And My Axe
Quick show of hands: who here played Resistance: Retribution?
One of the inherent issues with bringing a core, first-person shooter series like Resistance to Sony’s first handheld attempt was the lack of a second analog stick. With only one such nub on the PSP, compromises were made and gamers were left with a serviceable, though somewhat clunky, third-person shooter. The gunplay was certainly there , but was neither as satisfying nor as visceral as one would have expected from a Resistance title.
Enter the Vita, and the franchise’s second shot at a handheld offering. This time out, the hardware syncs up with new developer Nihilistic’s ambitions, providing a second stick that allows Resistance: Burning Skies to spread its wings as a full-fledged, first-person shooter. In fact, the system’s capabilities might be the single most interesting aspect of Burning Skies, since they permeate the experience and shape it in new and interesting ways.
The Vita, after all, isn’t limited to buttons and sticks for control. Its OLED screen is touch-sensitive, which Burning Skies uses to bolster its arsenal of crazy Chimeran weaponry with deadly secondary fire options. The carbine’s grenade launcher? Fires to wherever you tap on the screen. The brand-spanking new CFG, or Cluster Fire Gun? A quick swipe of one’s finger over a crowd of enemies sends a pack of homing rockets surging toward them. Of the three weapons that have been shown, two were brand new (the aforementioned CFG and a Chimeran chain-gun). Further, these guns are upgradeable, introducing even more versatility, or at least power, in a series known for its extensive variety of weaponry. The touchscreen, though, is pulling double duty.
Nihilistic was quick to realize that the Vita’s touchscreen provided them with the potential for virtual buttons, something seen in many a DS and 3DS game, as well as almost every traditional gaming title on the iPhone ever. Demos of the game, since its unveiling at Gamescom, have had two permanent markers on the right side of the screen: first, a button for quick access to grenades. This can be tapped to throw the explosive immediately or held to cook it. The other symbol is tied to the hero’s melee weapon: a fireman’s axe.
Resistance: Burning Skies has a brand new protagonist. That’s pretty much a must, since it’s set in the time between the first and second games, as the Chimera launch their invasion of the United States’ East Coast. We know what our other heroes were up to at this time, and so play falls to newcomer Tom Riley, a New York City firefighter who awakes in the Ellis Island research facility, where humans are experimenting with and researching Chimeran technology. Initially armed with only his axe, the game is set to take him on a journey from everyday firefighting hero to Chimera-blasting, resistance-heading folk hero.
He’s also figured out how to do something else that previous Resistance player-characters never seemed to wrap their heads around. Namely, Riley can take cover. Now, first off, this is not a snap-to cover system. You will not be dashing up to conveniently placed, chest-high walls and pressing a button to lock your character to them, until you press a second button that frees him. You are not a human magnet. Instead, if you are crouching behind something that serves as appropriate cover, Riley will take cover automatically and naturally. He can peer up over it using the Vita’s gyroscopic control, but he can also do so simply by firing his gun or looking down its sights. If players wish to leave cover, they merely have to stand up. Natural, fluid, and intuitive—that’s the order of the day.
The other part of that order is spectacle. Resistance: Burning Skies is a superb-looking handheld game, with bright visual effects and, even in its early demos, only traces of slowdown. The enemies are recognizable from other entries in the series, and the new hero’s fireman’s axe lends itself to some brutal and cinematic melee kills. Further, the game being on a small system does not mean that the player’s foes will all be equally diminutive. Massive boss enemies make a return, so large that they can scoop up Riley in a single hand and hold him ten, maybe fifteen feet above the ground as he pours Chimeran chainsaw blasts into their faces. There are jagged edges and somewhat flatter textures than have been seen in the PS3 entries in the series, but this is still leaps and bounds ahead of anything we’ve seen on previous portable systems.
Resistance: Burning Skies is a very personal story. It stars a man of the people—a public servant—under assault on his home turf, rising up and fighting back even in the face of almost certain defeat. This is somewhat more in line with the story in Resistance 3 than it is with those of the first two games, which were military tales of men who were expected, as part of their duty, to fight in large-scale battles. Only in the third did Joseph Capelli transition from stereotypical soldier to a hero of the people, fighting back as part of a true resistance movement. With Tom Riley, doing what must be done as opposed to simply what he is told, a certain grain of that more personal story looks to carry through. There’s also been talk of a social networking feature tied into the game, but developers have been as hush-hush on that as they have on the multiplayer. We’ll see how it all pans out next year.