From Gears of War to Uncharted, third person shooters have always excited me. Hell, I even enjoyed the latest Red Faction even though nobody else seemed to. Until recently, this love had all been console based. It was probably one of the main reasons I had never been into portable gaming on a massive level. That all changed with the release of the PSVita and its dual stick control scheme. Shooters were finally feasible on the go and the first to take advantage was Unit 13.
A tactical military shooter in the vein of SOCOM, Unit 13 was designed from the ground up with the Vita in mind and I must say it impressed me. Loading up the game I jumped straight into a tutorial, explaining the controls and tactics of the game. I felt right at home, the dual sticks worked as expected and shooting and aiming was done by the left and right buttons. Things got a little different for on screen actions. Instead of using a button to throw grenades, reload my gun or interact with a switch or explosive, I simply tapped the corresponding symbol on the screen. While this may sound strange, I found it worked really well and I was able to perform these actions without taking my hands off the sticks. It was clear the developers had put a lot of thought into these controls and they all worked without fail.
After completing the tutorial, I was taken to a screen with 36 missions to pick from with no story and no cut scenes. That’s right. There was no over aching story, no big baddie and no tale to tell. This was a game about pure shooting fun. I had the option of four different mission types: Stealth, Direct Action, Time and Elite. The first three were fairly obvious, their names pretty much describing what to expect. Elite, on the other hand, involved limited health and no checkpoints. I had to use a combination of shooting and stealth if I wanted to survive. Once I completed a mission, I was given a star rating out of five. Stars could then be used to unlock challenging High Value Targets.
While I found the variety of mission types to be great, the actual locations were the complete opposite. After playing eight of the missions, I had experienced every single map in the game. Every mission from then on was just a slight variation on these same eight environments. This was disappointing as after I had been playing for a while, I could predict where objectives would be and tailor my tactics to suit. This in turn made some levels easier than they should have been. It would have been nice to encounter something other than “Generic Military Base” or “Standard Middle Eastern Village”. Surely some terrorists need quelling on a tropical island or an assassin stopped in South American swampland. Taking into account that the game has no story, there was no reason not to have a greater range of locations.
Another aspect I was impressed with was the co-op. All 36 missions could be completed with a partner found through a competent match making service. It worked with almost no lag noticeable when playing with local players. Playing with a partner worked well and the ability to communicate via the built in mic made planning attacks both fun and rewarding. I found this to be a fine addition to the game and the experience held up quite favourably when compared to shooters on more powerful consoles. I did have a hard time finding games, but I put that down to both Unit 13 and the PSVita itself being very new.
Sound played a massive part in my time with the game and a good set of headphones were a must. Footsteps on metal, beeping of cameras, ticking of bombs and of course the blast of a gun were all sounds that I used to not only determine where the enemy was but what they were doing. This was the key to success in some of the later, more difficult missions. The soundtrack was suitably dramatic, raising the tempo when the action hit and fading into the background when I was creeping around corners, all the while adding to the ambiance appropriately.
Unit 13 was a competent third person shooter. The fact that it was competent and on a portable system is what really made me take notice. Plenty of hectic gunfights, stealthy headshots and running for my life made my time with the game a blast. If you can look past the boring, repetitive locations and a few overused military clichés, you are almost certain to have a good time. Stand up and take notice folks. Killing terrorists can now be done on the go!