The release of Resistance: Burning Skies is something of a landmark release for PlayStation Vita, and handhelds in general for that matter. Not only is it another entry into one of Sony’s most prolific series, but concurrently, it’s the first dual-stick shooter on any portable games console, period. Indeed, thanks to the implementation of PS Vita’s twin analog sticks, Burning Skies marks the first time a console-esque FPS has successfully made the transition to a handheld platform. Well, almost. Nihilistic’s apocalyptic blaster may not be the prettiest game on the PS Vita, but it ticks just about every other box out there. Make no mistake, this is one of the biggest games for Sony’s new pocket rocket to date, and Resistance fans especially will want to snap it up on day one.
Burning Skies once again adheres to the Resistance series’ alternate take on history, where an alien-like race known only as the Chimera is methodically laying waste to humanity one country at a time. Set during the early 1950s, the game depicts the beginning of the Chimera’s invasion of North America, and takes place before the events of 2008’s Resistance 2. Rather than hopping into the well-worn boots of stoic baldy Nathan Hale however, players control family man and local fire fighter Tom Riley. After attending the scene of a fire with his colleagues, the action quickly gets underway as Riley witnesses the Chimera’s deadly strike against U.S. soil, and, armed with his trusty fire-axe and an assortment of firearms, takes the fight to the alien invaders. To exacerbate an already serious situation however, our hero also has to worry about the safety and preservation of his missing wife and young daughter in the midst of the chaos. And they say us blokes don’t know how to multitask.
Burning Skies is the quintessential Resistance experience. The game itself doesn’t deviate from the norm in terms of mechanics, but what it does do it does exceedingly well – while throwing in a few unique twists of its own. The controls are fantastic and incredibly intuitive, with the use of the two analog sticks performing exactly how you’d expect. Needless to say, it’s incredibly liberating to play a FPS this way on a handheld after dealing with the inconvenience of PSP input all those years. Touchscreen functionality also plays a part in the proceedings, and I’m pleased to say it works just great, while not feeling overly gimmicky or obtrusive. For example, tap the axe icon in the right-hand corner to perform a melee attack, or quickly make a sweeping movement with the grenade icon to its desired target to unleash explosive hell. It’s accurate, and I found it incredibly satisfying to ‘tag’ an enemy with the Bullseye by tapping the screen before retreating to cover and dispatching them hassle free. Switching weapons is easy thanks to the weapons-wheel (hold down triangle), as is running (down on the d-pad – it works better than it sounds, believe me).
Speaking of weapons, Burning Skies offers up a plethora of Chimera-slaying creations, from rudimentary, human-made firearms to more advanced alien technology. The weapons generally feel pretty weighty and pack quite a punch, giving off satisfying recoils and allowing for a wealth of different play styles. Plus, each one has a second, touchscreen-operated fire option; my favourite is probably the Mule, a Shotgun equipped with the ability to fire explosive arrows. The best part is they can be upgraded via special Chimera-made Grey tech, with six options per weapon. I preferred to rely on greater firepower and capacity for example, so naturally I opted for the upgrades that best suited those parameters. It’s a great addition, and offers a boatload of combinations for each weapon, offering plenty of incentive to try out different tactics beyond your comfort zone. Unlike other shooters, I found the game’s arsenal to be totally justified, and no weapon felt like extra baggage; each gun has its own merits, and the game will make sure you are in a position to have you use each one.
The Chimera themselves come thick and fast, forcing you to adapt your tactics on the fly. Some enemies are easily dispatched with a quick flurry of Carbine rounds, while others require a bit more strategy. The A.I. is decent, and I was flanked numerous times while attempting to stay in the sanctuary of cover while figuring out a decent plan of attack. They’ll also attempt to snipe you from afar and flush you out with some particularly nasty grenades. Other times they aren’t so clever though; I’ve had Chimera charge mindlessly at me allowing me to decapitate them with my axe, while other times they’d stand still while looking completely the wrong direction – fortunately, this didn’t happen much. The bosses are another kettle of fish altogether though. Hulking, screen-filling abominations require some fancy footwork and immaculately-timed shots to take down, and are aesthetically quite pleasing. These encounters and mini-bosses alike help serve well to punctuate the bread-and-butter gunplay, injecting some variety into the action and prove a welcome distraction.
Meanwhile, the cover system is pretty decent, letting you snuggle up behind suitable spots with ease. From here, it’s a case of merely using the D-pad to poke your head out for a quick shot, or using L to zoom in for a better shot. Transitioning in and out of cover is pretty seamless, and I found myself pulling off some satisfying head shots and Bullseye tags while keeping my head out of the enemy’s sights. And that’s pretty much all there is to it. As Riley (occasionally accompanied by A.I. partner Ellie), you’ll blast through various locations, mopping up the local Chimera population while solving the odd environmental puzzle and collecting Intel to flesh out the narrative. The action is fast and relentless, and you’ll never go more than a few minute without another army of Chimera forcing you into another scrap. It rarely gets monotonous however, as the variety of enemies on offer and the amount of weapons at your disposal ensure encounters remain fresh, not to mention the fact the difficultly surreptitiously increases throughout, keeping you on your toes. Still, some locations drag a bit, and the abundance of corridors and dull warehouses tend to drag things down, though fortunately the game switches things up just enough.
Visually, Burning Skies is a bit of a mixed bag. The character models are pretty decent, especially the facial animations, which manage to add a somewhat palpable sense of emotional weight to some of the cut-scenes. The environments however aren’t so successful, with flat textures and dull colours populating most of the industrial and indoor locations in the game. Exterior areas fare much better, and some of the set-pieces are pretty spectacular as you witness structures and buildings crumble to the ground, while in the distance the skyline is lit up by anti-aircraft fire as the U.S. military strain to hold off the enemy. There’s also a couple of impressive lighting effects here and there, sending real-time shadows dancing all over the shop. Sound-wise things are much more consistent. The game is accompanied by a bombastic soundtrack that really accentuates the gut-wrenching tension of boss fights and standard encounters alike, while the voice acting is pretty decent, with Riley making for a likeable protagonist (although next to Nathan Hale, a sack of potatoes would have proved sufficient). Still, the story itself is far from the most compelling tale you'll encounter on PS Vita.
The multiplayer component comes off pretty perfunctory however, packing basic offerings such as Death Match and Team Death Match (the former being Chimera-based, and the latter featuring both humans and Chimera). The most unique entry here is the Survival Mode, which as humans and Chimera duking it out as usual, though in this case any slain human character automatically transforms into a Chimera. This adds a nice layer of diversity to the proceedings and kicks up the challenge a little, plus if you want to unlock the meatier weapons you’ll need to rake in enough XP and level-up, which encourages plenty of play time. Still, it’s nothing you haven’t seen before, and certainly not quite up to the standard of console multiplayer games. It’ll keep you busy long past the single-player campaign – which is admittedly a little short – but it could definitely have been expanded upon.
Overall, Resistance: Burning Skies isn’t quite the triple-A FPS that you might have hoped for, but it’s bloody close. If anything, this game proves that the genre can translate to PS Vita and bring a console-like experience to a handheld, and for that alone it’s worth experiencing. Despite some dodgy visuals and uninspired locations, Burning Skies is still an action-packed shooter brimming with quality moments, tense shootouts and a top-notch weapons line-up. PS Vita has admittedly been suffering from something of a software draught since launch, but Burning Skies provides more than enough reason to get back in the game.
-The Final Word-
Despite some notable flaws, Resistance: Burning Skies is still a solid effort and a great start to twin-stick shooting action on PS Vita.