Lasting First Impressions of Resistance: Burning Skies from Nihilistic Software
After Insomniac Games’ Resistance: Fall of Man launched in November 2006 against Epic Games’ new IP, Gears of War, both sci-fi shooters involving survival of humans in the face of an alien invasion, the franchise has been struggling to stand out in a crowded genre. Fast forward to 2012, with the intervening years having been filled with innumerable console shooters including two sequels in the Resistance series alone, and Nihilistic Software now brings us Resistance: Burning Skies and the first of its kind: a dual analog first-person shooter on a handheld platform. Sure, we’ve seen many handheld shooters attempt to recreate the console experience by clumsily mapping movement and camera controls to a single analog stick and face buttons (including PSP entrant Resistance: Retribution), but the PlayStation Vita offers the horsepower and additional thumb stick that should make it possible. I spent an hour wrapped around my Vita to see if Nihilistic Software actually pulled it off.
Resistance: Burning Skies drops you into the flame retardant boots of New Jersey firefighter Tom Riley just as the Chimeran forces invade North America’s East Coast in an alternate 1951. What begins as a call to extinguish a fire at a nearby power station quickly becomes a crash course in alien extermination and high-tech weapons procurement. Tommy’s vocation does provide for novel interactions with the environment and alien skulls by way of his monographed and ever ready fire axe. Humanoid-friendly weaponry left behind by fallen Chimera quickly fill Tommy’s arsenal and may be variably customized and upgraded using mysterious cubes hidden throughout the linear adventure. Tommy soon bands together with Ellie Martinez and her fellow Minute Men, a local resistance group with prior knowledge of the coming invasion and of the Unites States’ pre-existing awareness of the alien threat. Beyond this conspiracy laden setup, the story does not feel particularly original or interesting, but serves as adequate framework for the action.
The question as to whether a satisfying first-person shooter experience can be had on a handheld platform can finally be answered with a firm ‘yes’. Burning Skies manages to capture the console experience thanks largely in part to the dual analog controls of the Vita. I had no problem circle strafing, systematically clearing rooms and corridors, jumping, ducking, and firing from cover all from the comfort of a familiar control scheme. As is standard for the franchise, each weapon has an alternate fire mode but this time they are accessible only via touch controls. I fumbled occasionally when moving my fingers away from the buttons and thumb sticks but the Vita’s screen is responsive enough for the task and the touch controls were thoughtfully implemented such as to enhance the experience more than detract from it.
The Vita’s hardware manages to push out the polygons without any noticeable frame rate issues. Close inspection does reveal some conservative model complexity, but the overall graphical landscape is sharp and detailed with eye-pleasing textures and lighting. At arm’s length, I was hard pressed to tell the difference between Burning Skies and its console brethren. Major story points are presented between chapters in a motion comic format that does suffer from noticeable compression artefact, but this is only a minor gripe. Audio quality is mixed, leaving weapons sounding thin and lacking, even when using headphones. Voice work is particularly well done but the occasional flat line was more indicative of the weak script than the ability of the performer.
Given my burnout with the Resistance series and my frustrating past experience with Resistance: Retribution on the PSP, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed my time with Resistance: Burning Skies. While Burning Skies is not the best Vita game I have played nor is it the type of game I typically look for on a handheld platform, I plan on picking it up again and completing the single player campaign during times when my flat screen is taken over for the viewing pleasure of my two young daughters.
Nihilistic, I gave you an hour and I am IMPRESSED.