A new console, a new entry to the Resistance series, a new developer. Nihilistic’s Resistance: Burning Skies not only marks the first time another studio has taken a crack at Insomniac’s PlayStation exclusive Resistance series, but it has the fortune of being the very first first-person shooter on Sony’s new handheld platform, the PlayStation Vita. The platform’s potential for shooters is undeniable due to its dual analogue sticks, and Sony saw fit for Burning Skies to be the first of its kind on the system. I bet they really wished they’d left this one to bake a bit longer.
To be quite blunt, Burning Skies is a terrible game in a lot of ways. That’s not to say there aren’t any silver linings to an otherwise dire package, Burning Skies does have a few good things going for it, but in this case the sum of its many bad parts does equate to a semblance of quality of the final package – a shame for one with so much potential too.
I’m a huge fan of Insomniac’s Resistance games. Resistance: Fall of Man, along with MotorStorm, was my very first PlayStation 3 game, and I’ve got some very fond memories of it. While widely regarded as the low point of the trilogy, I found plenty of enjoyment in Resistance 2 as I spent countless hours hunting Grey Tech in its eight-player online co-operative mode. Then Resistance 3 was one of the best games of last year; its tone so finely tuned and enjoyable that it was critically acclaimed by almost all. To say Burning Skies is but a massive disappointment would be a substantial understatement.
Burning Skies follows New York firefighter Tom Riley as a Chimeran invasion of New York is beginning. When trying to rescue fellow firefighters from a burning house during the opening, Riley is separated from his wife and daughter as he decides to fight back against the Chimera. The rest of the game follows Riley as he tries to fend off the Chimeran invasion, stop the man trying to control the Chimera and eventually to try to rescue his family.
Developers Nihilistic provide some good exposition to players, but I’m afraid that’s all the good that can really be said about Burning Skies’ story. There’s some real potential there, the idea of a firefighter battling back a Chimeran invasion to rescue his family is a great idea, and not all too dissimilar to Resistance 3’s fantastic story, but the developers just don’t flesh it out enough. You’ll get a bit of story at the start of one of the game’s 6 chapters and little bit at the end of them, but everything in between is just made up of disappointing combat situations that only serve to frustrate.
The few intended poignant moments in the game fall flat on their face, because they just aren’t earned. Nihilistic never expanded on these characters enough for me to feel anything towards them. Their purpose only served to push you from one terrible combat sequence to the next. It’s a stark contrast to Resistance 3, where the story and characters had enough momentum behind them that I really rooted for Joseph Capelli; I just couldn’t root for Tom Riley in the same way.
If there’s one thing Burning Skies did get me excited about was the potential for shooters on the Vita. Burning Skies controls well, and it really shows off how suited the Vita is to shooters, particularly first-person shooters. The Vita’s sticks felt absolutely perfect for the job here, precise and sensitive. The shorter throw on the sticks felt really nice for someone like me, who prefers to blast the look sensitivity up.
Burning Skies does a good job of working around the Vita’s lack of L2 and R2 triggers and L3/R3 analogue buttons by moving grenade usage and secondary fire for weapons to the Vita’s touch screen. Grenades can be thrown towards your gun reticule by tapping on the grenade icon – located on the right side of the screen for ease of reach – or by holding down on it and dragging it to the exact area on the screen you wish to throw it to. It’s an extremely precise way of throwing grenades, and a welcome change.
Secondary fire on weapons is also handled similarly using the touch screen. The key here is that all the things you’re doing with the secondary weapons feel natural. If you’ve got a Bullseye equipped, holding your finger on the touch screen will slow down time and a circular reticule will appear where your finger is and dragging this over an enemy before releasing will tag them with the Bullseye’s lock-on tag. Putting two fingers on the screen and pulling outwards towards each side of the screen will pop up an Auger shield; dragging your finger downwards and to the right on the top right of the screen will load an explosive bolt into your crossbow-shotgun.
It’s a pity then that none of the combat situations in Burning Skies are any fun to play, and considering this makes up pretty much the entire game, that’s a massive flaw. Instead of giving you interesting combat situations, the game will instead funnel you into a room with a few cover spots and throw countless enemies at you. Combat is never as fun as it should be, and it’s simply an exercise in survival as opposed to an actual fight.
The developers attempt to imitate difficulty by simply stacking the odds against you, as opposed to providing real challenges in the combat, and enemy AI is so bad that they’ll either run at you or sit behind cover with their heads exposed. Where previous Resistance games provided you with interesting combat scenarios that were enjoyable and were almost puzzle-like in nature, specifically in the first and third installments, Burning Skies just sends you from room to room of boring fights. Then there’s bad checkpointing, ridiculous combat scenarios and a last boss fight that’s as cheap as it is uninteresting – in fact, none of the boss fights are any good.
There’s a cover system in place, somewhat reminiscent of Killzone’s cover system, although you don’t have to press a button to “snap” to it. Crouching behind an item, whether it be a few boxes or an actual cover emplacement will snap you behind it, and aiming down your sites will pop you out over the cover to aim at enemies. You can also press either the left or right d-pad buttons to look out of the cover. It works surprisingly well, although pressing the d-pad buttons is extremely awkward.
You’ve probably heard a lot about and seen a lot of screenshots from this game in the lead-up to its release, but you should really disregard them all. Resistance: Burning Skies does not allow the use of the Vita’s screenshot function, and it’s easy to see why. It’s not a good-looking game, at all. It’s quite clearly not running at native resolution, and the character models really don’t look well at all. Some of the environments, particularly the indoor ones look fine, but the outdoor environments look lifeless and just plain bad. A lot of work seems to have gone into the guns, which do look quite nice, and the interface, which is clean and functional.
Although the guns look okay, they sound terrible. They sound like they were shot through a pillow, recorded and then compressed to high-heaven. It’s the same with any environmental sounds, particularly footsteps. The voice acting is acceptable at best, and while the musical score is generally very good, it’s never used enough. You’ll hear fleeting glimpses of a really solid orchestral score throughout the game, but it never stays long enough for you to really appreciate it and enjoy it. Quite often you’ll be going through sections where you’ll literally hear nothing at all, and some music to break the silence is really needed at times.
Finally, there’s the online mode. Or, rather, there’s an online mode when it works. The online portion of Burning Skies seems simply unfinished or broken, or even a combination of both. It’s actually quite fun when you can actually play it, but connection issues and even the trouble of finding a game absolutely plague the online portion. I’ve been put into full lobbies, only for it to be disbanded due to some weird issue multiple times in a row.
Describing Burning Skies as a mess is probably the most appropriate description of it. For every good thing in that game, there are countless bad eggs to ruin the party. While the gunplay is generally fun and works well, the combat sections are terrible and the story is never expanded on as much as it should be. The graphics are bad and the musical score, while good, is almost non-existent during the game. If every cloud has a silver lining, Burning Skies is dark, nasty cloud with the thinnest hint of silver clinging on to the edge.