Set fire to rain…
Back in 2007, Resistance: Fall of Man received widespread praise and several awards as a launch title to Sony’s PlayStation 3. So it seems ultimately fitting that Resistance: Burning Skies will be the first to bring the FPS genre kicking and screaming onto Sony’s latest handheld, the PlayStation Vita. With Insomniac taking a breather from the series to allow Nihilistic Software to take up the reins, some might enter the game with a certain amount of trepidation regarding the state of their beloved series. As it happens, the genre just may have finally found a new home-from-home with the Vita, and Burning Skies is shaping up to be one excellent reason why.
The preview code we were given allowed us to get to grips with the first three levels of the game, featuring the damning instruction that it would self destruct once completed – a promise it duly delivered. Whilst three levels might not sound like much, the content on offer gave a clear insight into what Burning Skies intends to deliver – an intuitive and immersive console-like shooter.
Burning Skies places you in the virtual shoes of Tom Riley, a firefighter and family man caught up in the midst of a Chimeran invasion in 1950’s New York. Set between the Fall of Man and Resistance 2, Riley’s goal is to locate and rescue his wife and child, but whilst doing so he becomes entangled in a much bigger plot that inevitably determines the fate of New York. Resistance’s alternate history is still as engaging as ever, and with the addition of a fresh plot and a new protagonist, you shouldn’t miss out on too much story-wise if Burning Skies is your first foray into the series.
Although the focus may have changed slightly, the presentation remains faithful to its predecessors. Cutscenes lay out the story in a pleasing motion-comic style, whilst a somber narrative provides the opening backstory in the form of a survivor message aimed at “whoever might be listening”. Once the scene is set, the game begins with you and your colleagues on route to investigate the cause of a fire in a power station. Accompanied by a superb haunting orchestral soundtrack and some fervent dialogue, Burning Skies initially has you ploughing through doors with a pickaxe and playing out the heroic deeds that the designated role demands. This opening gives the Vita an opportunity to show off its technical prowess, with the frame rate being noticeably good throughout and the visuals, despite lacking a final coat of polish and detail at this point, also managing to impress.
There’s always a danger that designing a game for the Vita and its plethora of features could quite easily become a minefield. Burning Skies, however, seems to have adopted a cautious approach around its development of any Vita specific implementation. They’ve incorporated quite a few of the handheld’s features into the gameplay, but used them (for the most part) in a way that doesn’t feel unnecessarily tacked on just for the sake of it. For example, the melee pickaxe swing resides on-screen as a small icon, but is very unobtrusive and (thankfully) very responsive. Other touch screen controls range from cocking your hybrid shotgun/crossbow with explosives by dragging your finger backwards on the screen, to aiming grenades by dragging an icon out to your desired target. None of these gestures seem like a chore to perform or unnecessarily tacked on. In fact, in most cases, they feels more natural than the conventional control methods. The best example of this is Resistance’s now familiar ‘tagging’ mechanic, allowing you to select an enemy with a simple touch gesture before unloading homing bullets into its skull.
Nihilistic has given each different weapon its own twist on touch screen implementation and there’s plenty of them to choose from, all of which are easily accessible from a wheel by holding the triangle button. There’s also a new upgrade system that utilises cubes you’ll find throughout the levels that allow you to add enhancements to each weapon. These range from damage, clip size to scope views and explosive boosters, but not all of them can be active at once and can always be removed if a particular situation calls for it. Playing through the early levels – defending a military terminal on Staten Island and traversing the George Washington bridge – it becomes important to use all weapons wisely; tagging was ultra useful, as was the Sixeye sniper rifle on the latter mission that throws in a number of long distance enemies, and a large amount of cover to try and shoot around.
Enemies, in-keeping with the series, come in a number of shapes and sizes. Hybrids, Leapers, Drones and Executioners are all there in force, and offer varying levels of intelligence and difficulty. During the final mission a boss of pretty epic proportions also made an appearance, attacking George Washington bridge. It serves as a great example of how well the console experience has been brought to handheld by Nihilistic, and because there’s plenty of challenge and tactical diversions to be found throughout regarding weapon choice and positioning, it’s hard not to be drawn into this periodic shooter, Vita or not.
Being the first handheld FPS that utilises dual stick controls, it’s very pleasing to be able to say that Resistance: Burning Skies feels an absolute joy to control going by the content in the preview code. It’s not possible to tell how long it’ll take to complete the main campaign, but if the 8-player multiplayer with its ranking system and multiple modes is as fluid and smooth, then there should be plenty of longevity to be found too.
Those positives aside, perhaps the biggest compliment you could pay to Burning Skies is that (at times) you’ll completely forget you’re playing a handheld FPS, let alone using touch screen controls. If the full package delivers, not only is that a great sign for Burning Skies, it could end up being a massive step forward for the genre on handhelds and perhaps (more importantly) the Vita itself.
NGB ANTICIPATION RATING
Resistance: Burning Skies is set to be released for the PlayStation Vita on June 1st.