Unit 13 is a collection of some of the best bits found in FPS, and third person shooters. You get to sneak about in Sam Fisher style taking out enemies silently, and then you get to go all out blasting away almost Rambo style. There are Ghost Recon sniper levels where you have to wait for the best opportunity to dispose of your target, and then there are timed levels with no time for specialities. Unit 13 removes storyline, proper character development and focuses the gameplay on a portable experience. It works really well for the time being, but will I remember the game in a year from now? Probably not, as I don’t really make any emotional connections to my highly trained elite force.
Developer Zipper Interactive has managed to cram a full-featured third person shooter experience onto the VITA. The gameplay works just as well, as it would on my television playing it on the PS3. Basically the game is mapped our exactly, as it would have been on a PS3 controller. The only differences are the addition of touchscreen controls for interacting with the environment, disarming bombs and picking up weapons. Using he on-screen controls also does jumping, throwing grenades, and reloading. When it comes to the controls I have only one complaint, and that is the scope button found too close to the right stick. Too often my thumb accidentally hit the scope inadvertently, and I would have liked an option to move around the touch controls slightly.
The game is divided into 36 levels with different difficulties, objectives and restraints. The hardest ones are the timed missions where you have to move quickly to achieve all mission goals before time runs out. Checkpoints replenish some extra time, but if you run out of it you have to start the level over. If out of time you have restart the level, and a tip is to quickly pause and choose to start from last checkpoint instead. Personally I prefer the stealth missions where I get a bit of that Sam Fisher déjà vu feeling. Disarming alarms, shooting cameras and sneaking up on victims is so much fun.
Levels are scored based on time, efficiency and combos. When you for example do a headshot you get a timer that shows in teh right corner. If you make another headshot within the time it restarts the timer, and you get combo points. Spectacular kills also gives extra bonus such as killing two enemies with a single bullet. The soldier you used in the mission gets experience, and can level up. Even though there is no choice in abilities or point distribution levelled up soldiers become better. More ammo, more effective grenades or longer combo timers give the soldier some boosted abilities. For each mission you get to select your active operative, and that means you can select one or two that you want to improve quicker. Only the covert missions really rely on the correct operative, as the infiltrator is the only one with silenced weapons.
Cool, and challenging extra levels are unlocked the more stars you gain in the single player part of the game. You can also tackle levels Coop with an online compadre. To me this is both a blessing, and a curse. As the enemy movements are scripted it meant that sure I got help in killing them, but it also meant that they behaved a lot differently than when I had played the level myself. My scores got lower in Coop, but on the other hand I got a more challenging experience again. Despite having scripted routes the AI is quite good at protecting itself, and some levels they are really narly throwing grenades at first opportunity.
The presentation is on par, and even better than anything seen on an iOS device in terms of FPS or third person shooter. The VITA isn’t that far off when compared to the PS3 looking at Unit 13. Of course most levels are quite small, and there is never any long draw distances. Some more particles, and destructible environments would have improved the graphical experience. Enemies, and the soldiers all move and behave realistically.
The sound is good with proper weapon sounds, good voiceover briefings and an ambient soundtrack. The one-liners used by the soldiers get old quickly, and make them feel kind of dumb instead of the intentional cool. You can listen to your own music, and still keep both sound effects and voiceovers. I rather play this game listening to some pummelling Cannibal Corpse for maximum immersion in violence.
Unit 13 is a great quick fix for any shooter fan looking for a game on the go. It will not become a classic, as it lacks both interesting characters and a proper coherent story. For the time being it is a solid title within the launch window of the VITA, and while we wait for other titles in the shooter genre it can help us keep the trigger finger in combat condition.