Ever since the PlayStation Vita was shown to have dual analog sticks, the gaming community at large was frothing at the mouth for a chance to play a fully functional FPS on the go, and with Resistance: Burning Skies, we finally have the first of what I hope is a long line of shooters available on the Vita. As expected, being the first fully-fledged portable FPS, the game is not without its flaws, but that's not to say it's unenjoyable; in fact, I quite liked it and, in some ways, found its shortcomings charming.
The Resistance series has a tendency to utilize a wide range of creative weaponry and a unique version of the 1950s, but Burning Skies can be most aptly described as generic; aside from the weapons and setting there's really nothing to make it stand out from the crowd. That said, I don't think it's fair to assume that generic automatically means poor or lacklustre. Some of the best games throughout history do little to innovate or stray far from established formula, especially in the FPS genre, and Burning Skies is a solid if unspectacular example and a commendable first try on the Vita, doubly so when you consider the liberal use of the touch screen and functional online multiplayer.
If you've played any of the previous Resistance games, you know precisely what to expect when it comes to the story; nothing more, nothing less. This time you play as Alex Riley, a firefighter who's on duty doing a routine house call when the chimera attack America. In the ensuing chaos, his wife and daughter are taken away in a military convoy and you set off on a cross country trek to rescue them and do as much damage to the chimera as you can on the way, slowly unveiling more about the enemy and a conspiracy surrounding them as you go, all told with painterly animated cutscenes in between levels with 50s style voiceover. It's nothing new, but at this point, playing a Resistance game that wasn't the typical hero's journey against an oppressive force would be like a Mario game where you don't save the princess, which would just be weird. There's nothing new or revolutionary here, but it's all on par with the storytelling and narrative of most FPS games of the last few years, and even features some particularly powerful scenes near the end.
The story may not be original or creative, but the entire game has been put together with the kind of polish and care you'd expect. The score is reasonably chilling when it needs to be chilling or bombastic when it needs to be energetic, the voice acting is consistently effective, and the sound effects are good even though the gunshots sound like cap guns rather than assault rifles. The graphics, while not up to par with Uncharted: Golden Abyss, are easily some of the best we've seen on the Vita to date, and the animations are spot on. Visually, special mention goes out to fire effects and lip sync; I don't know why those two aspects of the game stand out to me, but they are both quite good throughout. Overall, Burning Skies is precisely what you'd expect it to be: not as good looking as high-end games like Call of Duty, or even the phenomenally atmospheric Resistance 3, but a damn good effort and one of the best looking and performing games on the Vita to date. It even performs flawlessly while playing online with 7 other players; no lag or glitches to be seen.
I admit, when I first put my hands on my Vita, I was worried the analog sticks wouldn't be sensitive enough to work properly with the tweak-based controls needed to properly enjoy an FPS to its fullest extent. After only an hour with Resistance: Burning Skies, all worries will fade away and you will find yourself comfortably enjoying the controls. Most of them, anyways. The analog sticks and buttons all work flawlessly, but the touch controls (which are heavily encouraged) are hit-or miss, and the game fails to utilize the motion controls for more precise shooting. Due to the fact that the analogs lack a click feature, actions like running or crouching are assigned to other functions, and in this game running requires double-tapping the rear touch screen, which is easily the most cumbersome feature the game has to offer, making running sections a real pain.
The vita's lack of R2 or L2 buttons, combined with the FPS genre's tendency to give every weapon a secondary fire could have been a problem, but the Vita's Touch screen is remarkably versatile, and I like how the game gives you classic film-reel style instructions on how to use each weapon's alternate functions. Every single weapon's alternate fire utilizes the touch screen in one way or another, whether it's simply tapping where you want to launch a grenade or cocking a weapon such as the hunter to use the explosive bolts while firing rather than the shotgun shells. While the basics of the game are pretty simple, the implementation of the touch screen to take full advantage of the series' creative weaponry is nothing short of fantastic.
Burning Skies employs an upgrade system that allows you to modify your weapons however you see fit. Throughout the game you find little blue cubes strewn about the levels that you can use to purchase one upgrade on one weapon. Each weapon has 6 distinct upgrades, split between red and blue categories, and each weapon can equip one blue upgrade and one red upgrade at a time. Take, for example, the mauler gatling gun, which has a secondary fire that has unlimited ammo and is deadly at short range, but which requires charging up. I chose to make the weapon lightweight and give the heat-blast a speedy charge, effectively nullifying its only vices.
It's not the most challenging or original game around, but it's very satisfying to play thanks to its arcadey-feeling classic style. Rather than shooting your way through one expertly rendered event after another, you're fighting through areas filled with enemies just so you can get to the next area filled with enemies or defending your position. There are some Fireman-related rescue missions where you have to axe open a door or carry someone from a burning/collapsing building, but for the most part it's just a simple, arcade-style shooter that succeeds at what it intends to succeed at. Resistance has always been at its best when catering to the old-school gamers like myself; I like having 8 creative weapons on my person at all times, allowing me to choose how I beat each area; I like having an actual health bar; and I like fighting hideous bosses with glowing weak points. The only real problem is that, unlike Resistance 1 and 3, you have 'regenerating health', which I'm not particularly fond of.
The entire campaign is 6 levels long, and each of those levels takes just a little over an hour to complete, resulting in about 8 hours of gameplay total. I played it on its hardest difficulty, so I probably died more than I should have, but that's a pretty adequate length for a modern FPS title, and can be extended if you're interested in finding all of the hidden upgrade cubes and pieces of intel. There's also a pretty good overall multiplayer portion that has three modes and supports up to 8 players at a time and runs flawlessly.
I can happily recommend Resistance: Burning skies. In terms of storytelling, gameplay, length, value, and multiplayer, it has virtually everything you can expect from a modern shooter with the added bonus of being on the go, even if it's nothing revolutionary or groundbreaking and its primary claim to fame is that it's a fully featured FPS on a handheld. Overall, it all boils down to your expectations of the game; if you expect it to be a top-ranked title competing with genre standouts Halo or Call of Duty, then you're going to be disappointed, but if you're just looking for some simple, arcade-style shooting on the go, I think this is a very solid first step.