We were spoiled with the PlayStation Vita’s launch lineup. There were casual games, beautifully translated fighters, sports powerhouses, epic adventures and not one, but two different ninja games. Are we wrong to want more? Of course not. We’re gamers. That’s what we do. We always demand more.

One gaping hole in the library was obvious, though. Where was the shooter? Resistance missed the launch, Activision didn’t pump out a Call of Duty and there wasn’t even a Killzone title to kick things off. Thankfully, Zipper Interactive (of SOCOM fame) decided to step up with a brand new IP. Unit 13 is a game that wouldn’t work on anything other than a portable console, and it’s clear that the driving goal of the design was quick burst action with tight, satisfying gunplay.

Those guys you can shoot.

There’s very little story to speak of. You are a new member of Unit 13, a NATO squad of culturally diverse, highly specialized soldiers tasked with eliminating terrorist threats. Aaaaaaaaand… that’s it. Missions appear in the form of a 9×4 grid. As you complete missions, you’ll unlock the operations adjacent to it. You don’t need to take things in numerical order, but you might want to.

Missions on the grid come in four flavors, spanning nine different engagement zones. Direct Action missions are object based affairs that have you completing an assortment of tasks like sabotaging equipment, freeing hostages or collecting intelligence. Deadline engagements put you on the clock as you rush from checkpoint to checkpoint, taking out the opposition. Covert missions require you to accomplish your task without triggering an alarm. The most difficult are the Elite tasks, which turn off your health regeneration, only allowing you to recover at set locations on the map.

This guy is a bad enough dude to save the President... which you don't get to do in Unit 13.

When you pick a level, you’ll get a brief voice over from your handler, a recommendation on which of the six operatives to play as and the opportunity to change your load out. You’ll carry a primary weapon like an assault rifle, shotgun or light machine gun; a pistol, which can be modified with a scope and barrel attachment; and an explosive. Each of the soldiers has different specialties that amount to extra experience for specific actions. For instance, Ringo (the Infiltrator) gets a stealth kill bonus and Alabama (the Marksman) gets a long-range kill bonus. Each is also rated on health, regeneration, speed, stealth and ammo capacity. It’s usually a good idea to heed the game’s recommendation.

When you reach the extraction point at the end of each mission, you’ll bank your accumulated experience points, which are earned from kills, accomplishing objectives and other operative-specific bonuses. Earn enough experience and you’ll level up, unlocking new weapons, added experience boosts, faster reloads and new equipment for the entire team. You’ll also receive a rating from one to five stars. These serve two purposes. First, if you manage to complete the mission with at least three stars, you’ll unlock the Dynamic version of the map. Here, the objectives are randomized which adds to the replay value. Second, as you accumulate stars, you’ll unlock High Value Target missions. These are ultra-challenging engagements that task you with assassinating a key terrorist.

Each of the missions is extremely brief, lasting anywhere from two to ten minutes. It’s perfectly bite-sized, which is a credit to Zipper’s understanding of why people have handheld systems. Of course, the game isn’t without its usage of the Vita’s unique features. Thankfully, it isn’t in the least bit gimmicky. The touch screen is smartly used in all but one circumstance. For reloading, tossing grenades and context-sensitive interactions, I couldn’t be happier with the implementation. Picking up weapons off the ground by moving your thumb quickly off the right stick is intuitive. The game’s cover system and, particularly, the vaulting is clunky. First, I found myself detaching from cover all too frequently, often by accident. Additionally, I didn’t understand why I couldn’t vault low walls by using a combination of the cover button and a push of the left thumbstick forward. It works in Uncharted: Golden Abyss and it should work here. Having to use the touch screen to vault was something I never got used to.

If only the cover mechanic worked better.

Of course, the game does offer another layer once you’ve exhausted your enjoyment of the single player missions and HVT engagements. You can take your game online in two-player cooperative missions. Here, things work nearly the same way except for a few changes. There are no checkpoints, you can revive your teammate and due to what I imagine are technical limitations, there are walls that restrain you from moving too far apart. I didn’t get very much time in with the multiplayer because the game kept dropping me for me no reason. This, along with more than a couple of crashes, makes it hard to recommend Unit 13 until there is a patch that deals with network issues and overall stability.

The presentation of the game leaves a bit to be desired. Visually, the game is passable. The animations are more advanced than we saw on the PSP with enemies stumbling and crawling for cover and shouting out your location. The AI doesn’t quite keep up, though. For a game that offers cover as a strategy, the AI doesn’t like to play ball. They often run right up to you and either unload into you until you die or get blasted through the back of the face by a lucky shot. In these instances, I never felt like I detached from cover fast enough, which left me scratching my head given all of the other issues I had with cover. The sound effects are largely gunfire and explosions, with little music to speak of. Again, these are standard fare and didn’t do anything to impress me.

Bring a friend... if the multiplayer is working.

Overall, Unit 13 is a strong first effort that is more than a little flawed. It’s approach to portable gaming is perfect and it’s promise for the future of traditional shooters on the system makes it worth at least playing the demo. If you absolutely must have a shooter that takes advantage of the Vita’s second stick, by all means, you could do much worse than Unit 13. Unfortunately, with it’s frequent crashes, suicidal AI and rough multiplayer, it’s simply impossible to give the game an unqualified recommendation right now.

 

Here’s the Rundown:

+ Perfect design for on-the-go play
+ Shows great promise for future Zipper Interactive titles and other shooters
+ Multiplayer allows you to shoot terrorists with a friend, but…
- The multiplayer isn’t terribly stable right now
- The cover mechanic is sticky when you don’t want it to be and loose when you do
- The artificial intelligence isn’t particularly intelligent

6 and 6.5 represent a game that doesn’t do anything spectacular or drastically fails to meet the high expectations people had for it. These scores are for games that you would only recommend to diehard fans of the series or genre, something that the average gamer wouldn’t miss very much if he/she skipped it. A game in this range has rental written all over it.

Unit 13 was developed by Zipper Interactive and published by SCEA for PS Vita. The game was released in North America on March 6, 2012 with an MSRP of $39.99. The copy used in this review was provided to RipTen by the publisher for the purposes of review.