I know the first thing that came to a lot of people’s minds when the Vita was first shown was, “finally we have two analog sticks, and we can play shooters properly.” Well, Unit 13 is the first game to showcase if that is indeed true. Developed by the same chaps that brought us the SOCOM series, Zipper Interactive, Unit 13 is a bite-sized third-person shooter that leans heavily on its roots, while still maintaining a solid portable experience. With that said, Unit 13 does have limited appeal, and you would be best off deciding if an experience like this is something you can deal with.
For example, there is no real meat to the game. The story is there mostly as a reason to play a cut scene or give you purpose, but it has no direct impact on the game. Most of the characters are forgettable outside of their specialties, and nothing feels cohesive on that level. People used to drawn out narratives or involved plots will certainly be disappointed, but again this is a portable game and it is designed as such.
If that is fine with you, there is plenty to love here. The single player hosts a grid of missions (30+ to tackle) that range from stealth operations to run-and-gun endeavors. Each mission is short and sweet, giving players ample opportunity to play one or two at a time without investing much, perfect for portable. You can also opt to tackle these missions in co-op with a friend, which is great for the Deadline and Elite missions, which require players to really think on their toes.
There are several mission types found in Unit 13 all catering to a specific play style. Direct Action is the most common of the bunch. Here you fight off enemies and perform objectives such as stealing intel or arming bombs. This mission is about as vanilla as you can get for a military shooter. Next up is Covert, and as you can imagine, it revolves around stealth. These missions require you to get in, perform the objective and get out without being seen. Deadline puts a time limit on the match, forcing you to run-and-gun at a brisk pace. There are checkpoints and time increases, but these missions get increasingly more challenging as they progress. Finally, we have Elite missions, which are the hardest by far. You only get one chance, your health regen is eliminated and you can only heal at certain locales. These missions are definitely easier with a friend.
What is cool, though, is that any of these missions can be played in dynamic mode, allowing for the randomization of objectives and enemies. If that isn’t enough, a daily challenge is also present, giving players a new goal each day to achieve. Combine that with leaderboards and stat tracking, and this game is a stat lover’s wet dream. There is literally so much stuff to achieve, and taking down your buddies on the leaderboard is immensely satisfying. Sadly, I did have the game lock up several times after a mission trying to update the online stats. I’m not sure if it was my connection or the game, but either way it locked down my Vita and forced me to redo the mission, which was a royal pain. I do like the scoring system, though. Think of it as any arcade shooter mode and you get the idea; more points for stealth kills and headshots really amp up the challenge. These are what dictate your online score, so performing them is vital to leaderboards.
As I mentioned a few times, there are several characters to choose from. They are mostly distinguished by their attributes. You have a soldier, gunner and others that the game will suggest you opt for before each mission based on the parameters. To be honest, outside of stealth operations, take the gunner. He has more health, ammo and the ability to take down more enemies; something every mission outside of stealth requires. The cover system is decent, but trying to take down certain enemies at close range simply doesn’t work. They will rush you and take you down before you have time to blink. The AI is definitely not the most diverse you have ever seen.
So, all this talk and still no mention of the dual-stick controls? Well, my hat goes off to Zipper. Being the first out of the gate with this type of shooter on the system was sure to be watched like a hawk. They managed to pull it off thanks to the strengths of the Vita. Their implementation of the touchscreen is elegant. Using simple actions such as reload and grenade tosses, and adding them in prime locations that they feel like extensions of the actual buttons was brilliant. The dual-sticks also work surprisingly well. Once I acclimated to the scheme, I was off nailing headshots in no time. I did have to adjust the sensitivity a touch. Once I had it where I wanted, though, the game played great, giving me a lot of hope for future shooters on the system.
For a Vita title, the game looks good. It feels like a scaled-down console game. Environments are smartly designed to keep them linear without feeling claustrophobic, and character animations are done relatively well. The game does have some odd glitches from time to time, with characters getting stuck in situations or paths, but it doesn’t happen frequently enough to ruin the experience. The audio is just kind of “there.” The voice work is passable, and the music fills the menus, but none of it really stood out as exceptional.
Unit 13 is not ashamed of what it is, and as long as you are good with that, you will enjoy the game. It is a collection of missions perfectly suited for a portable machine with no real reason behind them. The controls are elegant, and the ways you can tackle the missions are abundant. Vita owners looking for a shooter fix really only have one option right now, but I will admit, it is a good one. Just be aware of what you are getting into before picking it up and you will be fine. There is a demo. Be wise and use it.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.