Ever since Sony announced that the PS Vita would be equipped with a glorious two analog stick configuration, shooter fans everywhere let out a collective “f*ck yeah!” Finally, mobile gamers would have the ability to play first person shooters on a handheld the way that they were meant to be played. Sony figured what better way to usher in the portable FPS era than with an already popular franchise, and that’s exactly where Resistance: Burning Skies fits into this whole thing. So is it another launch window filler title or something that really helps to show off what the Vita can do? Read on to find out.
As any self respecting Resistance fan will tell you, the series is not only known for its gunplay but also its characters and story. Insomniac Games did the series a great service for the three games that it lasted on the PS3. Even Sony Bend added some of their own flair on the PSP with Resistance Retribution. Now, with Burning Skies we have Nihilistic Software at the helm, and well… remember that old saying “too many chefs spoil the soup”? It certainly seems to be the case here.
Burning Skies sits right in between the first two games and helps to show what was going on in New York City while Nathan Hale was en route to the US of A. The narrative opens up in the Port Richmond section of Staten Island, where firefighter Tom Riley and his fire company is lending a helping hand to the evacuation of New York City as the Chimera invasion begins to sweep across the eastern seaboard. During the melee, Tom briefly crosses paths with his wife and daughter who are en route to one of the local evacuation camps. A sudden change of plans forces Tom to now follow his family to safety (or so he thought) and instead he finds himself joining the local resistance (see what I did there) who are rescuing folks that were left behind and at the same time bringing the fight to the Chimera.
At first glance, the story in Burning Skies would seem to be passable for the series, and it had a real chance of being interesting. But the fact that you already know how it turns out by witnessing the devastation that takes place in New York City in Resistance 3, it kind of seems like all of Tom Riley’s efforts are pretty much all for nothing. Instead of playing into the desperation and survival aspect (like Insomniac’s previous Resistance titles often do) we get Riley, who is boring and flat and somehow manages to be a hero who steamrolls through the Chimera with ease unlike any protagonist the series had seen before him. One segment near the end of the title attempts to add some humanity to the character, but it’s so brief that you’ll forget about it within moments. The game tries to make you care about characters without giving a reason as to why you should even bother.
As if being a Resistance title wasn’t enough pressure, Burning Skies is also required to carry the torch (pun intended) of being the first dual analog first person shooter on a Sony handheld, well, handheld consoles in general, when you think about it. When you look at it as a first person shooter and only that, it actually rocks. Controls are tight and I can’t even lie that at times during my play-through it put a smile on my face that I was playing a shooter with the same controls I’ve become used to on my home consoles. It’s quite refreshing to finally know for sure that it can be done.
Unfortunately, the idea of being the “first” doesn’t always work to the game’s advantage. You see, for the first wave of Vita titles — especially anything coming directly from Sony and certianly in the case of Burning Skies — titles have to carry the brunt of showcasing what the hardware can do. What that translates into in regard to gameplay is forced and unnatural use of the Vita’s various bells and whistles just for the sake of being able to do it. It creates a subtle yet noticeable level of confusion in regards to what the title is trying to achieve. So here we are with this core experience with tight controls, then the game and its enemy A.I. is dumbed down in order to use gimmicky touch screen controls. Is it a core title or isn’t it? That’s a question that I don’t think even the team from Nihilistic can answer.
Presentation is another department that doesn’t live up to what fans of the series have become used to along the way. The larger, more intense moments do get a sprinkle of atmosphere with the inclusion of the game’s score playing in the background. Unfortunately, every other area of the game is filled with nothing but the sound of Tom Riley’s footsteps. Also, any and all pieces of narrative worth caring about only takes place in between levels and is presented in the typical and overly used motion comic book format; to make matters worse the video in which it’s presented is full of so many artifacts that it looks awful on the Vita’s otherwise gorgeous display.
The game does feature a multiplayer component, and it pretty much works as advertised. It tops out at eight players total and can be played in both small team and big team death-matches. Players have the ability to to take part in a generic free-for-all deathmatch, as well. For the most part, I hardly felt any noticeable lag (which is great for a handheld) and jumping in and out of games was a breeze. If there was a sour note with multiplayer it would be that presentation is what drags down the experience here as well, with nothing but the sounds of footsteps a gunfire dominating the audio.
All in all, Resistence: Burning Skies is more of a proof of concept than a game. It proves that the a first-person shooter can be done the right way on a handheld. As a “first” dual stick portable shooter it will knock the socks of most that have been searching for that kind of experience, but I’m not sure how long it will be before that novelty wears off, as there’s not much else here. If you’re looking for a quick five-hour romp and some voiceless online action, it may be worth a look. However, if you’re a long-time fan of the the Resistence series and you want to keep your memory of it untainted, you should probably sit this one out.