Resistance: Burning Skies Review

By Adam Rosenberg - Posted May 30, 2012

Nihilistic had an opportunity to set the bar for FPS gaming on the Vita. Instead, we've got this halfway decent first-person shooter whose main strength is the fact that it's portable. Burning Skies is a passable time-waster in that sense, giving you plenty of corridors to run through and alien dudes to shoot.

The Pros
  • First FPS on the PlayStation Vita
  • Inventive arsenal of weapons
The Cons
  • Lackluster story
  • Unimaginitive level design
  • Some user-unfriendly touch screen controls
  • Poorly balanced multiplayer progression
  • This multiplayer in general is a poor fit for the platform

Resistance: Burning Skies Review:

Resistance: Burning Skies isn't just the debut first-person shooter to grace Sony's PlayStation Vita platform. It's also gaming's very first portable twin-stick FPS, a feat made possible thanks to the Vita's powerful, PSP-topping guts. And yet as powerful as those guts may be, it's not enough to save Nihilistic Software's efforts here. Burning Skies may walk and talk like a Resistance game, but it sure doesn't play like one.

 

 

Burning Down the House

Burning Skies is set against the backdrop of the Chimeran invasion of the United States, with players stepping into the shoes of firefighter Tom Riley. Out on a routine call to a burning warehouse, Riley and his squad run into an alien threat that soon reveals itself as the vanguard for a full-scale invasion.

Although Riley is eventually (and inevitably) caught up in the larger story, his sole motivation throughout the game is personal. He's fighting to protect his wife and teenage daughter, whom he meets up with early on in the game before sending them on their way to a nearby refugee camp. Why he doesn't just join them in that moment when he has the chance is never really made clear, and it's an example that speak to the narrative's larger issues.

The story in Burning Skies lacks any of the emotional depth that made Insomniac's console outings so compelling. You can see the Vita game reaching in that direction, but the two big character moments that come up toward the end ultimately feel hollow and out of place. There's also some nodding going on in the direction of Nathan Hale's adventures, though more in the form of deep cut offhand reference that only the hardest of the hardcore fans will pick up on.

Resistance Burning Skies

Resistance Is Futile

The narrative woes are minor complaints in the context of Burning Skies' larger issues. Chief among those is the feeling that this is little more than a wannabe Resistance game. All of the necessary pieces are here: gun-toting Chimeran forces, imaginitively designed firearms, big boss-like beasties, locked first-person perspective, and more besides. These pieces add up into something familiar, but it feels more like a Frankenstein's monster take on the FPS series than the proper spin-off that it's meant to be.

Take combat scenarios. Which ones, you ask? Try all of them. The settings may change, but the execution is largely the same each time: you enter a new area, access to your previous location is locked out, a wave of Chimera spawn in, you kill them all. Or, more accurately, they kill you a few times while you learn the spawn patterns and then you kill them all. It's a dull process, especially once the difficulty ratchets up in the late game.

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The canny AI from the console trilogy is nowhere to be seen in this portable spin-off. Your enemy is definitely aggressive; Chimera forces will know exactly when and where you poke your head out of cover to pop off a few shots every single time. They'll rush your position, and occasionally show a glimmer of intelligence by working around to a flanking position. They're just as likely, however, to confuse a wall for your firefighter hero, and get stuck in a running animation as they endlessly charge a position that you were never close to in the first place.

Combine that dimwitted AI with some uninspiring level design. You'll encounter one or two sections later in the game that almost feel like Resistance on the PlayStation 3 with fights that span multiple rooms or large, open spaces. Unfortunately, these sections are much better at highlighting the flawed AI. Besides that, you'll still spend most of the game taking on the Chimera is much tighter confines, featureless hallways and rooms, broken city streets, that all funnel you along a singular tight path.

The arsenal, at least, is familiar and well thought out. Favorites like the Bullseye and Auger are joined by a handful of new weapon like the Mule, a double-barreled shotgun that doubles as an explosive bolt-firing crossbow. The weapons themselves are fine; they all feel very unique and powerful in their own way.

Resistance Burning Skies

There's even some innovation in the form of Gray Tech, collectible power-ups that can be "spent" on each weapon's set of six upgrades. A New Game+ option opens up after you've beaten the game, allowing you to continue collecting Gray Tech. The upgrades are all weapon-specific and most of them offer some pretty effective boosts, but most players will gather more than enough Gray Tech in a single playthrough to get a sense for the good stuff.

This being a Vita game, touch controls are to be expected. Each weapon's alt-fire capability, a Resistance staple, is relegated in Burning Skies to touch screen controls. Some weapons require swipes across the screen, such as the Mule, while others require you to tap the enemy target's location on the screen.

It's a solid idea in theory, but the actual process of adjusting your grip on the Vita as you let go with one hand, tap the screen, and then grab the handheld again simply doesn't work very well. You're using these weapons in combat situations, after all, and the necessary pause in action that comes when you adjust your grip is enough to significantly diminish the tactical value of secondary weapon attacks.

This isn't to say that Nihilistic's work to integrate Vita-specific functionality into an FPS framework is a total disaster. There are a few ideas that work out well, though we've admittedly seen variations on these in two other shooting-oriented Vita games already: Uncharted: Golden Abyss and Unit 13. Both of those games, just like this one, rely on the left and right fringes of the touch screen for control options that would fit on a SIXAXIS but not the Vita's sligthly stripped-down interface.

Resistance Burning Skies

Melee attacks with Tom's fireman's axe and grenade tosses are both relegated to touch screen buttons that are always visible on the right side of the screen. It's an easy stretch to move your thumb from the face buttons or right analog controls to one of the touch options. Helpfully, the melee attack "button" also doubles as an action button, so you can tap that to open doors and interact with mission-specific objects. You can also double-tap the rear touchpad to sprint, but it's much more effective to press down on the D-pad instead, since the Vita's design makes it possible to hit the D-pad button while still pressing forward on the left thumbstick.

Resistance Burning Skies

Resisting World War

Nihilistic also included a multiplayer component in Burning Skies. Rather than try to deliver an online play experience that is in any way uniquely portable or Vita-focused, players can instead link up with a Wi-Fi connection and drop into competitive online matches for up to eight players in Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Survival (comparable to Halo's Infection).

Multiplayer in Burning Skies isn't bad, per se, it's just entirely unnecessary. It's built with a console audience in mind, just like the rest of the game, but it's also built like a console game. There's a system of level-based unlocks for your various weapons and their upgrades. How many players are really going to invest enough time to climb through 30 multiplayer ranks in Burning Skies' Wi-Fi-only online mode?

The unlocks are also woefully unbalanced; once you've got the Mauler, a ridiculously powerful Chimeran chain gun, or the multi-rocket-launching S.W.A.R.M., there's really no need to ever go back to default weapons like the Bullseye or Carbine.

Burning Skies

So while the multiplayer mode in Burning Skies certainly works, there's really no reason for it to be here in the first place. The Wi-Fi requirement is certainly a technical limitation, but Nihilistic gets some blame as well for failing to come up with a multiplayer mode that actually belongs on the Vita platform.

Nihilistic had an opportunity to set the bar for FPS gaming on the Vita. Instead, we've got this halfway decent first-person shooter whose main strength is the fact that it's portable. Burning Skies is a passable time-waster in that sense, giving you plenty of corridors to run through and alien dudes to shoot. That's also the heart of the problem though. It's technically flawed in some key ways, but the biggest sin that Resistance: Burning Skies commits is its top-to-bottom lack of ambition