Bring On The Handheld FPS

Bring On The Handheld FPS

One simply cannot deny the fact that North American gamers love their first-person shooters, especially when the Call of Duty series continues to outsell itself as one of the most popular entertainment franchises ever made (a trend that is starting to reverse itself, though that's a topic for a different article.)

FPS gamers tend to fall into two camps: those who refuse to play with anything other than a mouse and keyboard, and those who have grown to accept the twin-stick control scheme of console FPSes. (I suppose you could argue that there's a third camp that prefers Wiimote or PS Move controls, perhaps nostalgic over the days of playing Duck Hunt on the NES or any of the myriad of rail shooters that came out in the glory days of the arcade. But those people don't really count. Because they're weird.)

Now, it's the twin-stick crowd that will soon be enjoying a new way to play their FPS games: on handhelds. The PS Vita's shrunken-down sticks make it the perfect device for such gameplay, and, despite being clunky and detrimental to the sleek visual aesthetic of the device, the 3DS' Circle Pad Pro attachment brings Nintendo's newest handheld up to speed as well. (Many of us in the gaming industry are predicting that the next model of the 3DS will include a second circle pad on the device itself, though Nintendo hasn't confirmed such a thing. It would certainly be a wise move on their part, though we probably shouldn't be expecting a new 3DS model until Nintendo can figure out how to quit selling the handheld at a loss. But, again, that's a topic for another article.)

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Next month, it's one of the lesser-played FPS franchises that will be gunning for the honor of being the first handheld twin-stick shooter. I speak, of course, of Resistance.

The Vita's Resistance: Burning Skies is most likely going to be the final game in the Resistance series, as Resistance 3 didn't sell very well despite receiving a fair amount of praise. (Personally, I felt that Resistance 3 was the best game in the series so far. I mean, after playing Resistance 1 and 2, I had sincerely hoped the third game in the series would be a bit of a departure. Other reviewers felt differently, and as a result were disappointed by the game's stepping away from the style of its predecessors. Either way, you can read more about it by checking out my full Resistance 3 review.) But even though it might be the Resistance series' swansong, Burning Skies is in an interesting place, introducing gamers to real handheld first-person shooting for the first time in history.

Of course, the FPS has attempted to migrate to handhelds before. Most notably, Metroid Prime: Hunters landed on the DS some time ago. The problem with Hunters, though, is that the DS' stylus control style wasn't very intuitive, as using the stylus and the face buttons simultaneously has always been awkward. The games that work the best on DS tend to either have optional face button commands or skip out on the touchscreen completely.

Sony's Xperia Play series of smartphones was supposed to usher in an era of twin-stick mobile gaming, but the twin touchpads on the device are no substitute for the tactile responsiveness of thumbsticks. With that in mind, I have my doubts that FPS gaming could ever truly thrive in the smartphone market.

So here we are, with the Vita and its twin sticks (which I've been gushing over ever since I first got my hands on a Vita at E3 last year.) Could this be the beginning of something?

I think so. I mean, even if Burning Skies ends up being complete garbage—or simply fails to draw consumers as Resistance 3 had before it—gamers aren't going to completely lose faith in the newly blossoming handheld FPS subgenre. The title we're better off watching here is the upcoming Call of Duty, which has been said to be coming to Vita later this year.

Call of Duty is simply a series that has an overwhelming number of fans. (And it would be fair to say that several of those fans can be a bit overwhelming themselves.) If any franchise can get gamers to try out a handheld FPS, it's CoD. I have a pretty strong feeling that CoD is going to convince several on-the-fence gamers to actually try the franchise on the Vita.

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Games like Uncharted: Golden Abyss and Unit 13 have already proven that the Vita's control layout is accommodating to shooters, at least as far as third-person shooters are concerned. The only real issue here is that the Vita doesn't necessarily lend itself to binge playing. The tiny sticks tend to cause thumb cramping, even for those of us who play a lot of video games. Battery life also might be a concern for anyone who plays their Vita in places where they don't have immediate access to a plug-in. I specifically remember Unit 13 wearing down my battery faster than most of the other Vita games I've played, and I have a sneaking suspicion the same will hold true for FPS games.

My prediction: Resistance: Burning Skies is introducing us to handheld twin-stick FPSes for the first time. However, the title genre fans should have their eyes on is the upcoming Call of Duty. If CoD can bring an experience to the Vita that resembles the console experience closely enough, we could be witnessing the birth of a new subgenre of gaming. If CoD fails to impress, though, it might be a bit harder for other developers to be willing to try their hand at a substantial handheld FPS. Though, even if handheld CoD is a complete disaster, I doubt that would mean the end of the handheld FPS completely. There is just too much love for the genre right now to see developers too scared to even try taking it to the Vita.

Josh Wirtanen
Editor / News Director
Date: April 26, 2012

*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*

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