Portable systems are suitable for many game types and genres, the best of which have been designed with the features of their host platform in mind. Historically, cover based shooters would not have fallen under that umbrella, given the lack of a viable control scheme. The PlayStation Vita, with its dual analog stick setup, makes that barrier a moot point, and Zipper Interactive have aimed to shore up that gap with Unit 13, a title that offers all of what its bigger brothers can do, but aimed squarely at the portable market.
Unit 13 is well aware of its target audience, and does an admirable job catering to the strengths of it’s intended platform by virtue of the structure of its campaign. The main mode is split into 36 different missions, each with their own objectives. These come in four flavours. “Direct Action” missions allow goals to be approached in whatever manner best fits the situation. “Covert” missions task players with completing objectives without being spotted – tripping an alarm or otherwise alerting the enemy results in a mission failure. “Deadline” puts players in a race against time to complete their objectives. And the final type, “Elite”, removes automatic health regeneration and checkpoints, meaning a tactical approach is an absolute must.
“Well aware of its target audience”As well as the above categorisations, each mission also states a difficulty rating and length. This allows players to pick and choose missions catering to their current situation whether looking for a quick five minute blast or a longer, more involved play session – a definite plus on a mobile platform. Once completed, your performance is ranked based on a number of criteria and a final score assigned. The integrated leaderboards for each mission easily let you compare scores with friends, adding an element of competition into the mix. Each of these missions can also be played dynamically, randomising the objectives and enemy placements on the levels and adding even more replayability beyond seeking a better mission score.
As well as the aforementioned solo mode, Unit 13 offers online co-op play, allowing you and a buddy to tackle those same missions together. However, a friend with a copy of the game is almost a necessity as at the time of writing the community seems sparsely populated and random matches are few and far between. HVT, or High Value Targets, are unlocked by achieving a certain number of stars in the solo missions. Playing out as an assassination, each of the nine on offer task the player with killing an essential cog in the terrorist machine. Rounding out the modes on offer are the Daily Challenges. Each day, a new assignment is available for 24 hours and in much the same way as the single player campaign, set certain objectives that need to be completed. There’s little doubt that as a package, Unit 13 offers a plethora of content.
Thankfully, that content is backed up by a very capable engine. Zipper Interactive have clearly drawn on their experience developing the SOCOM franchise whilst working on Unit 13. The game plays as well as any other third person shooters, serving as proof that the genre is technically viable on the PlayStation Vita. The shooting is solid with a real weight behind each of the weapons. The cover mechanic can be a little hit an miss on occasion, but functions well for the most part. Zipper have also cleverly implemented touchscreen controls which are subtle and never feel out of place or forced.
“Little more time in development”The only significant design issue is a camera that feels slightly too close to the action for comfort. Your operative takes up a lot of real estate on the Vita’s screen meaning other elements of the environment can be partially obscured. This is somewhat mitigated by an on screen mini map, showing the location of all enemies and objectives at all times, which proves almost too useful; making it oftentimes easier to scout an opponent’s location on the radar rather than in the game, and plan your tactics accordingly.
Despite all of these positives, it’s hard not feel that the game would have benefited greatly from a little more time in development. Enemy AI is at times bafflingly idiotic. A terrorist will sometimes will spot you from the whole way across the room, despite clearly being in cover or not even in the room, yet at other times they’ll fail to notice an operative directly within eyeshot. After spotting the player, they will move needlessly between cover or, more foolishly, charge directly towards your position without care for their own safety. Unit 13 also suffers from “Monster Closets” on the harder difficulties. Cautiously moving through the hostile location, meticulously planning every detail, only to be killed by someone emerging from a previously cleared location can be immensely frustrating.
Also, where Unit 13 is to be admired for providing a near perfect framework for a mobile shooter, even that in itself is a double edged sword. There is some detail by way of plot and reasoning behind each mission, as well as an overarching narrative of a terrorist organisation, but it is threadbare at best. Those looking for an involving story should definitely look elsewhere. It lends the game a sense of inconsequence. Sure, killing terrorists is fun, but there’s nothing here that compels you to do so, and it is difficult to care about your operatives when they’re simply generic avatars conforming to the standard sniper, gunner and explosives expert archetypes.
Occasionally ropey AI aside, Unit 13 provides fun gunplay and a myriad of missions and challenges that make good use of its strong fundamentals. It’s not going to set any new standards in the genre, but it’s a fine foray into the third person shooter genre and proves that this type of game can, and should, exist on the PlayStation Vita.