Thanks to the PlayStation Vita’s second analog stick, true to the craft twin-stick shooters are possible while on the go. But being the first of its kind, does Unit 13 bring enough to the table to set the bar for portable shooters?
Unit 13 is a third-person shooter from the minds that brought you the PS3’s 256-player MAG, and the SOCOM franchise. But aside from being a shooter, Unit 13 is nothing like these titles. And that’s not a bad thing. Whereas the console games are in-fact built for the home console experience — more tactical, with lengthier objectives and missions — the latter is built specifically with portability in mind.
The bulk of Unit 13 is broken up into 36 objective-based missions – bite-sized in time commitment, but a more than a mouthful of fun. Each mission is unlocked through progression, and each has a unique objective to be completed. These range from disarming explosives or setting them, to saving hostages, to gathering intel. Missions can be played using one of six main characters, all by your lonesome or via online co-op. Load times are fast, so you will deploy into the action within seconds – longer for co-op, but nothing that ever hinders the experience.
Both single-player and co-op are a complete blast to play, and each has its own benefits despite being across the same 36 levels. Because, at the completion of each level, a score is given based on your performance, singleplayer encourages more of a focused experience, allowing you to challenge yourself to get a higher and higher score each time. Score is increased based on a number of factors. For example, disarming explosives and taking out cameras give incremental point value, while headshots or melee kills net you more points overall. So, with some practice, experience, and a well thought out approach to combat, you can achieve increasingly better results. That’s not to say that high scores aren’t possible in co-op, but I found that co-op changed the approach to a more tactical one, instead using the Vita’s built-in microphone to talk up a plan of attack and flank enemies from different positions, or to have on person cover while the other runs and guns for the kill. Should a comrade fall in battle, you can also revive them.
And, even though you’re essentially playing the same 36 levels — actually even less because some areas are recycled (albeit presented in a different fashion with different objectives) — the chance for a higher score, co-op possibilities, and the simple fact that as you play you notice ways you could have approached a situation differently, replay value is extremely high. Missions top out at around 5-10 minutes with varying difficulty depending on your level and which stage you’re picking, and are perfect, quick pick-up and play chunks suited for the PlayStation Vita.
Gameplay is much like you’d expect from a console shooter. Ducking for cover, swapping shoulders to aim (which is well-done using the Vita’s rear touch panel), tossing grenades and more are all here, but there is nothing unique or different in the gameplay itself. Instead, the game separates itself with its social experience. On top of the co-op, the high scores post to online leaderboards. That doesn’t seem special in and of itself, but the in-game notification center also notifies friends if your high score has beaten theirs, which gives them the chance to instantly enter that level to try to take back the top spot.
In addition to these already great, socially-competitive features, there are nine High Value Targets in Unit 13. These are essentially the game’s “boss fight” equivalents. They’re presented in mission form much like the rest of the game, except there is one particular “high value target” – usually some warlord who has committed various atrocities. A profile of the target is given at the start of each, and then you’re off to locate and dispatch the target. These high value target missions pose much more of a challenge than others, but when you complete one, you’re rewarded with the option to share the HVT mission with your friends, even if they haven’t unlocked a particular mission yet. It’s posted in your public stream on Vita through Near, and any friends that notice it and have the game can rise to the challenge.
There is also a daily challenge; a single mission you must complete, and score high in, to post a score to the global leaderboards. The catch here is that you only get one playthrough to score each day, so if you take on one of these challenges, make sure you give it all you’ve got. When done, the score is posted, and you can see where you rank opposed to other players who’ve completed the same challenge. A new challenge is available daily giving you a new chance to put your skills to the test.
Each mission in every mode you complete gives you a score and star-ranking to try and beat in the future, but the score also helps build each of the six character’s level, attributes, and unlock new weaponry for their loadouts. Each character is a specialist in certain areas, making some more fitting for a mission that calls for a more stealthy approach, while another may work better in a run-and-gun, time-attack situation. Again, it’s not incredibly deep, but what’s there works well.
Some of the missions look on the bland side, while others, like a nightclub area, bring more color into the military-esque world of Unit 13. There aren’t that many levels in all reality, even with 36 missions, but you may not even notice, because each time you revisit a level, you’ll start from a different position with a new objective, keeping things from every getting too redundant. Where each area does shine, is in the way they’re built, again favoring the portability of the Vita. There are no long lengths between action, it’s room to room, with very little down time in between. And even the downtime has you defusing mines, and other threats.
Unit 13 isn’t a graphical powerhouse by any means, but it doesn’t look bad, either. However, it could have benefited by giving more variety to the actual enemies. There are only a few types, most aren’t that intelligent, and they’re pretty much all carrying the same types of weaponry again and again. No real surprises here, except for every once and a while when you encounter a dude with an RPG. Make a note of him and try, try again.
As a console shooter, Unit 13 wouldn’t have enough bulk or depth to make a mark against heavy artillery like Call of Duty or Battlefield, or even SOCOM or MAG. But because it’s been designed specifically to take advantage of the Vita’s portability and social features, it’s very much a success. Be it single-player or co-op, the gameplay is smooth, shooting is accurate with the Vita’s twin sticks, and each mission’s unique objectives keep the experience feeling fresh — and fun — each time you load Unit 13 into your Vita.
PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score
+ Excellent social features.
– Lacking in depth and variety.