The Resistance franchise leaves developer Insomniac's hands for the first time.
Resistance: Burning Skies has long been touted as the first portable shooter to take advantage of the Vita's two analog sticks, and the game attempts to flesh out little-known details from its own fiction. Players step into August, 1951 and the fireproof boots of Tom Riley, an NYC firefighter caught up in the early days of the Chimeran attack on earth. Europe has fallen, and the US government's refusal to allow its citizens information leaves no one prepared for the onslaught. Before he knows it, Riley is caught up with a military-esque band of freedom fighters called the Minute Men, and is on a city-wide mission to take out the Chimera and save his family.
By taking advantage of the Vita's tech (dual analog sticks, front and back touch-screens), developer Nihlistic has created a game that's a blast to play. Burning Skies proves that an FPS can work on a portable device—albeit with its fair share or problems—and play fairly well. The futuristic arsenal for which the series is known returns, along with a handful of surprises like the shotgun/crossbow and Tom Riley's fireman's axe. The secondary functions of each weapon are activated via touch screen and, despite a rather harsh learning curve, you'll soon be tagging Chimera and loading your crossbow with ease. When it's working, the music is dramatic and awesome, and the relatively long playtime makes the overall package worthwhile.
Never in my wildest, 12-year old dreams would I have thought it possible to play online with other gamers from a handheld device, and Burning Skies does just that. It was a few days before servers actually hosted matches with any sort of consistency, but now that most of the kinks are worked out, each of the online modes is incredibly fun. Matches take place in either traditional deathmatch form, or a Gears of War, horde-like survival mode. Up to 8 players can compete, and Nihlistic has done a wonderful job of providing maps appropriate in both size and scope. Admittedly, multiplayer is not available through the Vita's 3G connectivity, but wifi matches run just fine—besides, do you really need to play online while walking down the street? Sure, there are a few hiccups here and there (lag, long load times, etc.), but you can pump hours into online play thanks to the many weapon and perk unlockables. It's fun, nerds.
In the opening moments, we're told that Tom Riley is a firefighter. We even take him on an emergency call. And then that's it. After the first 15 minutes or so, his status as a fireman becomes naught but a distant memory and other than his axe, you wouldn't really know it. In fact, it just doesn't matter. I suppose we could say his willingness to help civilians caught up in the Chimeran death machine is in no small part related to his humanitarian employment, but it's an otherwise worthless plot point. NPCs (mostly Minute Men that aid in your quest from time to time) exist, but other than the spunky Ellie Martinez, they just don't matter. There is absolutely no reason to care for your family other than the story tells you to do so, and there's this super-weird pseudo-romantic moment between Riley and Ellie that left me wondering why the developers even gave the hero a wife and daughter. Is Riley's husband/father-ness a weak story crutch? Yes it is. Iron-sights are present, but the stiff camera deceleration upon using them hardly makes it worthwhile. Graphics are really only OK, which would almost be forgivable were it not for recent games like Uncharted: Golden Abyss utilizing Vita's OLED screen with mind-boggling detail. Later levels are so bland and boring that you may only wish to complete the campaign to reap the trophies, and though they're both great, music/sound effects are pretty don't work on a consistent level...and there's nothing more irritating than firing a silent gun.
The Bottom Line
Resistance is a beloved franchise from a beloved developer, and as the new kids on the block, Nihlistic has a hard time living up to the feats in story and gameplay achieved by its predecessor. To a certain extent, we can forgive the technical limitations set by the hardware, but there are enough problems with Burning Skies to make you think twice about buying it new. The multiplayer is absolutely fun, but graphical issues and a weak story make for a game that simply cannot live up to Insomniac's console titles. Diehard Resistance fans may get a kick out of seeing the initial days of the Chimeran invasion, but unless you've exhausted your other Vita options, you can probably wait til places start renting games out. In the meantime, do what I did: rent Resistance 2 and enjoy yourself.
Let it be known to all men and women that Resistance: Burning Skies receives 3 out of 5 stars!
Resistance: Burning Skies
Platform: PS Vita
Developer: Nihlistic Games
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Rating: M for Mature (your children will have nightmares, so be responsible and tell 'em no!)