Developer: Zipper Interactive / Publisher: SCE / Price: $39.99; $35.99 (on PSN) / ESRB: Teen [Blood, Drug Reference, Mild Language, Violence] / Played on: Vita /
If, like the majority of today’s gamers, you aren’t happy unless you’re shooting some virtual ‘bad guy’ in the noggin, you’re limited for options with Vita’s launch games. The excellent Uncharted: Golden Abyss is more an adventure than a shooter, so you’re left with one other – Unit 13.
Zipper Interactive, then, has stepped in to serve up the only slice of gun-fueled polygon murder that’s essential to many a PlayStation gamer who doesn’t appreciate the appeal of homo-erotic hammerhead aliens and giant sticky balls. And they’ve done a good job.
Unit 13 is a fairly typical military third-person shooter with a simple cover system and plenty of shouty ‘dudebros’ – think Army of Two. The left analog controls movement while the right handles look. You pull your gun up to aim with L and shoot with R. Standard stuff.
It appears initially odd – on THE portable with all the buttons you could ever need – that the game makes use of on-screen buttons for case-sensitive functions like opening doors or disabling mines, but it actually works rather well. There is, after all, plenty of real estate on that massive 5″ screen.
Unlike Army of Two, however, Unit 13 doesn’t even try to pretend it has a story to tell. And, perhaps controversially, I appreciate the honesty. Instead of forcing a half-baked plot on you, it just says, “Look, there’s a bunch of rowdy terrorist dudes that need shooting in the face, and here are some 36 mission in which to do it”.
And that’s the deal. You enter a mission, waste some fools, and complete your given objectives, accumulating points for your performance as you go. These handheld-tailored missions, which vary in length from bite-size blasts to more drawn out affairs, are broken down into four categories.
‘Direct Action’ missions have you tackling multiple objectives with a focus on tactics and exploration. ‘Cover’ missions are obviously all about stealth – you complete these without setting off alarms.
Hate stealth? ‘Deadline’ levels enforce a strict time limit and force you to come out guns blazing like Rambo on speed. ‘Elite’ stages do away with health regeneration and checkpoints, forcing you to treat every enemy like a critical threat. The game pairs these mission types with six playable operatives, selectable before you deploy, each with their own special items and abilities such as brute firepower, stealth aids, explosives, and such.
Sometimes there’s an obvious choice, but what’s cool is that as you play – and as you level-up each commando individually, enhancing their gear and bonus attributes – you develop your own preferences and, in turn, play style. It’s tough going though, and the fun of some of these missions is brought down by some occasionally wonky AI. Stuff like guys seeing you from far away, or hearing sounds from different floors of a building, while other times being seemingly oblivious to the guy that they were just talking to being shot in the head.
The unpredictable, questionable nature of the AI can make this game a test of trial and error – you attempt and fail missions repeatedly until you’ve memorized the optimal way through, which isn’t ideal. As you play through these missions you are awarded stars that also unlock new missions in a separate ‘High Value Targets’ mode. There are 10 of these, and each one assigns you a usually heavy-guarded target to eliminate.
This mode also makes use of ‘Near’ – grabbing ‘intel’ from other Vita owners who have unlocked any of the 10 missions, which opens them up for you. Basically, Vita’s answer to 3DS’ StreetPass functionality. And to top that lot off there’s a ‘Daily Challenge’ mode which gives you a different mission to complete every day. You get one chance to set a score and that’s tallied up in a global leader board, which is neat.
Let’s drop the bomb right here: there’s no competitive multiplayer mode. If you want to shoot another human player in the face you’re out of luck.
Sure, it’s a massive omission in this day and age, but the game does well to offer extensive online functionality in other areas. First up, every one of the solo missions has a points-based leaderboard, which puts you in direct competition with your friends and others locally (via Near) and globally. A rolling feed at the top of the menus serves up constant updates on local top scores and the achievements of your friends. The Daily Challenge – which shows the name of the player currently top of the pile – is pretty cool.
And you can leap into the separate Online Cooperative mode to play any of the solo missions online with a friend or via matchmaking, which is also good fun.
THE BOTTOM LINE
This is the framework for a feature-packed, capable shooter, but it falls over with some questionable AI and occasionally clunky cover-based controls – twitchy aiming and sometimes disobedient snap-out-of-cover mechanics from ‘AAA’ games such as Gears of War or Metal Gear Solid.
But it does look pretty, there’s lots of content and it demonstrates potential – the potential for Vita as a little machine with ample technical prowess and plenty of control options to do a full-fat console-quality shooter.