I don’t want to be here right now. By now, you know that we on the site are fans of the PlayStation Vita mainly due to potential. The hardware is great, and it has some pretty decent titles, but not nearly enough. We know it can do better, and whenever a new title releases, our hopes are high. Well, now the premiere PlayStation first-person shooter franchise has made its transition to the handheld, and if anything can get hopes soaring, it’s the Resistance name. Unfortunately, that’s about all that links this game to the phenomenal trilogy that graced the PlayStation 3.
Insomniac Games sat this one out, and publisher Sony Computer Entertainment passed development on to Nihilistic Software. Any who know the studio may have been slightly apprehensive upon hearing this: the studio hasn’t had the greatest successes. Its first title, the cult favourite RPG Vampire: The Masquerade – Redemption, is, to date, the only title they’ve had any success with. They developed the poorly received Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects, the God of War knock-off Conan, the unimaginative downloadable twin-stick shooter Zombie Apocalypse, and last year’s uninspired PlayStation Move Heroes. As much as we wanted Resistance: Burning Skies to break the mould of relative mediocrity, it’s only marginally better than the studio’s other efforts.
Let me now counter-balance all of that by saying that Resistance: Burning Skies is not a ‘bad’ game. It’s just underwhelming and disappointing. In another circumstance, it may have fared better, but bearing the Resistance name brings with it certain expectations that Burning Skies just can’t meet in most cases.
Its story is probably one of the best examples of this. You play as Tom Riley, a New York firefighter who, while on a routine call to a burning warehouse, gets thrust into the middle of the Chimeran invasion of North America. Your initial motivation is to reunite with your wife and daughter, who you send off to join a refugee camp in the moments after the invasion begins, but later on, you end up caught up in matters a little more severe than the survival of your family.
Everything about the story smacks of abruptness. Tom joining the resistance, sending his family off without him, because for some reason he is compelled to try and hold off the invasion, even though he’s just a firefighter. Later story elements that I can’t talk about, because I think they may be spoilers, never come off as the plot twists they seem to be intended as. It all happens so fast, and with little or no explanation as to why. I can’t trace the progress of the story that had me go from New York in the first mission to where I was in the last: it just didn’t stick.
The NPCs are also uninspired, and leave you even more disconnected with the story. This is particularly obvious in the moments where the game attempts to use the ‘father-searching-for-wife-and-daughter’ setup to tug at your heartstrings. I just didn’t develop any emotional connection to the characters. Resistance 3 did a much better job with a similar theme, managing to develop a connection between the player and Capelli’s wife and son early on. In Burning Skies, however, the only NPC I can really recall is Ellie, and that’s only because she’s prevalent throughout most of the game. The rest seem insubstantial and totally inconsequential to the plot.
This isn’t helped by the poor quality of the character models. After seeing Uncharted: Golden Abyss, I know that the Vita is capable of extremely attractive visuals, but Burning Skies just lacks them. The character faces are pinched and ugly, and the colours actually rather dull. I won’t dig at the graphics too much, as they’re one of less important aspects of reviewing a title, but suffice it to say, they were disappointing.
That’s also compounded somewhat by the unimaginative level design. The Resistance series has always had firefights in pretty interesting locales, and quite often they use wide open areas to great effect. Burning Skies never hits that calibre: it has you moving through constricted areas: ruined streets, collapsed buildings, and corridor after corridor throughout the entire game. There are a few moments that almost feel like classic Resistance, but for the most part, they’re just extremely forgettable.
On the subject of ‘classic Resistance,’ though, the weapons are familiar, but still creative, and the weapon wheel makes its return, just as functional as it was on the console versions. Burning Skies adds a little more with Grey Tech – glowing blue cubes that are scattered throughout the levels. You can use Gray Tech to add upgrades: longer effective range, larger clips, etc., to your weapons. New Game +, unlocked after you complete the game, allows you to start a new game with the Grey Tech you’ve already collected carried over. It’s a nice touch, though it really doesn’t add much. You can only have two equipped for each weapon, one red (main function), and one blue (secondary firing mode), and after your first run-through, you’ll probably have the pairing you like equipped on each weapon.
Where the weapons do fall a little flat is in the secondary functions. The series’ trope has always been alternate firing modes for each weapon you collect. In Burning Skies, these alternate firing modes are relegated to touch screen functions. Some require taps, other swipes, but the problem is none of it works very well. It’s more than possible to tap accidentally, and letting go with one hand in the middle of a gun fight to swipe just doesn’t flow well.
This break in flow will either be helped or hindered by the enemy AI, depending on the fight you’re in. The Chimera are crack shots: you’re going to get hit after poking your head out of cover, no matter what. Sometimes, they display the slightest hint of intelligence, and they’ll drop grenades or flank to flush you out of cover. Other times, though, they’ll run around aimlessly, or just remain in cover until you pick them off. It’s a weird inconsistency, and if they’re having one of their smart moments, breaking flow is going to get you killed, so I found that I rarely used the secondary functions for the weapons.
The functions that have you tapping just the side of the screen – to toss grenades or use Riley’s axe – work all right because those on-screen icons are close enough to the Vita’s face buttons that they don’t require any break in action to use. The only other touch screen action, double-tapping the rear screen to sprint, works fine, but the alternate control, down on the d-pad, feels quite a bit more natural. Overall, the addition of touch controls feels unnecessary: not shoehorned in, per say, but definitely obligatory.
There is multiplayer, but I’ll admit right now that I didn’t spend very much time with it. There’s a lot of talk about how the Vita has the potential to offer a console experience on the go, but this is a good example of when that might not be the most desirable option. Resistance: Burning Skies has a multiplayer that is built like a scaled down console multiplayer. There are three modes: Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Survival – where you have to avoid becoming infected (being killed by a player on the Chimeran team), and in order to win, at least one human has to be alive by the end of the match.
The multiplayer is functional, but I can’t see very many people spending a whole lot of time with a Wi-Fi only multiplayer that feels like it belongs on a console when it’s not on a console. If you’re travelling, you’re not always going to be able to get a Wi-Fi connection, and if you’re not travelling, you’re not going to bother with a scaled down multiplayer.
This may sound odd to some, but one of my biggest grievances with the game is that Nihilistic added regenerating health to the mix. Resistance has always featured medkits, which is refreshing when moving from a shooter like Call of Duty. Burning Skies, though, disappointingly eschews that. Given the rather lacklustre AI, anything that would have added a little more strategy to the game would have been welcome, but unfortunately, the only strategy you really need is finding a spot where the Chimera can’t shoot you, and waiting for the red to fade from your screen.
Resistance: Burning Skies is not a bad shooter. As the first true handheld FPS, it’s actually quite adequate. But the fact that it bears the Resistance name and that it doesn’t fully utilize the power of the Vita take away from what it does manage to accomplish. Poor level design, a simplistic and uninspired story, and a lack of any really memorable firefights make this a title you should pick up only if you’re a huge shooter fan, or are absolutely dying for a new game for your Vita.
Here’s the Rundown:
+ Completely functional handheld first-person shooter
+ Creative weapons from the consoles make a return
+ Grey Tech is a nice idea
- Story is completely lacklustre
- Extremely poor level design
- No real memorable moments
- Just doesn’t feel like a Resistance game
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.
Resistance: Burning Skies was developed by Nihilistic Software and published by Sony Computer Entertainment. The game is a PlayStation Vita exclusive with an MSRP of $39.99, and was released on May 29th, 2012. A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for the purposes of review.