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Preview: Resistance: Burning Skies

23 April 2012

Sony created PlayStation Vita with core gamers in mind by giving developers a quality piece of hardware that, for the first time in the history of handhelds, provides a serious platform which they can harness to produce console-like gaming experiences on the small screen.

On launch day, Uncharted: Golden Abyss proved that PS Vita has what it takes to propel handheld gaming to a whole new level with a highly polished action adventure that showcased Sony’s gaming device with some style. Resistance: Burning Skies now hopes to further capture the core crowd with PS Vita’s first ever first-person shooter.

Burning Skies has great potential. Though we’ve only played through the first three levels, its silky smooth frame-rates and sharp visuals complement the intense and explosive action, while the dual analog sticks ensure that the handheld FPS experience has evolved from those seen on PSP. Resistance: Burning Skies plays out like a serious console FPS, with a strong audio and visual production that backs up its powerhouse of a game engine. To say that we’re excited to see the finished product is a gross understatement.

Judging by the first three levels, it doesn’t appear that players will need any experience of past games in the series to follow the storyline either, though we’re sure they’ll be references made throughout the game. The tale begins in 1951 with fire-fighter and family-man, Tom Riley, thrown into the midst of an alien invasion in which he’s lost contact with his wife and child.

            

Cut-scenes kick-in and portray Riley’s emotional state and love for his family and this character building serves to draw you into the storyline and empathise with his determination to battle against the odds to reach his loved ones. It’s too early to tell exactly which way the story will weave, but the slick cinematic interludes certainly help to give it a movie-like feel.

Progression through the first three levels is fairly linear with plenty of corridors and small rooms to navigate but they soon spill out into more open areas that are littered with cover spots. Gameplay is challenging and encourages tactical play and only during corridor battles does it really cater for run-and-gun play. Largely, we were very conscious of conserving ammo, taking up cover positions and switching between weapons to tackle enemies effectively. Without following these tactics, we were killed rather quickly.

              

The control scheme is a real highlight. The dual analog sticks make a huge difference ensuring that aiming and camera control feels more akin to using a gamepad. Though it initially feels a little sluggish to switch between targets, it’s nothing a quick visit to the menu and a change in the sensitivity options doesn’t fix. Hit detection is spot-on, so when we did aim at the head of a Leaper we could be confident that we would blow it clean-off. Enemies too are varied to ensure that combat isn’t just a repetitive slog but requires a degree of strategy, skill and weapon-switching in order to come out on top.

Leapers, for example, attempt to run at you so a shotgun comes in handy, whereas the Bullseye and its tagging feature is invaluable against the winged Chimera who move quickly and leap to and from buildings. Then there are the Executioners, powerful creatures who have cannons attached to their arms and Steelheads who need perfectly executed head-shots to take them down. We’ve witnessed only a sample of the enemies we’ll face and already there’s enough variety to ensure that players will be kept on their toes and encouraged to think before they shoot.

The weapon variety is also impressive, but they also handle well, have real weight to them and make an impressive impact on their enemies thanks to the enjoyable death animations and rag-doll physics. What makes Burning Skies feel different to traditional shooters, however, is the implementation of touchscreen controls, which works really well with the standard point and shoot mechanics.

You can tag enemies with the Bullseye, for example, by touching them on the screen, or tap the grenade icon for a quick throw, or drag across the screen to launch it to a specific area. Drag your thumb down the barrel of the Mule to launch a napalm crossbow and set enemies alight, or deploy an Auger shield by dragging both thumbs apart from the centre of the screen. There’s lot to think about and a variety of ways you can tackle enemies.

            

Burning Skies makes weapon-switching a doddle too via a weapon wheel activated by pressing the ‘Triangle’ button and rotating the thumb-stick to choose your preferred fire-arm. As you progress, there’s also the option to search for upgrade cubes and apply these to your weapon-set to improve on the likes of power, reload speed and size of your magazine clip. Once again, developer Nihilistic has used the touchscreen to make these features easy to use.

In terms of visuals, the videos that we’ve seen prior to playing Burning Skies don’t quite do the game justice. It’s not up to the same high standards as Uncharted by any means, but enemies are extremely well detailed and the locations packed full of detail. What’s most impressive, however, is the intensity of the battles and how the locations and enemies vary so often to ensure you’re constantly kept on your toes and encouraged to think tactically.

Early signs indicate that Resistance: Burning Skies is setting itself up to be a massive hit among FPS fans. Based on these first three levels, we’re already confident that it’s going set a benchmark on PS Vita for the genre and it’s convinced us that, when implemented properly, there is most definitely a place for touchscreen controls within the genre. It’s going to be interesting to see whether the finished product can sustain the level of excitement and variety throughout the game as it manages to muster in the first three levels, but we’ve got high hopes that Resistance: Burning Skies will blow us away when it launches on PS Vita in May.

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