One of the biggest challenges facing the PS Vita handheld is its ability to work with first-person shooters. The addition of a second analogue stick -and they are proper sticks now instead of nubs- is an important leap forwards from the original PSP and from our hand-on experience it’s a challenge the device and developers are already relishing.
Nihilistic are bringing the Resistance series to the handheld market for the first time in FPS form, after the third-person adventures of Retribution. The improvements are instantly noticeable, making the console’s 2012 arrival seem very far away for everyone outside of Japan.
In Resistance: Burning Skies, you play as a New York firefighter. The game takes place just before Resistance 2, during the early stages of the Chimeran invasion of America’s East coast, New York specifically during our demo. Producer Frank Simon said: “We really wanted to give it the experience of what it would be like to be a normal average person going about your lives when the Chimera suddenly attack the east coast of the United States.”
The level begins with you waking up on Ellis Island, a top-secret research facility during the war. The Chimera are attacking to retrieve research material the humans have obtained from stolen Chimera technology. The first weapon we get to try is the fireman’s axe, which can be manually selected either from the weapon wheel or with an instinctive tap of an onscreen icon for an instant attack. Stealth kills make an appearance too if you can sneak up on any hybrid troops, which is how you obtain your first gun too. After arming up you make your way through the island, trying to find other people to come up with a plan. The current plan being shoot the face off anything with more than two eyes.
“On the weapons side we’re really trying to get all the weapons that are favourites of the fans of the Resistance universe. But we’ve given them a little twist with the Vita’s alternate fire modes” – Producer, Frank Simon.
Secondary fire is one of the series’ key functions, despite most modern shooters shamefully abandoning it or relegating it to a d-pad press to change a weapon’s function. Burning Skies gets around the lack of the Vita’s secondary shoulder buttons by using the touch-screen. The best example of which was sweeping a line across multiple enemies to lock-on multiple rocket attacks. It feels intuitive and whets the appetite for other weapons next time we play the game. It would seem that Insomniac’s love of weaponry has been passed on to the Nihilistic team too.
Some weapons like the sniper rifle, will allow you to tilt the Vita for aiming which can add an extra layer of immersion. It was a little difficult to get to grips with during our hands-on, but mainly because of the thick power/security cable attached to the device hampering manoeuvrability.
The biggest weapon we saw was the chain gun, firing devastatingly quick and powerful rounds from a rotating barrel that takes time to gather its violent momentum. We’ll also get a few brand new weapons in the game such as a Chimera weapon that fires glass shards. We’ll presume every hybrid soldier out there accidentally shot one off in their own face to give them their good looks.
The amount of optional auto-aim is similar to that you would find on the PS3 games, there’s no need to dumb things down with the game as the new second analogue stick gives you better aiming than we’ve ever seen on a handheld device.
Tapping the screen results in a super accurate grenade throw. Or you can make a sweeping motion to your target while keeping your finger pressed to the screen. You can even cook the grenades to time when you want them to detonate, a handy on-screen timer lets you know when it’s going to blow.
The weapon wheel works better than ever on the Vita as you can bring it up on screen and then tap the weapon you want. This can work better than the analogue sticks, which even on PS3 can occasionally pick the wrong weapon if you’re not careful.
Getting into cover is as simple as pressing the crouch button when you see an onscreen icon when you’re near a low wall. It works well and I never had to shuffle around waiting for the icon to appear while getting my face shot off. Firing from cover is even simpler, just hold L for your iron sights and you’ll be prepared to defend yourself and return fire at will. When you want to leave all you have to do is back up or stand up. The AI display console-familiar tactics like staying in cover and trying to flank you. Thankfully, you can still shoot the yellow packs on an enemy’s back to cause them to overheat and blow up; it’s good to see the familiar smaller details making the cut too.
There’s a new spider drone enemy with a high-intensity laser, which fortunately for us at this time was concentrated on a wall as it tried to breach the facility. A few grenades and chain gun rounds later and we dumped him from his water-tower perch in a pile of destruction. With the series having plenty of large boss fights along the way, we’re sure Burning Skies won’t disappoint either.
Nihilistic said, “You can tell, even though this isn’t the final version that we’re not really having to compromise on the graphical front. The Vita is able to do all the same shaders, volumetric effects and texture effects.” We’d have to agree the game is looking great so far. Admittedly, the Chimera models don’t appear to contain as much detail as the environments themselves, but this is a work in progress.
I found the Vita to be very capable of handling an FPS. The analogue sticks are smaller than those on a DualShock, but they are raised enough to make a difference and your thumbs won’t slip off them. Even the shoulder buttons feel comfortable, despite my initial reservations (before playing) that their curved design would mean a lack of grip.
When talking about the Vita itself and the vital addition of the second analogue stick not to mention the improvement of the stick design, Frank Simon said, “From the developer’s perspective, it’s like the platform was designed for first-person shooters.”
As the most dominant genre on modern consoles, we’d have to agree. If FPS games can make a home on the PS Vita, there’s every chance it could become a huge success and considering Bioshock and Killzone games are in the works already, we’re sure it won’t be long before Call of Duty and Battlefield want a piece too.