Neither developed by Insomniac nor the system seller many were expecting, Resistance: Burning Skies is nevertheless a pretty good shooter that series fans and genre aficionados should look into.
R:BS takes place in 1951, between the first and second Resistance games. As you may recall, the Chimera have over-run Europe and started invading America. The single player aka story mode puts you in the boots and big hat of a New York firefighter named Tom Riley. Out on a routine call one day with two of your firefighter buddies, things go to hell quickly when the trio run into Chimera. After taking out a Chimera with his axe, Riley picks up a Bullseye and starts to immediately resist the invaders. Soon after this initial encounter he meets up with his wife and child who are on their way to an evac point out of the city. Instead of going with them, Riley teams up with an Army contact named Ellie who is organizing the resistance in and around Ellis Island. Ellie acts as your 'AI buddy' but she's nothing more than a tag-a-long prop, something the series is not unfamiliar with.
Resistance has been an interesting franchise to this point. The original was the hot topic of the PS3's launch back in '06, and the sequel did a lot to expand the multiplayer, although I did not like the campaign as much. Retribution on PSP was good if I recall (it's been years since I played through it) and R3 restored my faith in the franchise which I thought was just getting too routine. Having just completed Burning Skies, I can say the series, if you're one to think of things chronologically, has now taken a step back. It's not that Burning Skies is broke or as bad as some reviewers would have you believe, but it is about as straight-forward of a Resistance game as you could make. Everything from the level design to the characters to the AI leave something (in some cases, a lot) to be desired. Yet, the fun and interesting weapons (including new ones) along with the intangible draw of the underdog story that Resistance has told on several occasions now, holds up Burning Skies during its most mundane parts. As a series fan and a happy Vita owner, R:BS does enough, not as much as I was hoping for, but still enough, to ultimately be a 'good game.' Although the tone of some of this review may not reflect that...
Before getting into too many specifics, let's examine the controls, given that this is the first FPS on the twin stick Vita. You can probably guess most of the control scheme, but without an L2/R2, you may be wondering how you deploy that Auger shield or fire that grenade from the Folsam? Rather easily in fact, you use the front screen touch controls. This took just a little bit of getting used to, but touching, sometimes swiping (as is the case with the Auger shield or loading the crossbow on the Mule), works really well. Grenades, including traditional frags and my favorite, the Hedgehogs, are thrown with touch controls too. I thought that maybe Nihilistic could have used the rear touchscreen instead of causing players to abandon the face buttons for a sec to touch the front screen, but I can see how that too would be at least a little awkward. As it stands, using the front screen controls works very well, and the rear pad is used only to run (double tap + left stick to start a sprint). Running, not something you really need to do often in the campaign except for a few scripted parts, works well enough, but I did have some minor tap response issues with the backscreen, but this is just as likely to be my own fault as that of the game.
R:BS introduces a few new weapons to the series if I'm not mistaken. It's been a while since I have played any Resistance game, but the Mule and Hunter seem like new weapons. The Mule is a makeshift double-barreled shotgun with a crossbow attachment as its secondary fire. The shotgun is very effective against the thin, very fast moving zombie-like characters from R2 and R3, and the crossbow provides some explosive firepower, although you can only hold about three arrows. The Hunter becomes probably the most used weapon late in the game; it combines powerful damage, semi-auto capability, and a slick automated drone as secondary fire. Other weapons include the Folsam, Bullseye, Auger, Sixeye, Sw.A.R.M., and Mauler. As with previous Resistance games, all of these weapons remain useful throughout the campaign. Sometimes the 'hardest' part of a firefight is deciding what weapon you're going to use because they are nicely balanced and fun to use.
You can also upgrade the weapons with Gray Tech by finding the bright blue (oddly enough) cubes in the world. These upgrade cubes are actually a significant part of the story, but you'll use them to unlock upgrades like extended mags, increased damage, and quick scope recovery. Each weapon has six upgrades, three "red" and three "blue." You can only have two upgrades on a weapon at anytime, one from each color. There are some nice upgrades, like adding a scope to the Folsam and making the Auger fire three shots at once, but somewhere around the halfway point of the game I didn't find much reason to keep upgrading and ended up with a dozen or more unused cubes. In multiplayer, the weapon upgrades are unlocked as you rank up, so for example you need to be at least a rank two to equip Hedgehog grenades and about a rank 30 to use the stabilizer upgrade for the Hunter.
Resistance games depend heavily on their creative and numerous weapons, and Burning Skies continues that tradition. It also brings back the notion of poor AI, friendly and enemy. The Chimera are a sort of raw being though, so you'd expect them to prevail from numbers and force, not tactics, so I can more or less look passed the mostly brain-dead enemy AI. On the other hand, experiencing Ellie, the primary friendly AI character, is disappointing. You've got all of the cliched issues here: she never reloads, never uses another weapon even though there are far better choices, always disappears when you could use her most, is overlooked by nearly all of the enemies (especially the harder ones who zone in exclusively on you), knows things that she really shouldn't know yet, pops up out of nowhere when its convenient, and the list goes on.
Let me tell you about a part on the George Washington Bridge level that is so scripted it hurts. You get to a locked door, that, despite having enough firepower on you to turn the tide of the war, and bearing in mind that the entire bridge is completely destroyed, she decides to stop and pick the lock instead of blowing through it. Low and behold, as soon as she turns around a huge dropship of Chimera flies over. Rather than "help," she's going to keep fooling with the lock. She just needs a little more time -- and a little more -- oh, it turns out she needs exactly two more seconds than it took you to kill a boss character. It's cheesy scripted events like that that pop up during the campaign at times that really made me wish some more thought and heart were put into the AI and the story-telling.
One thing I am happy to say is that at least you don't have to keep Ellie alive. Given her poor aiming and lack of interest in taking cover, that's a good thing. I've harped on this note for a while I know, but to me it's not the level design or story that hurt the R:BS campaign the most, it's the AI and scripted events that feel like they're out of something we played a decade ago. It's that sort of lazy developing that really irks me here. Speaking of level design, R:BS has a very linear design. You will often see paths that look promising, but they either stop immediately or are just there to let you pick up another Intel collectible, or maybe some ammo or Gray Tech. It'd be hard enough to get lost, but the game also has an icon that pops up to show you where to go should you get turned around. R:BS utilizes a lot of old school level design themes like crawling through vents, walking down narrow, curvy hallways (especially on the last level), and lots of vertical design like falls (I think about half of the levels either start or end with Riley falling on his ass), stairs, and elevators. You can also tell -- as many old FPS games used to do -- when you're about to encounter a boss by the ridiculous amount of ammo littered in some areas. If there were a level select code you could literally warp to the final stage and find all of the weapons and ammo you need and more to win. Again it's just disappointing, lazy, uninspired design.
R:BS is easy on Normal, although it's worth noting you can change the difficulty from the pause menu. When you do die, however, expect some surprisingly long load times. I had just a couple of cases where my load times were super short, like under five seconds, but that was only when I died very near the checkpoint. In all other cases, load times breach twenty seconds. Even worse is when you stop playing the game entirely and comeback. After the expected logos and menu and such, you're required to watch the minute or so chapter video before the load screen. I may be nit-picking here, but for a portable game, it seems like you'd want the player to be able to get right back where he left off and allow him to skip cutscenes he's already seen.
As for presentation, R:BS looks very good and runs smoothly. I had a few relatively small graphical glitches, including one post-cutscene incident where all of the textures were whited out that required me to reload a save, but overall it's a technically sound game. Art direction is so-so, plenty of drab areas and generic sci-fi designs (final level), but also some areas with good lighting. I thought some of the monsters looked pretty awesome, too. There's practically no soundtrack, which is a real shame as it could have spiced up the otherwise steady drone of footsteps and gunfire.
I haven't played a whole lot of multiplayer, but there is support for up to eight players on Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Survival. Six maps are included and an XP system that unlocks those weapon upgrades I referenced earlier. I know there were a lot of connection issues out of the gate, but I only got this game a week ago and haven't experienced a whole lot of issues to this point.