Resistance: Burning Skies is an extremely important game for Sony. It’s no secret that Sony has been pushing the idea of console-quality games on their handhelds since the launch of the PSP. They soon realized, just as consumers did, that this meant more than just high-quality graphics. Without a second analog stick on the PSP the most popular genre in videogaming, the FPS, would just never feel right or control precisely.
By adding a second analog stick to the PS Vita, Sony has made a major step in the right direction of accomplishing their goal. The problem is, when you emphasize the idea of console-quality, the most important word in that description is ‘quality.’ While Burning Skies does have some nice ideas and shows potential for the genre on Sony’s new handheld, it is bogged down by frustrating design choices and ends up being nothing more than a proof-of-concept of what handheld gaming can become in the future.
Burning Skies takes place during the Chimera invasion of North America in August 1951. Players assume the role of Tom Riley, a local firefighter, who gets mixed up within the conflict, while on his search for his family who got separated from him during the invasion. Despite not being a military man like prior series protagonists Nathan Hale, Joseph Capelli and Jaymes Grayson, Riley doesn’t react to the ongoing invasion like you would expect a civilian to. He only stops once to question what exactly is going on and in short time, he’s handling an Auger as though he has been since he was a teenager.
That’s too bad because developer Nihilistic Software could have done more incorporating Riley’s firefighting skills and civilian background to help differentiate the gameplay and story from the rest of the series. There are but a few instances where Riley must rescue people who will then raise arms in combat with him. Because of this, Burning Skies ends up feeling like nothing more than just another Resistance game. The story never builds up to anything but a rescue mission. The ability to carry an axe for the entirety of the game is the only real change-up in gameplay that his background brings.
Burning Skies is the definition of a mixed bag. For every thing it does right, there’s an example of how it could have done it better. Take for example its musical score. It is easily one of the best things to come out of the game. It evokes memories of classic game scores like Call of Duty: Frontlines when it swells up during the middle of a fire fight against a boss or swarm of Chimera. The problem is that the score is as scarce as it is great. For the majority of the game, the only sound you hear with any regularity is the sound of your footsteps or the sounds associated with picking up ammo off the ground.
Burning Skies uses the touchscreen in some great ways. There is an axe icon and a grenade icon on the right side of the screen next to the second thumbstick. You can quickly tap the axe icon if you’re up close to an enemy to get a melee kill or you can tap the grenade icon for a quick toss over cover. Unfortunately, the game also forces you to touch a door every time you need to open one. By the end of the last level, you’re literally touching the screen every three seconds in parts to open doors. Run for three seconds, open a door. Run for three seconds, open a door. Repeat. It is super frustrating and completely unnecessary.
The only real use of the Vita’s rear touchpanel is the ability of double tapping to sprint. This allows you to keep your thumbs on the analog sticks, ready to fire if need be. I had issues with this control setup and rarely had it work correctly. There is an alternate way of sprinting by pressing the down arrow on the directional pad which I had to use for the majority of the game.
One of the areas that the Resistance series has always excelled in is its weapons. There are eight different weapons to find throughout the game which include series main-stays like the Bullseye and the Auger. Each piece of the arsenal feels unique and while you can only have two equipped at a time, every time you find a new weapon it’s stored in your inventory which you can quickly access by holding down the triangle button. You have all the weapons you need to wade your way through any enemy forces.
The problem arises when you want to use your weapon’s alternate fire mode. To use the Carbine’s grenade launcher or the Bullseye’s tagging feature, you must first mark the enemy by touching their position on the touchscreen for about half a second. It feels like the enemy AI has been recalibrated to adjust for this. Enemies will appear on-screen and wait a while to begin firing. Nothing takes you out of the intensity of a firefight like seeing a Chimera fly onto a wall on your side, then just look at you without firing while it gives you time to mark them. It feels cheap and predictable and the only time you feel tension in battle is when you’re heavily outnumbered.
Being heavily outnumbered only occurs a few times late in the game’s six levels. Burning Skies, for the most part, does a good job with its checkpoint system. There are a few badly placed ones which will have you repeating multiple fire fights and a couple that will have you watching unskippable cutscenes. But these are few and far between and aren’t a huge problem.
Burning Skies also features competitive eight-player online multiplayer, four versus four, across six unique maps and three modes, including Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and another mode entitled Survival. All the modes are pretty straight-forward but impressive for a handheld game. But once again, it feels more like a proof of concept that a handheld, FPS multiplayer mode can be achieved and seems like nothing more than building blocks for future titles on the system.
Resistance: Burning Skies had potential to be so much more. It does build up hope for what a portable version of Killzone, Battlefield or Call of Duty could become on the Vita. Unfortunately, the over-emphasis of touchscreen controls and the lack of originality keep it from succeeding. There are a lot of first-person-shooters available on other systems. Burning Skies biggest blunder is that it fails to give a worthwhile excuse to abandon them in favor of it.