The wait for a fully functional, dual-stick portable shooter is over, with the arrival of the admired Resistance series on the PlayStation Vita.
Burning Skies begins with a descent into darkness and terror, drawing you in as the New Yorkers of 1951 try to make sense of the alien invasion unfolding before their eyes. Your firefighter must rescue his family as the Big Apple is cored, without mercy, by the Chimera.
The opening scenes, played through a burning building, are a fine introduction to the controls and the world of Resistance, and I was drawn in so quickly that I quickly forgot I was using a portable console.
Because this game is set between the first and second Resistance games, the challenge is to make this bridging title interesting and surprising. It appears as though developers Nihilistic Software chose to invoke the so-what aspect of their own name in seeing this through. It is utterly linear in nature, the alien weapons you acquire do too much of the work for you - apart from during boss fights - and if humanity is meant to be doomed, then let me feel doomed rather than as dozy as if I'm playing Gears of War after taking two diazepam.
Sci-fi author William Dietz co-wrote the plot with Mike Bates. One assumes they put more energy into arguing who'd get Monday mornings off than putting the player's cares into Tom Riley, the hero of the day. It's his story, but it's told mostly from the perspectives of others. If it's a device meant to draw you in to the story, it fails. It reduces you to the unpalatable role of man-with-gun.
The de-evolution from Awesome Game to Mehs of War is complete after you escape the burning building and step into the open air. The graphics are rough, the enemy intelligence spotty, and sure the weapons chug along nicely, but any sense of wonderment at playing a proper FPS and forgetting about it being on a portable console is immediately, irretrievably lost. I could hear the stars falling off the rating score with each grind through Another Ammo-Draining Set Piece.
The controls are superb, at least. The dual-stick method is a snap to master on the relatively wide Vita surface, and the integration of the front and rear touchscreens allows for quick fight-and-flight actions. The grenade-toss system might be the most accurate in any FPS to date.
What we have here is a mechanically sound FPS, but that is all. It is a great game for mindless action, but if dark days do lie ahead, then the game must work hard with all its elements to make us feel the horror and the hope, not merely the ho-hum.
Burning Skies is a good game for the bus, but it will not take its place alongside its console brethren as a great all-round shooter. The challenge, however, has been set. Nihilistic have laid down some excellent groundwork in transferring the genre to the portable arena, and proven that portable gaming has real next-level potential. In future, we should expect nothing less than to be amazed.
Point and shoot
Frank Simon, Senior Managing Producer for Sony Computer Entertainment America, says the seemingly complicated task of making a first-person shooter work on a portable device is simple: Just don't think about it.
"Resistance is a great game and it just so happened to be going on the PlayStation Vita. We didn't really think about it - it's about the game, right? Games are an approximation of where what you expect to happen and your imagination collide.
"We had an opportunity to do something with the touchscreen, and so for the first time in an FPS, I can tell where my grenade is supposed to go. I can point at the screen and know it's going to go there.
"Resistance has always been known for its weapons, and the secondary fire is equally important on those touchscreens. You can drag your finger across the screen, and it's a nice touch for me. The only caveat we ever made in putting it on this device is that we put in a few more checkpoints. I find if I'm on the train on the way to work in the morning, I can put it to sleep for a couple of hours, then pick it up on my lunch break and it's okay.
"I think there's a lot about the Vita that has allowed us to tell the Resistance story in different ways. It unhooks you from your couch. It's a total suspension for you.
Platform: PlayStation Vita