As far as I’m concerned, I’ve perfected one of Unit 13’s early levels enough to finally move on. It’s a stealthy one, and probably only lasts a few minutes, but I can now get in and out without anyone even noticing me, let alone me having to off them with my silenced pistol. I’ve played it a dozen times, and got better every single time I tried it.
To some, that won’t mean anything at all, but I’m the sort of person that normally beats a level then happily skips onto the next without ever thinking about going back. Race games, sure, I’ll try and beat my time for a few laps, but third person shooters? No. Shoot, kill, next.
But Unit 13 is different. By making everything score-based (think few year old console game The Club) and then immediately ranking your progress with a star rating and the scores of everyone around you (literally, it uses Near) and beyond in several ranked leaderboards, the compulsion to go back and better yourself is almost irresistible.
See, there’s not actually that many areas to the game, but they’re constantly connected differently and approached with considerable change of pace and direction for each mission, making them familiar but never over-used. And as the difficulty ramps up (from ‘easy’ to ‘specialist’) your mastery of each section also improves, by the end you’ll know every last inch.
Until then, the game’s smooth difficulty curve expects little except your co-operation, easing you in with ‘short’ missions (the game lets you know how long each one is before you start) and easier targets. Finishing a mission opens up new ones, harder ones, ones with timers and specific enemies to down. Ones you’ll want to play again and again.
It’s really, really good.
Aside from a couple of slightly kooky aiming issue that we hope will be patched out before release – please, Zipper, get rid of the silly right-stick acceleration, and the lack of gyro aiming seems baffling after Uncharted did it so well – the game controls brilliantly. Up the aiming speed with the sliders and the game feels natural and swift, the Vita’s buttons mapping perfectly.
Even up against multiple enemies, you never feel like you’re not in complete control and – if you’re good enough – completely bad ass. Circle snaps to cover, triggers to aim and shoot, tap a button for iron sights, tap another to reload. The more you play a level, the more you learn, and the more hardcore the game makes you feel.
It’s a constantly rewarding experience, one that offers up a progressive RPG-like leveling system for each of the game’s selectable characters (for new weapons and abilities) and – as you gain stars – access to one-off high profile assassinations and other neat side-missions. There’s even a daily mission which swaps out every twenty four hours, with leaderboards.
The icing on the cake? The ability to play co-op with another player over the internet: nothing feels better than two of you going at a mission, it’s remarkably good fun and if you’re both decent then it’s really enjoyable. The game looks and sounds great too, with nice lighting effects, nicely high resolution textures and a smooth framerate.
But more than anything it’s clear that this is a game that’s designed for the ground up for the Vita and understands exactly how to make a game like this work for both short periods of time and extended sessions equally well. It’s bite-sized, sure, but you can quite happily spend a couple of hours with it before you’ve realised. And then somebody beats your score…
What makes a good mobile third person shooter? Ask Zipper, it looks like they’ve nailed it.
Full review soon.