Sunday, October 07, 2012

Resistance: Burning Skies (PlayStation Vita) Review

Last Spring, Sony Computer Entertainment made gaming history by publishing the first portable first person shooter to ever use dual analogue sticks.  Yes, I'm talking about the PlayStation Vita exclusive title, Resistance: Burning Skies, which boasts true console-style control in portable form.

The implications of this are completely huge.  While there's many shooters available on other portable platforms, such as iOS, many complain that the controls in these games simply aren't up to snuff, and the prospect of having a piece of hardware with native dual sticks to allow precision control is extremely appealing.  The PlayStation Vita also packs some solid internal hardware, allowing developers to craft a truly beautiful and immersive experience.

Resistance: Burning Skies features a full single player Campaign spread across six Chapters, as well as online Multiplayer via the PlayStation Network which supports up to eight Players over three different game modes.  This all adds up to the perfect recipe for a solid portable shooter and the inaugural portable title to use dual sticks, which leaves me with just one question:  What went wrong?

The game is set at the very beginning of the Chimeran invasion of the United States, and players take on the role of Tom Riley, a firefighter and national guardsman who gets caught up in the chaos while simply trying to protect his family.  Along the way, Tom ends up playing a major role in the beginnings of the resistance as he meets Ellie, a militia leader, and works with her and the Minutemen to aid other survivors and the military.  Overall this sounds like a pretty solid premise and the building blocks are all there, but at the end of the day Nihilistic Software makes some really odd design decisions that really hold the title back.

The big thing Resistance: Burning Skies has going for it is the controls, as the PlayStation Vita sports dual analogue sticks.  Overall, they get the job done well and the player can move and look around with ease, but there's other control hitches that keep the experience from being perfectly smooth.  The analogue sticks don't double up as buttons like on a console Controller, so Nihilistic Software had to find other methods of working all the standard controls in.  Basically, the breakdown is as follows:

- Left Stick = Move
- Right Stick = Look
- Right Bumper = Fire
- Left Bumper = Aim Down Sites/Zoom in with Scope
- Square = Reload
- Triangle = Swap Weapons/Bring up the Weapon Wheel (when held)
- X = Jump
- Circle = Crouch
- Select = Grey Tech
- Down on the D-Pad = Sprint (The player can also double tap the rear touch screen)
- Weapon Alternate Fire = Touch Screen (Motion varies by weapon)
- Melee = Touch Screen Button
- Frag Grenade = Touch Screen Button
- Hedgehog Grenade = Touch Screen Button

Just taking a look at the above, this all seems pretty straightforward and logical, but in actual practice it doesn't work as solidly as it should.  For example, adjust your grip on your PlayStation Vita and the game may recognize this as double tapping the rear Touch Pad, which will cause you to start Sprinting.  Die and load your last Checkpoint and the game conveniently forgets what you set as your secondary weapon, forcing you to hold Triangle and reselect from the weapon wheel which has a negative affect on the overall pacing of the Campaign.

The Touch Screen can also be extremely finicky.  The game has Intel Items scattered about the levels which you collect by holding them to pick them up, but if you accidentally just tap instead of actually holding, you'll use your weapon's Alternate Fire and waste some ammo.  You also open doors and pick up Ammo and Grey Tech by touching and holding them, which can lead to the same accidental Alternate Fire use if you're not careful.  While not the end of the world it added some needless aggravation to the game, and really, there's no reason you couldn't just pick up at least Ammo and Grey Tech by simply running over them.  This makes some of the game's Touchscreen use feel extremely gimmicky.

Another odd thing worth mentioning with Sprinting is that when Tom runs out of stamina (there's no metre to judge when this will happen), unlike every other shooter character out there who slows down to a walk Tom simply stops dead in his tracks, forcing you to release the Left Stick and re-press it upwards to keep moving.  If you're trying to run for your life or to get to cover this delay in fluid movement could see you loading your last Checkpoint.

Speaking of cover, the game does have a cover system but it's horribly clunky and unreliable.  You take cover by approaching a wall and moving into it, but this doesn't always work.  When it does you can aim around the cover or peak out as per normal, but the game features some odd clipping issues where shots can sometimes penetrate through the edges of cover (and I'm not talking about the Auger which is designed to do this) rendering it pretty useless to the point where I barely used it.

Visually, the game doesn't look as horrible as many pro-reviews have criticized it for, but it doesn't look jaw dropping either.  Some levels, textures, and character models look spot on, others look lower quality and faded.  Tom and his family look pretty good for a portable title, and Ellie and her resistance fighters look pretty solid as well, but random civilians tend to look less sharp and impressive.  The Chimera all look pretty solid though, and weapons and weapon effects look great.  Interestingly, while the PlayStation Vita can take screenshots at any time by pressing the PS Button and Start, Resistance: Burning Skies disables this handheld's feature.

The game's voice acting is okay, it gets the job done and isn't horrible but it's nothing to write home about.  The sound effects used in the game are very good and feel right, and the musical score is actually really, really nice when it's playing but there's long periods in the game which has no music at all, which I just found extremely odd.

In terms of the actual gameplay and enemy AI, to be perfectly honest it all felt extremely old school to me.  Most of the time Tom enters a room, several Chimera storm in, and you shoot them up pretty good allowing you to move to the next room and repeat.  The Chimera do take cover and move about, but not to any amazing extent.  Ellie also follows Tom around for much of the Campaign, and while she provides some decent fire support (she actually killed the Chapter 1 boss for me) her AI is really lackluster.  She'll often just stop and not catch up to you for a while, or she'll annoyingly rush ahead triggering a wave of enemies which is rather inconsistent and annoying.  Throughout most of the game, I actually felt like I was playing a late '90's shooter with early 2000's graphics, which isn't a horrible thing for a nostalgia trip but I'd expect better from a showcase piece like this.

It's a shame the game's save system wasn't solid and retro though.  Resistance: Burning Skies uses the single most annoying Checkpoint save system I've ever seen.  This is a portable shooter, meaning I might only be able to play it for about 20 minutes at a time, but the Checkpoint system clearly wasn't designed with this in mind.  The Campaign isn't long at only six Chapters, but it took me roughly double what it should have because it takes forever to reach an actual Checkpoint, and I had to abandon my game on many occasions before making it to one.  This means there were times when I played the same several battles a dozen times simply because I couldn't reach a save point, which was tedious and extremely frustrating.  What's ironic is the game saves ever time you pick up an Intel Item or Grey Tech or whatever, but it simply saves your character progress and not your actual place in the game.  Every time you boot up the game to you're also forced to watch the Chapters low compression quality cinematic as it loads the level, and while this is more interesting than a basic load screen with tips popping up, it got annoying seeing the same video dozens of times.  Clearly when designing much of the game Nihilistic Software failed to take into account how portable the platform is meant to be.

As I mentioned above, Resistance: Burning Skies features online Multiplayer for up to eight players in three game modes, Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Survivor.  The first two modes are pretty self explanatory and Survivor is like Infection from the Halo franchise.  One person starts as a Chimera and every time he kills someone they respawn as Chimera.  You can also set up three different Loadouts to choose from and as you complete games and earn XP you level up, allowing you to get additional weapon upgrades and the like.

Sadly though, it takes a bit to find a game unless you use the "All Modes" option, giving you the broadest pool to try and find games in.  Most players left online have been playing for a while so new players will struggle as they get killed easily until they can finally start getting some decent upgrades.  When a match ends too the entire game seems to freeze for several seconds while it tabulates experience and score, which I also found annoying.

At the end of the day Resistance: Burning Skies isn't a horrible game, but it's not a great one either.  There's definitely some fun to be had here in either single or Multiplayer, but the game's design is extremely inconsistent and it really has a "rushed" feel to it.  To sum it up, it's a basic, mediocre shooter that shows us glimpses of what solid portable first person shooters could be like if they were developed with more care and polish.

There's no way I can recommend the game at full retail price, but as a bargain bin title (which I picked it up at), you'll get some fun out of it and you'll also boost your PlayStation Network Level very easily as all the game's Trophies can be earned in a single playthrough and one match of Multiplayer.  It's such as shame though as Resistance: Burning Skies could have been so much more, it really could have been the defining game for this fledgling platform, but instead it ends up being a pretty forgettable more-of-the-same shooter with flashes of greatness muddled by poor design decisions.

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