate into a few nondescript red blobs before disappearing.
Levels are bookended by some great WWII propaganda-style cinematic cutscenes and while they set the scene well, when continuing a saved game, the game forces you to sit through whichever cutscene precedes the level in which you are re-entering the fray; every single time.
SOUND: Nihilistic have done a grand job in the sonic stakes, with brooding, increasingly urgent cinematic scores accompanying the action, in a manner which reminded me of the classic musical accompaniment to DreamWorks’ seminal Medal of Honor for the original PlayStation. The sound effects are also fabulous, with each of the grand array of weapons at your disposal given unique, satisfying sounds, some killer explosions, and excellently cheesy voice acting throughout. I also loved the way the Chimera are represented, each of them given their own unique guttural sounds, indicatating when they are about to appear.
GAMEPLAY: Burning Skies follows the time-honoured FPS template of working your way through the linear environments, with a few minimal puzzles and tasks to complete, and bosses at the end of each stage. Variety is added by the excellent choice of weapons on offer, each of which have a secondary attack function. There are eight weapons available, all with dual functionality, as well as a fire axe melee weapon. Some of the guns return from previous Resistance outings, with a few newies entering the mix, such as the Mule – a kind of crossbow/shotgun hybrid which works particularly well in close range. All of the weapons in your arsenal can be upgraded when you find Chimeran technology – hidden in the levels in the form of curious blue cubes – which allow you to change your loadout by applying up to two upgrades at any one time to each weapon, one for each cube you discover. There are 48 hidden cubes, giving you a huge amount of tweaks and loadouts to play with. These can range from increasing your ammo clip or secondary weapon stocks, to giving increased rate of fire or less recoil. It is an excellent system which allows you to customise your weaponry for any given situation.
Control-wise, I cannot knock Nihilistic, they have made highly effective use of the hardware, with only a couple of niggles. The twin sticks work just as well as I thought they would. The touch screen is employed in many ways, including opening doors, pressing switches and picking up items. The triangle button brings up a weapons wheel, which you can touch or highlight using the left stick in order to quickly swap weapons. All of the secondary functions are operated using the touchscreen, with in-game guides handily demonstrating how to do so. If you are using the classic Carbine automatic rifle, simply tapping a target will operate the grenade launcher attachment. The Bullseye weapon, which can tag enemies and lock onto them, works by simply touching enemies to tag them. The Mule can be loaded with incendiary ammunition by just drawing your finger in a diagonal motion across the screen. Grenades, of which there are two main types, can be thrown by simply dragging your finger from the onscreen icon to where you want to throw it. The melee side of things is neatly accessed by just tapping the fire axe icon on screen.
My main issue was that occasionally you will accidentally brush the screen and set off a secondary weapon in error, something which happens rarely but can often result in disaster, particularly if you let fly with the grenade launcher when you are just trying to open a door.
LONGEVITY: With six lengthy levels in the single player mode, the option to play at three different difficulty levels, and a New Game+ mode which allows you to begin the whole adventure again with the weapon technology you have discovered, this is a meaty campaign that offers a decent challenge. The Trophies are, in fairness, quite easy to unlock and I had nailed all of them on my first runthrough. Checkpoints are generous and it is a perfect game to play in bite-sized chunks, if you can forgive the daft manner in which you have to endure the cutscenes every time you fire the game up.
MULTIPLAYER: Considering this is a handheld game, the multiplayer actually shames some of its console counterparts, with up to eight player multiplayer, across six selectable maps, with Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and Survival modes, all of which allow you to gain XP to upgrade weapons or your character. XP is unlocked not only by winning matches, but by the novel idea of infecting other players via Sony’s Near app. This is seriously impressive stuff, and bodes well for the future of handheld FPS multiplayer.
VERDICT: Small issues aside, this is as good an opening FPS salvo as you could wish for on the PlayStation Vita. Nihilistic have presented an excellent single player campaign, a host of online modes and some excellent use of the touchscreen and GPS capabilities of the console. The Vita is a superb console that can genuinely deliver a console gaming experience on the move. Lets hope that the likes of Activision and 2K Games take notice of what has been achieved here and take the handheld FPS to even greater heights in the future.