Vita owners don’t have a lot of choices when in comes to the shooter department. Uncharted: The Golden Abyss launched with the system, but after completing that there wasn’t much else. You’re in luck! Sony Computer Entertainment and Zipper Interactive (recently closed) have put together an interesting package that not only resembles what a portable SOCOM title would feel like on the Vita, but also a great social experience.
Unit 13 lacks a narrative, although that isn’t a bad thing at all. Instead, you are presented with 35 missions; ranging from “get in, get it done,” to stealth missions, and even some timed missions. Everything varies in length per mission, but most could be finished in fifteen minutes or less (depending on how many times you die/get caught). Each stage can be approached from various angles, so no one particular way is right.
The missions themselves aren’t what make this game; it’s the leaderboard challenges. Much like arcade games we all know and love, after you clear a mission you are presented with your score which is ranked amongst your friends. Zipper has also implemented daily challenges which feature this. You get one chance to post the highest possible score in the daily challenge.
The daily challenge and dynamic missions (unlocked per mission after completing the Ranked variant) are where the replay value is at. Dynamic missions randomize the drop-in points and objective positions (the objectives remain the same), as well as the difficulty. So when you hop into a dynamic mission you really have no idea where you are going or the enemy routes.
While the AI traces the same paths in a specific mission, once you have attracted their attention they behave in a way that really keeps you on your toes. I had crept into a room and picked off one guy with a headshot, which then startled the guy next to him. I backed up, but it was too late. I had been seen and the solider came barreling around the corner with a shotgun and killed me. Enemies with rifles sit back and don’t get in close like that.
You pick between six operatives, each with their own specific strengths (electronics, stealth, marksman, etc.). On top of starting gear, each operative has their own unique score bonuses. So one operative may get more points defusing mines while another will get a better score nailing headshots. Your score at the end of a mission acts as experience points to level up said-operative, which will grant you bigger bonuses and more gear.
A nice variety of guns are available to choose from, but each person has their own starting gun. You can eventually unlock them for everyone, but only by leveling up. The guns all felt weighty, which is a lovely bonus. As this was my first shooter to really play on the Vita, I was a little concerned with how the analog sticks would feel, but after a little bit of adjustment time I was doing just fine.
To compensate for a lack of secondary shoulder buttons (as well as a lack of L3+R3), a few commands were added to the touch screen. Disabling bombs, throwing grenades (and similar objects), arming objectives, zooming to first-person “scoped view,” and reloading your gun are all done on the front touch screen. It all works seamlessly and never feels out of the way.
The environments are well designed and not too cluttered. The last few Zipper games I had played had environments filled with far too many objects, but Unit 13 feels like a SOCOM game designed prior to SOCOM 4. As a bonus, they are also easy on the eyes. On the downside, there aren’t enough areas to play through, as these 35 missions are spread out among a small handful of areas.
Co-operative game play is something I can’t speak for, as I could never actually get it to connect. You can browse a list of current people looking for a partner, or start a game of your own. I got as far as the loading screen into the game each time, and then it would boot me back to the main menu and say “connection failed”. I did some looking online and never found a resolution. I’ve talked to people that have played successfully online, so I know it isn’t a server problem, but something on my end of the deal. Either way, I didn’t get a chance to experience it.
With shooters being limited on the Vita, Unit 13 shows promise of what the hardware can do for the genre. It may lack any sort of competitive multiplayer, but it’s still a solid experience for fans of the genre. The daily challenges and dynamic missions offer plenty of replayability and if you can connect online, having the option to play through missions with friends is a perk as well. It’s also a shame Zipper went out of business — outside of the obvious reasons — because Unit 13 could have been a great platform to build upon.
- Daily challenges
- Intuitive touch controls
- Player progression system
- I personally couldn’t connect to co-op matches
- Repetitive environments
- No competitive multiplayer