Resistance: Burning Skies is both a triumph and a crushing disappointment. Having had Uncharted: Golden Abyss set the standard for how PS3 franchises could be served on Sony's new handheld, we're now hit with an example of how not to do it. Burning Skies provides ample proof that an FPS can work on the Vita, but it also shows that, without brilliant game design to back that up, you still don't get that great an experience.
Sony's choice to equip the Vita with dual analogue controls was always a smart decision, and Burning Skies is a great example of how and why. While we've seen some decent efforts with touchscreen controls on tablets, this is the first FPS I've played on a mobile device where moving and aiming just works. There's no need to relearn the basics or adjust to a different system, you simply play the game much as you would a standard console FPS, using the left-stick to move, the right-stick to move your view, the left trigger to aim down the sights and the right trigger to shoot. It's familiar, intuitive and effective.
Where Burning Skies doesn't work quite so well is in the decision to employ touchscreen controls for secondary functions. Your hero is a fireman, so it makes sense to have an axe to wield, and the little tap to lash out at alien aggressors won't cause any problems. Beyond that, however, you'll find the touchscreen used to aim and throw grenades, arm a crossbow with exploding bolts, tag enemies for guided bullets or set a missile lock for your rocket launcher. It's not that all this stuff isn't fun, but it's hard to do quickly, and FPS games are all about fast action. There are times when you don't make full use of the game's weapons simply because doing so makes it harder to survive.
That's a shame, because Resistance has always had one of the best weapon sets going, and Burning Skies is no exception. Every gun in the game has a secondary fire mode and/or some other twist on the formula, whether it's a rifle that creates shields and fires through walls or a shotgun that doubles as the aforementioned crossbow. Even a mini-gun has a secondary heat attack that vaporises nearby enemies. There are sniper rifles that fire off traps and alien carbines that send out lightning-spitting drones, and even grenades that become spiky anti-personnel mines. If you know Resistance then you know what to expect, but it all makes the business of blasting bad guys a bit of a treat.
Graphically, Burning Skies has a bit of that launch game feel. Where Uncharted: Golden Abyss looked pretty much like an Uncharted, this Resistance looks closer to the patchy Resistance: Fall of Man - itself a launch game - than the more polished Resistance 2 and Resistance 3. There are some spectacular sequences and enemies look good, but some of the texture work is fuzzy and there are odd glitches along the way. It's a lot better looking than most smartphone or tablet shooters, but not quite the technical showcase that the Vita needs it to be.
The real problem, though, is how unexciting the action is. Burning Skies has a plot, with a fireman fighting to save his family as the alien Chimera of Resistance take New York, but it has little bearing on the actual gameplay, which is run-of-the-mill shooter stuff. The Chimera, smart and aggressive in Resistance 3, are dull-witted opponents here, incapable of doing much beyond standing behind cover and popping up to be shot, or making the odd surge forwards. At times they even lost those wits entirely, stuck trying to move into position allowing you to finish them off as they run on the spot.
The levels have no real flow or pacing, just a sequence of scraps with groups of Chimera, mixed up with the odd new opponent and leading to another unimaginative boss battle. It's entertaining in a mindless sort of way, and odd sequences shine with more interesting encounters or odd bits of tension, but by now we've seen most of this stuff done before, and done better. It wouldn't pass muster on a home console, and it shouldn't really pass muster here.
Things pick up slightly in multiplayer, mainly because human opponents provide a tougher challenge than those dumb Chimera. Eight-player deathmatch and team deathmatch can be fun, and there's a variation where downed human players become Chimera. All the same, it lacks the pizazz of a really good console FPS, and the touchscreen controls prove a hindrance to using the more exciting alien weapons. SMGs and sniper rifles rule just because the other weapons are too slow and unwieldy to be of use in a sudden skirmish.
Overall, this is a missed opportunity. We all know that the Vita has the graphics power and the controls to deliver a storming FPS, but it's no good giving us a second-rate version of a big franchise hit. Burning Skies neither looks nor feels that special, and where Resistance should be tough, gritty and exciting, this is bitty, tired and unengaging.
The decent multiplayer modes mean that Vita-owning deathmatch addicts might want to take a second look, and the controls alone make it one of the better handheld FPS games out there. All the same, there are better options for showing off your Vita, and it won't be long until a stronger shooter comes around.
Pros: Tight controls; excellent weapons; fun multiplayer modes
Cons: Unexciting level design; unimpressive graphics; slow touchscreen controls
Manufacturer: Sony Computer Entertainment