As a newcomer to the Playstation exclusive Resistance series I didn’t know what to expect from the latest instalment ‘Burning Skies‘ that is only on the PS Vita. I don’t know why I was never drawn to the series, I think it may have been the fact that it was set in the 50’s and the alternate history premise didn’t seem as interesting as other FPS titles such as the Call of Duty or Crysis games. The main reason I played Burning Skies is because I was itching to test drive the first FPS on the Vita. I thought that I would give it a try and see how long it would keep me interested but I ended up playing nothing else until I completed it so that should give you an idea of how much I enjoyed it.
As usual with this ape’s reviews, I’m going to start with a little background. The developers at Insomniac Games won several awards and broke sales records with the first instalment, Fall of Man, and they went on to further successes with Resistance 2 & 3. SCE Bend Studio who developed Resistance: Retribution for the PSP were also hugely successful, selling over 800,000 units and receiving excellent reviews for their work. Needless to say, the pressure was on Nihilistic Software when they took the reins for Resistance: Burning Skies and the fact that it’s the first ever FPS on a portable console that makes use of dual analog stick controls means that even more was expected of them. Did they grab the bull by the horns? Not exactly, but they got a firm grip of this monkeys nuts.
This review may contain a few spoilers, you have been warned.The game starts with the Chimera, an alien race hell bent on destroying us all, having invaded the East coast of the USA and effectively destroying New York which is where your friendly neighbourhood fireman Tom Riley enters as the game’s protagonist. The whole city is on fire and Tom is doing his best to rescue survivors from burning buildings, when his wife and daughter are captured by the Chimera and he is forced go on a mission to rescue them.
It sounds a bit cheesy and that’s because it is. It’s the traditional all American hero story but there’s a lot more to this game than a clichéd story line. First of all, the devastated New York city looks fantastic on the Vita screen. It starts off with some really, really impressive settings of familiar sites in ruins, including the Statue of Liberty which hasn’t been done since Planet of the Apes in 1968*, (* previous statement may not be true). It includes a level on the George Washington Bridge that is so good it will make you feel dizzy at certain points and a level set on Ellis island which is also very cool. Tom has to make his way through burning buildings that appear to be very realistic and there are a number of levels where entire buildings collapse and the confusion and destruction is superbly captured on the Vita.
Each level begins with a motion comic cut scene that is graphically impressive and hilariously done in the style of the propaganda movies from the 40’s and 50’s. The humour is sporadically added to throughout the game with announcements from the government coming across the wireless. My favourite was the announcement that there would be no more announcements because if they keep broadcasting, the Chimera might find them. One of the very early cut scenes shows a soldier getting his head blown clean off of his shoulders. I’m not certain that it was supposed to be funny, but this ape pissed himself laughing.
The sound is also very impressive. One particular level features a room sized meat grinder that Tom needs to escape from and the echoes of his voice off the metal walls sound completely real. I know because the last time I escaped from a meat grinder it sounded just like that. The level set on the George Washington bridge includes a section where an air strike is called in and the sound of the jets flying over head and firing their rockets is absolutely awesome.
Enough about the aesthetics, “Get to the Gameplay!” I hear you cry. I mentioned earlier in the article that I reckon Nihilistic were under pressure to deliver excellent controls because everyone is going on about this being the first portable FPS with dual analog sticks. Well, hats off to them, because they absolutely delivered superb gaming controls of the highest quality. The movement and control feel just as good as playing a regular console although the touch screen controls do take getting used to. For example, to throw a grenade you need to press the screen and if you use your thumb that means the control of an analog stick is lost momentarily. Unfortunately, that’s all it takes for a stinking Chimera to blow your head off, so you need to be get used to lobbing those grenades without sacrificing too much movement control.
Don’t get me wrong, the touch screen isn’t a gimmicky hindrance to gameplay. It just takes a little practice to get the hang of but when you do it absolutely enhances the control. For example, the touch screen can be used to control the trajectory of a grenade and it can also be used to steer an attack drone which is one of the secondary weapons that are available. This is a significant step forward in terms of control possibilities and I’m also looking forward to using the Vita as an enhanced controller for the PS3, but that’s an article for another day.
I have to say that the weapons selection in this game makes me want to break out the lube and indulge in some flying solo entertainment. My regular readers will know that I’m a little trigger happy and there’s nothing I enjoy more that a wide and varied selection of high powered weaponry to select from. Burning Skies does not disappoint on this front as the selection of imaginative guns is truly impressive. Two types of hand grenades, a couple of machine guns, a shotgun, a sniper rifle, a hunting rifle, a rocket launcher, a handheld machine gun turret and a gun with x-ray vision that shoots through walls until it hits flesh are among the available weapons. What makes it even better is that each weapon has a secondary feature that packs even more firepower and you get a brief training video explaining the secondary feature each time a new weapon is found. Weapons are easily selected from a user friendly on screen wheel option that pauses the game but it doesn’t slow down the action in an annoying way and it gives you plenty of time to select your death giver of choice. Perhaps my only criticisms are the unnecessarily complicated upgrade system and the fact that firing the secondary weapon requires a little too much touching of the screen and therefore loss of movement control. One secondary option actually requires both thumbs so when you’re setting that one up make sure there aren’t any Chimera close enough to get their claws into you.
For a lot of the missions you fight alongside a woman named Ellie who is a member of a militia group called the Minute Men that are battling the Chimera. She’s pretty hot stuff and if you ask me Tom seems to be a little distracted by this chick on his so called mission to save his wife. In one level he follows her up a ladder and stares at her ass and I guarantee his other half is the furthest thing from his mind. I reckon he was determined to rescue his daughter but he was happy enough to trade in his wife for the younger and more athletic Ellie. Which brings me nicely to my next point, that Ellie is incredibly fast. In fact, she’s so fast that she can be running behind you and when you enter a room she’s already there before you. The way she disappears and reappears is hardly a major criticism. It’s just a minor bug that doesn’t affect the gameplay at all but it is slightly amusing, for the wrong reasons.
The game is littered with dead bodies and there is often an accompanying letter or document. The letters are usually intended for a loved one and I have to admit that I read each one of them. They’re short so they’re not boring and they usually included a nice sentiment. Yes, there’s a big softie underneath this ape’s hairy exterior. The documents also reveal some interesting plot lines such as the fact that the government were setting up protection camps for humans where the camp population were controlled using gun turrets!
There are only a few variations of the Chimera themselves who are not all that exciting and show no personality. As enemies they’re not individually challenging but there are enough of them to make the game reasonably difficult. Occasionally, there are big end of level types but they are way too easy to kill with the exception of the very last guy who’s a real toughie. He killed me a bunch of times which brings me to another minor criticism. I had to walk through that long hallway and listen to that same conversation each time I was killed and I’m embarrassed to admit that it was enough times to make the frustration of being killed insignificant to the annoyance of that repeating conversation. It could drive you to drink…
The multiplayer options for Burning Skies are pretty standard with 6 maps on Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and Survival options for 4 to 8 players. There’s nothing overly exciting about that but that’s not the main issue. At the time of writing this there are serious issues with connecting to the server and it’s not just me. I’ve looked it up and people all over the world are having major issues with Multiplayer. When I do manage to get into a game it’s very enjoyable right up until the point when the connection is dropped and I fall out of the game. Damn frustrating but there are often teething problems with new game’s multiplayer options so I’m hoping this gets sorted out pronto. Gamers are finicky and unfaithful creatures and if another FPS comes along with a reliable multiplayer option it’ll quickly develop an online community and leave Burning Skies behind.
So where does all this leave us? You should be able to tell that I really enjoyed the game even though I’m aware of its issues. The superb controls are a clear indication that Nihilistic put a huge effort into the game mechanics and it really paid off. The graphics are also very impressive and it shows how much FPS action can be achieved on the size of the Vita screen. The storyline is not inspiring but to me that’s not a deal breaker as the gameplay more than makes up for it. The first of anything is never fantastic and the first FPS on the Vita is no different. It’s a solid game that will deliver a very enjoyable 8 hours or so of single player campaign and I’m hoping many more multiplayer hours when they sort out the connection issues. This game proves that quality FPS gaming can be achieved on the Vita and it sets a very good standard for the other titles coming down the line to work from. Now, where did I leave that tube…