Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Review: Unit 13 (PS Vita) - Portable warfare

A few weeks back, I found myself with an itchy trigger finger and an opportunity to take my tactical combat on the go with Unit 13 on the PS Vita. I was intrigued, truth be told. I'm a huge fan of third-person and tactical shooters, even if they are over-saturating the gaming industry nowadays. There are lots of options available to these genres on the PS Vita, especially with its unique with mobility and control options. With my curiosity tickled, I decided to pick up Unit 13 and see what it has to offer.


Cover is your best friend, especially since it's bulletproof!
If you're looking for a tactical shooter, Unit 13 has that aspect locked down on all fronts. Across the board, gameplay is mostly buttoned up. Most of the mechanics are pretty stable. You have your basic movement and shooting controls combined with some touch screen integration for jumping over obstacles, disarming explosives, and picking up objectives. For combat, you have the triggers assigned to aiming and shooting as expected, as well as a button activated melee attack. Additionally, you tap a touchscreen icon to reload or toggle first person aiming mode (with optics, scopes, sights, etc.). Your grenades, claymores, and other equipment are also triggered via touchscreen.

Different characters have different skill bonuses and stats
Unit 13 facilitates the option to build out your characters to fit your playstyle. As you level up different characters, you unlock their attachments for use with the others. For example, leveling up the Commando (Animal) unlocks the ACR assault rifle and the ACOG scope attachment for the other classes. As you start unlocking weapons and attachments, you are really able to tailor your classes to your liking. Additionally, the game rewards your playstyle (whatever it is) by granting you bonuses based on your performance. These bonuses are awarded for a variety of actions, including stealth kills, remaining undetected, chaining headshots, and building a killstreak (just to name a few). To add an additional layer, different classes receive a score boost to certain types of actions. For example, the stealth character (Ringo) gets bonus points added to any stealth action.

Enemies appear on your mini-map at all times
The game consists of a series of missions that you gradually unlock. Some missions are thematic and require a certain playstyle. For example, Covert missions require the player to avoid detection and complete objectives including assassinations and stealing data. Meanwhile, Deadline is a timed mode that encourages you to go loud and hard with light machine guns or shotguns. My personal favorites, however, are the Direct Action and Elite missions. In Direct Action, you have a variety of objectives to complete and droves of enemy patrols and choke points to work your way through. Your playstyle, however, is completely up to you. Elite missions are similar, except your health regeneration is disabled. These missions tend to be more difficult and require an additional layer of planning and execution. There are also a series of assassination missions that send you after high value targets. They're fun, and often times challenging.


While Unit 13 is a competent shooter title, there are several shortcomings that detract from the game's overall quality. I mentioned that controls were mostly polished earlier- the "mostly" is due to some pretty severe control issues that can be caused by the touchscreen button placements. The touchscreen buttons that trigger actions like zooming in or jumping over cover are placed right next to the thumb-sticks. While, in theory, this is convenient placement, the big problem is that you will find yourself accidentally jumping over cover or scoping in when you don't want to. Best case, this is just a small nuisance. More often than not, however, this will cause you to jump right into enemy fire or fall to your death. Poor tactical placement of these major tactical buttons.

Unit 13 features online Co-op
That said, the game's biggest weakness is that it just feels incomplete. One cause of this is that while there are several different game modes and dozens of missions, all of them take place on the same few maps. If you find yourself wondering "Haven't I been here already?" it's because you have been there - there are only about 8 to 10 different maps. The only differences are that the player and enemy spawns are changed and that different doors may be opened or closed. That's about it. Additionally, the enemy AI also seems unfinished. They'll shoot at you and run to cover, sure, but don't expect them to really work together or make it a challenge. More often than not, you'll snipe one bad guy and then his buddy will run to his body and wait for you to shoot him too. 

If you're looking for an interesting story to make these faults worthwhile, you will be sorely disappointed. Yes, there is an enemy organization that you're fighting and running counter-terror operations against, but that is about as deep as it goes. There's no plot, no story, no character development. -it's just a straight up shooter game. Mission start, shoot some bad guys, complete objectives, shoot more bad guys, head to the extraction point. Fortunately, the shooter aspect of the game is pretty well done, but the lack of even a basic Counter-Terrorism plot is disappointing.


Score: 6 out of 10

Unit 13 shaped up to be a decent shooter game, but that is all it shaped up to be: decent. 

The shooter element of the title is well done and fairly polished, but the lack of the story or innovation makes it hard to stay interested in the game for very long, especially given how many different cookie-cutter shooter titles there are in the market.

There's just nothing new or ground-breaking going on with this title, even though the Vita brought many unique possibilities. For example, why not have the first-person aiming feature be controlled by motion control? Imagine how fun it could be to move the Vita around in an attempt to line up your perfect sniper shot. At the end of the day, Unit 13 feels like just another mediocre shooter. That's not to say it isn't fun, because it definitely can be... if that's what you're looking for. Just don't expect it to be a memorable experience.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Review: Gravity Rush (PS Vita) - Gravity Hasn't Been This Cool Since Newton

I'll be blunt on this one. Gravity Rush is perhaps one of the most fun games that I've played in a long time. That's not to say the game is perfect, because it's not. However, playing Gravity Rush was so enjoyable because it delivers innovative gameplay coupled an intriguing "zero-to-superhero" story.

The game throws you into the heels and one-piece of the mysterious girl, Kat. Unfortunately for her, she wakes up with amnesia in an alley in the floating city of Hekkesville. On the bright side, she's not alone thanks to her strange cosmic-cat that gives her the power to shift gravity around her (hence why she is referred to as a "Shifter" by the city's denizens). As any good amnesiac would do, she decides to use these powers to help the people around her  and become a monster fighting wonder-girl.

Now that the spoiler-free synopsis is out of the way, let's take a deep dive into the Pros and Cons of Gravity Rush.


There were two things that really made me fall in love with this game: 1.) fun, innovative controls, 2.) the rich yet simple story.

The controls and handling in Gravity Rush truly are superb and polished. You have your traditional buttons and thumb sticks that provide you with your basic functionality. You run, jump, kick, interact, and do all the other things that you'd expect to be able to do in the year 2012. In addition to the norm, Gravity Rush also utilizes the functionality of the PS Vita's Sixaxis to motion control the camera angle while Kat manipulates gravity.Additionally, the touchscreen is heavily utilized to initiate the "gravity slide" ability, which lets you slide across your surface (ground, walls, ceiling, you name it) at high speeds. You'll also find yourself tapping the touchscreen during boss battles to initiate your flashy superhero finisher moves. As I mentioned earlier, each of the control features are quite polished, and I seldom found myself experiencing any difficulty driving Kat as she adventured through the city of Hekkesville. There's a bit of a learning curve when it comes to successfully managing the gravity slide ability, but its not terribly steep. This fluid and accessible control scheme made it even easier for me to engage with the story.

Gravity Rush spins a tale that always keeps you curious to find out more. The secret sauce, in my opinion, is that the actual story is very simple. That said, the world that the story takes place in is robust, rich, imaginative, and sometimes confusing. Take the original Star Wars trilogy as a comparison: a cookie-cutter "good vs. evil" story combined with a cast of interesting characters and a robust setting. That's the type of dynamic present in Gravity Rush, it's a basic superhero origin tale that is successful due to its cast and setting.

Kat (left) and Raven (right)
There's a solid variety of characters who each bring their own flair to the story. On one hand, you have simple and quirky characters, like detective Syd and a few other denizens of Hekkesville. On the other, you have intriguing and complex ones like Raven, your rival, and the sinister Alias. Additionally, you have the Nevi, which serve as your primary enemies in Gravity Rush. These are strange monsters that are terrorizing the city of Hekkesville. They're enigmatic, to say the least, and you find yourself constantly wondering what they are and where they came from. This combination of intrigue and mystery lends itself well to Kat's superhero tale.

It's hard to build a superhero story without the setting: Batman is just as much about Gotham as it is about Bruce Wayne. Gravity Rush is no different. The vividly imagined city of Hekkesville is divided into four floating districts that each have their own atmosphere and personality. In addition to this, you travel to other places in (and out of) the world, but telling you any more would leak some considerable spoilers. Overall, it is pretty entertaining exploring each of these places just to see how the world is imagined.


Like I said, Gravity Rush is not perfect. In my opinion, the reason for this is that aside from the main story missions, there's really very little to do. There just are not many side-quests for you to pursue. On one hand, you have several challenge missions that you can do (race modes and time-attack battles), as well as a side quest that has you looking for a dimension-displaced couple (say that ten times fast). Beyond that, though, there's nothing to do after beating the game unless you download the DLC mission packs.You're pretty much left to explore the city (which is actually quite fun). Additionally, there are no enemy encounters outside of the story missions, challenges, and level replays. It's actually a little strange since the game puts so much emphasis on Hekkesville being besieged by Nevi. The lack of open-world enemies takes away from the "world in peril" vibe that the story gives off.

OVERALL RATING: 9 out of 10

Despite having a few flaws, Gravity Rush is a very positive experience and is perhaps the best PS Vita title on the market to date (for what that is worth). Sadly, being on the Vita could be this game's major downfall. I could easily see this becoming a niche title because of its sole distribution on the PS Vita platform. 

I hope this is not the case, as I would love to see future installments in the story. The game's ending definitely hints at a Gravity Rush 2 - an idea that I hope comes true. Right now, there's so much parity in the gaming industry that a unique title like Gravity Rush is a breath of fresh air that reminds you what gaming is truly about: having fun.