I had no intention of ever buying a PS Vita. My PSP has been lying dormant since 2006; the Splinter Cell: Essentials UMD still inside; an undeniable timestamp of the last game I played. I appreciated what the PSP represented back in its prime; it truly was a revolutionary handheld but it lacked the controls I needed to play the games I liked – mainly action and FPS. So when the Vita was announced and I saw that it was coming with dual sticks; that alone had me snapping to attention. And when I heard about Unit 13, a tactical cover-based shooter being developed by my pals over at Zipper Interactive, the creators of SOCOM and MAG, two of my favorite PS3 games; well…here we are – me with a Vita and a copy of Unit 13.
Unit 13 gets right down to business from the opening screen. You complete some basic training to get acclimated with the Vita controls and then you jump into a series of more than 45 missions, each playable alone or with an online partner. When you complete one mission others will unlock, and your performance is graded with up to five gold stars giving you incentive for replaying previous missions if you didn’t get a perfect rank. These stars are used to unlock VIP missions with HVT (High Value Targets) that are much more difficult than the normal missions, plus they eliminate the mid-level checkpoints. Unit 13 tracks your scores based on kills, completion time, and mission objectives and then ranks you on leaderboards which can be cycled between your friends, local players (using NEAR), or global leaderboards.
For those looking for an in-depth story to tie all these missions together; there is none. You get a short mission briefing outlining your mission goals, secondary objectives, and any potential targets, and then you are dumped into the level, which can take anywhere from 10-20 minutes to complete; perfect for mobile gaming. Periodic checkpoints save your progress along the way if you happen to die or need to suspend the game and finish later. What is really great about the mission presentation is that you have a variety of mission types ranging from recon to assault and my favorite, stealth. You see right up front the style for each mission, what’s required for completing it, as well as the difficulty and estimated time to finish.
Mission types will also influence your choice of soldier. There are six to choose from, each with their own customizable weapons and statistical bonuses. You’ll be earning XP throughout the missions, which will be leveling up your chosen soldier granting them more perks and bonuses up through level ten. Matching the right soldier for the right mission is critical, not only for mission success, but also in earning high scores worthy of the leaderboards.
Another great feature; one that keeps me coming back almost every day, are the Daily Challenges. These are special missions with fixed objectives and you only get ONE CHANCE to play them. Your score is logged, and you can check back to see who won the challenge the following day. It should be noted that this, along with co-op play requires an online pass. A code is provided with the retail release, but if you purchase a used game or digital copy you’ll need to purchase a separate code to activate these features.
The Vita’s dual analog sticks make all the difference in the world. I can’t believe we ever tried to play these games on the PSP. The Vita recreates the console experience almost perfectly – the only caveat being the shortness of the actual stick doesn’t really allow for precise aiming, but you do get that snap-lock aim assist when you aim with LT. Other than that, the sticks, the triggers, and the buttons are all perfectly implemented, and they even toss in some touch screen controls for navigating the menus as well as using items and reloading your weapons in the game.
Missions are varied and most are fun and challenging thanks to some great map designs and aggressive enemy AI – I’m talking guys who will rush your cover position while you are reloading…that’s MY tactic! I quickly learned that stealth kills were the best way to get through most of the maps, since once you fire that first shot all hell breaks loose; even in surrounding areas, and there is a lengthy cool down before soldiers resume their normal patrol patterns. Plus you get some nice XP bonuses for stealth tactics. One thing I didn’t enjoy were a few of the levels that had infinitely spawning soldiers that gave the game an arcade feel. You basically have to kill quickly and push through these sections.
The graphics are impressive; a huge step up from the PSP and coming awfully close to the quality we saw when the PS3 first launched. The 5” screen didn’t lessen the experience. The character models, level design, textures, and lighting were all very nice and the framerate was smooth with only a few hiccups during online co-op. The audio was excellent with some great music, realistic weapon effects, explosions, environmental noises, and quality voice work that had me eavesdropping more than I usually do in these games.
This is my first retail game for my new Vita and I’m pretty happy with both the game and the handheld. The twin sticks are going to allow gamers to play our favorite action and FPS games in a way that was never possible on previous mobile platforms. Unit 13 is a great first effort for the genre and I can’t wait to see what’s next.