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Publisher: SCEA / Developer: Zipper Interactive / Release Date: March 2012
‘HAVE GUN, WILL TRAVEL’, READS THE MEMORY-CARD OF A MAN
True first- or third-person shooters on portable gaming devices have always been a little, um, problematic. Nine times out of ten, it’s the control-scheme… and the other one time it’s an issue related to the ‘muscle’ of the system in question. Thankfully, Sony’s Vita system kills both of those birds with the same depleted-uranium round. Welcome to Unit 13, where gunplay and ‘social’ interplay trade challenges, scores, rankings, and bazillions of bullets.
Developed by Zipper Interactive (the folks who brought us SOCOM 4 and M.A.G. for the PS3), Unit 13 is a robust third-person military shooter that fuses ‘social’ gameplay aspects with straight-up action, twin-analog-stick control and the Vita’s so-named ‘Near’ functionality to create a gaming experience rooted firmly in friendly (and not so friendly) competition… even when you’re not actively playing.
Unit 13 presents players with a mission-grid composed of modular, insular challenges; rather than having to progress in the expected restricted, linear fashion—the traditional ‘complete Mission 5 to access Mission 6 or go suck an egg’ approach—players can play through the grid of challenges in any order they happen to be able to pull off. Perhaps you’ll start right smack in the middle of the grid; if you complete that challenge, you’ll have access to the Missions in the adjacent grid-squares above, below and to either side of it. Of course, toggling down to the square below (i.e., in the entire next row) means that you’re jumping ‘levels’ pretty much at will—and if you progress thusly from total victory to getting lit up instantly, well, you know who to blame.
The fact is, many players simply excel at certain types of missions moreso than others, whether that means hunting especially high-value targets (HVTs) that can really rake in the game-points, disarming security systems, holding patches of ground for certain time-limits, taking out X number of enemies, clearing out an insurgent rat’s-nest in Y units of time, or what have you—and here’s where the competitive-ranking aspect so cavalierly dubbed ‘social’ starts to get nicely ugly: As you accomplish missions, your performance-rating is immediately posted to your on-the-grid ‘friends’ as well as other ‘Near’by Vita units, whether you like it or not. If you’re not particularly proud of the magnitude of victory with which you just barely managed to squeak away on that last mission, why, that’s just a real freakin’ shame. A public, public shame. Now–what are you going to do about it, maggot?
Thankfully, at least the hardware and software aren’t holding you back; from what we’ve played, the dual-stick control is reliable and responsive, and the third-person gameplay experience flows with jaw-dropping fluidity (it also utilizes the touch-screen and back-touch functionality for easy weapon swapping). Along the way, your so-called ‘friends’ can try to out-score you on any given mission you recently finished—even if they haven’t progressed, via their own efforts, to the grid-section in question (thus providing them with an alternate route to what would otherwise be a ‘later’ challenge for them). In addition to your mission ratings being thrown up for all the online world to see, you’ll have access to new-content ‘daily challenges’ (and the concomitant Daily Leaderboard, of course) for the purposes of boasting your gaming skills.
Mechanically, the game is familiar-enough territory: Classed characters with varying loadout, the expected cover/fire schemes, ‘horde’ situations, explosive barrels, etc. And crates? You betcha! Unit 13 also allows players to invite a partner/wingman to join the two-player cooperative mode via 3G… and the game’s raging competitive/public nature means that you’ll both have lots of incentive to guard/revive each other, as well as to frankly critique their tactics—after all, you wouldn’t want one of you bringing the other’s rep down, would you?