Resistance: Burning Skies Hands-On Preview -- The First Genuinely Fun Handheld Shooter?By Sinan Kubba - Posted Aug 18, 2011
After seeing it announced and showcased at the Sony gamescom presentation on earlier in the week, I was anxious to go hands-on with Resistance: Burning Skies, the fifth game in Sony’s first-person shooter saga and the first one for PlayStation Vita. With Resistance 3 around the corner, there’s a real buzz here at gamescom around the Resistance franchise, a buzz that wasn’t quite there when Resistance 2 hit back in 2010. So it’s unsurprising then to see the crowds gather around to see how the alien invasion pans out on Sony’s handheld. Having said that, a lot of the intrigue is about how well a first-person shooter will work on Vita with the Vita’s inclusion of a second analog stick.
As soon as the shiny new device sits between my palms and I move around with the left stick to take in my surroundings using that right stick, it’s apparent that on a very basic level first-person shooters are going to work well with Vita. The screen is large enough to demand accuracy and skill from those well versed in the art of frag, while the console sits comfortably in my grasp and is easily relatable to how Resistance or any other shooter plays with a Sixaxis controller.
Let’s get back to the game itself. The demo is set in Ellis Island in 1951, just before the events of Resistance 2; Resistance fans will know the importance of Ellis Island to the lore of the series. You play as Tom Riley, a fireman who’s unfortunately got caught up in the mess of an alien invasion upon the island. As the building around him begins to shake and crumble, Tom coolly picks up his silver fireman’s helmet and his axe, with his surname emblazoned upon the shaft, and sets off to investigate.
Within seconds he encounters a Chimera guarding a corridor, but unfortunately for the slithery mutant, he’s guarding it from the wrong direction. I’m able to sneak up and dispatch some melee, prompting an animation in which the Chimera turns around, only for me to slam the axe into his shoulder blade and twist it so it goes through his throat. It’s gruesome, but it’s the fireman’s way.
That time I swiped using the trigger, but no matter what weapon I have equipped it’s always possible for me to produce a quick attack with the axe thanks to a button on the bottom right of the touch screen. That proves especially useful later on in the demo when green crawling critter types with pincers start to swarm around my ankles while Chimera shoot at me in the distance, as it lets me switch quickly between using my gun and swiping away at the infestation beneath me.
This is just one of several ways the touch screen will be used in Burning Skies; another way is with grenades. Again, there’s a button towards the bottom-right that when pressed makes Tom throw a grenade several feet ahead of him. If I hold the grenade button, however, I can then drag the grenade to my intended location, with a little red indicator just above where my finger is pressing on the screen which indicates where the grenade will roughly hit. This of course takes a bit longer than just pressing the quick-fire button, and I do have more success with using the quick-fire button and just getting a general sense of where the grenade will hit than with taking the time to pick a spot.
I get near the top of the tower, and as I step outside, I see the island around me ablaze and the structures crumbling to ruins below. Things take a turn for the worse when I reach the roof as I encounter a line of Chimera, but it does give me a good opportunity to try out the touch screen secondary fires of two Resistance old-school weapons, the Carbine, and the Chain Gun.
The Carbine’s secondary fire is simple enough; tap the screen to launch a grenade. The Chain Gun, however, requires a little bit more patience, just like slow but deadly fire of the primary weapon. Using the touch screen to draw a line through enemies will make the Chain Gun fire quickly but with deadly effect into all the targets within the line. It’s a little fiddly in practice, it must be said, but the idea of using the touch screen for secondary fire does seem a smart one. Nihilistic, the developer, is clearly keen to get as much out of the touch screen as they can; even bringing up the weapon wheel lets players select using it if they want. For Burning Skies the key will be striking a balance between using it for flexibility as a second option and using it more significantly as a core part of the gameplay.
It seems like Nihilistic is being smart and imaginative with building thee game around the Vita, not just in terms of the console's technology but as a first-person shooter on a handheld. There’s no rearview nonsense here, just attempts to introduce sensible rather than supplementary design. Like accommodating for less buttons by making ducking in and out of cover automatic, and then letting me tilt the console around and over the cover for a better view.
The end of the demo sees Tom having to deal with an absolute siege of enemies in all directions, and it’s a testament to the design of the console that this section doesn't feel intimidating or daunting. Shooting, with as much auto-aim as is seen on the PS3 Resistance games, is easy to control and manipulate, while touch screen extras like grenades and the axe prove helpful rather than distractingly awkward as would be the fear.
Nonetheless, at the moment, this demo feels more about the tech's relation to the game rather than the meatier side of the game itself. While Nihilistic will be under the watchful eye of Insomniac, Burning Skies remains a big ask for the developer. They have the tools to finally do a first-person shooter justice on a handheld, but it will take more than the tech fitting the game. The game still has to be decent.
I'm keen to see how the story will relate to the Resistance saga - what more will Tom discover in the secrets beneath Ellis Island, for example? And can Burning Skies keep up with the frenetic pace and the scale of the spectacle of its PS3-based siblings. Will the multiplayer produce as much mayhem? There are lots of questions still to be asked of Nihilistic and Burning Skies, but for now we can all bask in this new feeling of genuinely being interested in a handheld first-person shooter.