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.

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