There’s little as satisfying in video games as the perfect run. In Unit 13, this is generally measured in terms of swiftness and score, the latter a multiplier-based end of level tally that indicates your skill and, ultimately, your ability to memorise enemy patterns. Zipper don’t do enemy AI that particularly taxes the player, and Unit 13’s rushing hordes might as well be zombies with machine guns once they see you – they do the same things each time, in the same places.
This, though, is a good thing, because it means that the aforementioned perfect run is very much doable and achievable, at least through rote learning and a willingness to pursue the upper star ratings and the all important leaderboard. It doesn’t matter than you can outsmart the toughest opponents with little more than some quick thinking and a few tester bullets to lead them your way because this is precisely what you want – predictability.
Think Metal Gear Solid, with a better map.[drop]Naturally, if you fumble or falter, retribution – in the form of a restart – is quick and decisive: bullets are deadly and accurate from both parties, a quick burst from an assault rifle enough to down player or foe. In two player co-op this isn’t a problem unless both players are killed – a simple heal system keeping the flow going – but in solo, where you’ll find most of your playtime, a wrong move is fatal and final. Heuristics are required, then, but replaying is rarely a chore.
Unit 13’s over the shoulder third person viewpoint presents some interesting mechanics – a quick tap brings up an iron sight view, another shifts the camera from one side to another – but the fact that the player can peer around corners the character cannot is offset by the fact that whichever soldier you choose they’re always slightly too close, often obscuring a little too much of the screen and frustratingly unable to remember which side of the camera they’re meant to be on.
Swings and roundabouts, perhaps, but issues that could be solved quickly by locking the viewpoint to either shoulder and not letting the game decide each time you aim. Likewise, the right stick free-look is never quick enough (even with the slider fully on maximum) and some silly, pointless acceleration – and a lack of gyro aiming – spoils what are otherwise fine controls. If nothing else, Unit 13 shows that Vita’s second stick is more than good enough for the genre, but Zipper need to fix these niggles.
What they have nailed though, is the mission structure. Perfectly interpreting the needs of a portable gamer, Unit 13’s main single player mode breaks down the action into thirty-six easily digestible chunks, with each one issuing a length and difficulty rating on selection. Only got a few minutes and fancy something easy to complete? Done. In addition, each mission is given a type – stealth, against the clock etc – and progress opens up neighbouring missions on the grid.
This, as you’d hopefully expect, works brilliantly. It’s a great system that we’d expect future games to adhere to, not least because it makes gaming on the go easier to swallow but ensures that working your way through the levels is non-linear and freeform. Each mission is scored, starred and ranked, and you can instantly see what your mates are doing via an ever updating in-game message system, which is incorporated into the main menu.[drop2]Alongside these levels is the ability to work through them all with a mate over the internet (which is flawless and hugely satisfying), a set of gradually unlocked high profile targets and a daily objective which changes every 24 hours. There’s no competitive multiplayer, but the game does offer an upgrade system in which players can unlock new weapons and abilities for the various soldier types on offer, ranking up through an experience-based system.
Unit 13 also looks the business – some areas are a little bit flat and lifeless, but for the most part Zipper have coaxed the Vita into providing some decent animation, sharp textures and a few little tricks (like smoke and dust) that really bring the visuals to life. Sound too is solid, with some tense music and voice-overs for everything helping to add to an atmosphere that generally comes off as richer than you’d expect from a portable title.
There’s a lot to like about Unit 13. It’s in a genre that’s currently sparse on Vita, but manages to still come across as a comprehensive game with lots to get your teeth into. The environments are re-used throughout the missions, but each is distinct enough to be individual and fans of the likes of SOCOM will appreciate the tactical but playable gameplay on offer. I’ve found myself constantly going back to Unit 13 for the last few weeks, and always find myself spending hours at a time.
- Decent, if not native res, graphics
- Perfect mission structure
- Great fun in co-op
- Aiming is a little imprecise
Unit 13’s a pleasant surprise. It offers up a really smart level structure which caters for short burst gaming, but similarly presents hours of gameplay that’ll take considerable time and effort to perfect and master. By bringing this out of the release day rush, Sony have a desirable, playable and generally good looking game that will hopefully stand on its own and attract anyone wanting something a little bit meaty.