If you are going to be the first to release a shooter for a new piece of hardware, then you better make sure you get it right, especially when that hardware is portable. Sony knows this, so therefore decided to hand this specific task to Zipper Interactive, a studio that is no stranger to doing things a little differently. Zipper certainly has a colourful past, having begun the SOCOM series on PS2, before moving over to PS3 with its excellent 256 multiplayer shooter, M.A.G. Now the studio is trying its hand at PS Vita development and if it’s first attempt, Unit 13, is anything to go by, then this is going to be the start of a wonderful relationship.
Unit 13 is broken down into four parts; Single player, Co-op, High Value Targets and the Daily Challenge. The single player campaign doesn’t offer up the typical scenario you generally expect from shooters, there is no story as such, instead there are 36 missions, all broken up into byte sized chunks, each of which are unlocked as you play through.
Choosing from one of six operatives with unique abilities, you take part in the various missions on offer, some small and some longer and more challenging. The missions offer up all sorts of scenarios and gameplay types, therefore in one mission you may find that you only have a limited time to complete your objective and escape, while others will have no time limit, but will provide a tougher challenge, setting you multiple objectives, such as assassinating a set target and rescuing hostages. The gameplay is certainly varied and does not necessarily always see you going in all guns blazing; in fact, in some missions, you need to get in and out again without being seen, which is easier said than done.
At that end of each mission you will be rewarded based on the game’s five star system. One star is rewarded for completing the missions by doing the bare minimum, while five means you have achieved near perfection. Gaining at least three stars will allow you to unlock the Dynamic mode for that mission. The Dynamic mode changes objectives, enemy weapons and the locations of these, to random values and points in the environment, which obviously helps to mix things up a little and means no mission is ever the same.
No matter which mission you choose, each of the six operatives on offer will provide you with a different set of skills to choose from. Although you are generally given a recommended solider to use at the beginning of each mission, you can in fact choose to play with any of the six. Whichever operative you choose, playing through a mission will allow you to gain experience for them, giving you the chance to level them up to unlock new skills and weapons. Before you begin each match you are also given the opportunity to choose the equipment and weapons you’d like to take in with you, therefore the more experience you gain, the better equipped your operative will be.
The controls in Unit 13 should be familiar to anyone who has played a shooter before. The left stick is assigned to moving your character, while the right allows you to look around. The shoulder buttons are used for aiming and firing, while the face buttons let you sprint, reload and take cover. Zipper has mixed things up a little by implementing some touchscreen and touch panel controls. Thankfully this doesn’t ruin the experience as the touch controls are not game breakers, for instance, touching the reticule on the screen will allow you to zoom, while swiping left or right on the touch panel will allow you to swap shoulder view.
What we have seen so far from Vita is that it’s a very sociable device and Zipper’s shooter takes this philosophy and rolls with it. Something that runs through the single players roots is the ability to check your score for each mission against friends, other players in your area (using near), in your region and worldwide. This offers fantastic motivation to go back and try again. The menu design is fantastic, with notifications scrolling along the top of the screen, giving you tips and updating you on your progress, while a little message centre to this right of this gives updates on daily challenges and how well your friends are performing in the game. Thanks to this wonderful design and the constant, always on connection, the temptation is always there to jump in and play once more in order to get one over on your friends or anyone else on the leaderboards.
As mention earlier, Unit 13 also includes a High Value Target mode. These missions are unlocked based on your running total of stars, therefore the better you perform, the more of these missions will be available. HVT mode basically sees you going after the game’s VIPs without the safety net of checkpoints, therefore it’s not easy. As with the single player campaign, you can also check how your friends have done in each mission, giving you motivation to go back and play again if you didn’t perform to your best.
In addition to the HVT mode, you also have access to the online Daily Challenge. This doesn’t need to be unlocked and is basically your way of getting a good claim to fame. Everyone who enters into the daily challenge has the chance to get their name known for 24 hours as the person who took part and won. You only get one chance to complete the mission and submit your high score each day, however if you’re the winner, then the boasting rights are yours, well at least until a new mission appears at midnight.
Finally, Unit 13 also provides you with an online Co-op mode. Unfortunately our online pass would not let us access this for some reason, however we do know that it’ll let you complete in any game mode with a partner. Having someone by your side will obviously mix things up even more, giving you the chance to team up to take out difficult enemies, while other benefits include the ability to revive your team mates.
On the presentation side Unit 13 is a pretty solid experience. The maps are well designed and quite varied, the action is also very smooth, offering no cause for complaint. All of this is also back up by thumping music and some great effects, all of which sound fantastic with headphones plugged in. The voice acting is also spot on, if not a little sparse in places. Overall though it’s hard to pick any faults in the design of the game, especially when you add in the wonderfully designed menu system.
Considering Unit 13 is the PS Vita’s first shooter, it nails the portable shooting in the head with one bullet. It’s an instant hit and a lesson for all those looking to bring this genre to the console in the future. Unit 13 is a perfect portable and social gaming experience, there is nothing more that could have been asked of this game. If you love shooters and have a Vita, then purchasing this is a must.
Rating: OutstandingReview Policy(version tested: PS Vita)
Unit 13 is available exclusively to PlayStation Vita. You can order your copy here.