The end of my six hour adventure is near. I blink and try to decide whether it's an Auger my soldier buddy is unloading into the wallpaper that's pure 50's floral tapestry.
A quick inspection reveals it's not the iconic Resistance weapon being used; I run into the adjoining room to study the other side of the wall. I'm joined for a brief second by a Chimera who's seemingly staring at the tapestry with all the dedication of a wallpaper inspector. Before it can react (which it probably wouldn't anyways) I drag a finger across the PS Vita's screen to fire my weapon's secondary weapon. Boom. Chimera's dead. The noise finally awakens my buddy from his senseless actions. Only for him to stick in the door I've just come through as he attempts to join me.
It's almost enough to bring me to tears.
I've always found the Resistance series interesting. Loved the PSP version. When I reviewed Retribution in 2009, I could only rejoice at how well the lack of an extra analog stick was hidden, and how well the game worked on a handheld. Bend Studios had shown that the Resistance spirit could easily live without Insomniac Games at the helm, even on a PSP.
With Resistance: Burning Skies, another developer gets the chance. Nihilistic, unlike Bend, hasn't delivered shooters before, but they have brought PlayStation Move Heroes and console Conan to the masses. The preview version of Burning Skies I had played a little over a half year ago, however, had potential.
There are plenty of promised new approaches, and with William C. Dietz behind the story (the author, who has also written novels including Resistance: The Gathering Storm), it suggested something in the same vein as the series' console brethern. And although formats such as Android and iOS have delivered some good FPS games, there's one thing that many gamers have missed: physical buttons and pads. With two analog sticks, sound hardware and a well-known writer, everything looked right.
Unfortunately, Resistance: Burning Skies is about as boring and emasculated as a shooter can possibly be. It starts with honourable intentions, the game following ordinary people in light of the great invasion in 50s America. The government already know about the seriousness of the situation, setting up security camps across the country. It's at this point we meet our protagonist of the first day.
My - your - role in the game takes place in Ellis Island of 1951, and follows fireman Tom Reiley. The small island at the entrance to New York serves as the reception center for immigrants, but this time it's a rather special kind. Before long Reiley's tackled his first Chimera, is handling futuristic weaponry with double-functionality, and has met with resistance fighter Ellie (seemingly channelling Ellen Ripley).
Yet with the focus on the ordinary man battling for survival, the game fails to utilise the fact that Tom's a family man; even with his wife and daughter in danger and the government plans revealed, there's little sense of the personal cost of the fallout. And when your AI partners can both weep and talk without moving their mouths, and clump together and run into each other like brainless wildebeests, there's an involuntary funny side to some firefights.
If you remember the first two games of the series, you'll remember their grandeur, and the unpleasant feeling as huge locations formed the backdrop of many battles. Even the third game's oppressive atmosphere sent a shiver down the spine. Yet Burning Skies is mostly linear; the odd overturned car or broken staircase gently, but firmly, keeping you on the straight and narrow.
A few hours in will see you tackle your first boss and shake some goodies out of the handheld. A monster so huge that it will subsequently form the backdrop is a nice surprise, but what seems exciting at first quickly looses its momentum.
Later, when you're fighting over the George Washington Bridge, despite the limited area, the game gives good on the illusion of a full-scale invasion, and at a glance comes close to what we know from the console versions. Yet it is quickly replaced by another claustrophobic location.
And so it goes; promising trends replaced by mediocrity.
Take the weapons. Resistance 3's selection wheel returns to the PS Vita so you can quickly and effectively select weapons. You can collect a dozen Chimera-killers, and they are as imaginative as ever.
And then it's time for yet another disappointment. Admittedly, PS Vita's without two shoulder buttons, so a solution must be found for weapons' secondary functions. But rather than use Vita's back touch pad, the developer uses the front screen instead. For secondary fire. And melee attacks. And grenades. And opening doors. Touch can be a fine solution for each element, but it has overloaded the system and gameplay by cramming everything on a single screen without even having to.
Let me take you through one scene to illustrate. You have to open a door, fire your secondary, and toss a grenade. You move with the left analog, camera with the right. Shoot with the shoulder button.
To open the door you press the touch screen. You spot an enemy. You select him by pressing the screen. To throw a grenade, drag the grenade icon (also on the screen) to where you want to throw it. To use a secondary attack - in this case a crossbow - you swipe your finger over the screen and press the right shoulder button. One shot, and you have to repeat the process again.
In short: if you can live with touch capabilities that permeates your gaming experience, then you will probably not find many flaws. However, the Vita's not just a touch-controlled system; some variety in control options would have been appreciated.
We'd have liked more options because the weapons are a blast to use; highly imaginative and fun. You've six specialisations which can be customised through tweaks of energy cubes (of course manipulated through the touch screen, more touch).
Take for example the Auger. Here you can choose to upgrade it so that the protective energy shield (which, of course, is set up by placing two fingers on the screen and pulling them apart) lasts longer. You can set it to fire triple shots, shoot faster, or hold more ammunition.
As these cubes are, with the exception of a few, hard to find on the different levels, there's a good reason to play through the campaign multiple times to get your weapon upgraded to best effect. This is quite enjoyable and easily one of the best aspects of Resistance: Burning Skies.
Fortunately, the campaign also quite varied and there are times where you are caught up in the action - in these moments the game is actually really fun to play. And maybe for many, that'll be enough.
In addition to a sometimes enjoyable single-player portion, there's a nice multiplayer element with lots of stages to choose from. But the lack of proper lobbies is an issue; you choose a game type with no inkling as to what matches are currently underway, and then sit, wait and hope for the emergence of enough (four to eight) players to fill the team slots.
Survival converts killed players into Chimera. Six-strong Team Deathmatches are fun, and modes earn you XP with can help you upgrade weapons, and also earn XP through "infecting" other Vitas with Near.
As with all multiplayer games, it is difficult to predict what its future will be. But at present what's on offer has had neither a positive or negative effect on the score.
As a single player experience Burning Skies is nothing but mediocrity, with interspersed moments of surprise. Graphical issues, poor textures, boring characters, overused touch, a template-cut story and laughable AI drags the entire experience down.
It has some decent mechanics, a decent campaign and a potentially good multiplayer game, but graphically and story-wise its poor compared to the likes of Uncharted, while Unit 13 is a more fun shooter, and it is therefore difficult to justify a purchase for anyone but the biggest fans of the series.