With plenty of tactical shooter experience under their belts, particularly with the SOCOM
series and the huge PS3
, it may come as something of a surprise to learn that Zipper Interactive
’s latest offering, Unit 13
, veers ever so slightly into a much more action packed style of combat. While it’s not exactly Gears of War territory, it is something of a departure, and given the fact that it’s been developed exclusively for the Vita
, it’s a welcome one.
The layout of Unit 13 is relatively straightforward; depending on the game mode you’re playing, you’ll need to carry out a number of different objectives in order to successfully progress. The game’s solo missions
are all pretty much standalone entities, ruling out any real storyline of note beyond the fact that you’re taking on a group of terrorists.
Each of these missions are split into a number of different sub-categories, which works quite well in the portable format, and means that you can select the mission or missions that best suit the amount of time you have to kill. The missions are further split up by offering Ranked play
, where your aim is to get as many points as possible to climb up the game’s global rankings, and Dynamic play where mission objectives are randomly created by the game itself, adding plenty of variety to the experience – however scores in the latter don’t carry over to the leaderboards
While this format is definitely more workable in the handheld format, it does lead to something of a disjointed gameplay experience. Without any real narrative to speak of, aside from mission instructions and ongoing status reports from mission command, you never really feel any sense of connection with the game’s characters. For some of you we’re sure this isn’t going to be a problem, but if you’re a fan of storyline, then it’s going to affect your experience quite a bit.
On the gameplay front, though, Unit 13 is a huge amount of fun. The shooting mechanics are surprisingly tight given the teeny weeny little analog sticks on the Vita, and once you’ve gotten used to their sensitivity you’ll be popping off headshots like they’re going out of fashion. The weapons, while a little bit samey, have a satisfying weighting to them – definitely a nod to the experience Zipper has built up over the years in the genre.
The cover system isn’t quite as satisfactory, and is a little suspect at times. There are points where you’ll find yourself unable to stick to a wall, or unable to move away from it for a second or so, which can make all the difference in the timed Deadline
missions. Additionally there are moments where your character will refuse to aim down the scope while in cover, so you’ll have to adjust your position a little bit to either side in order to take aim. Both things prove to be needlessly frustrating and it’s surely something that would have been flagged during pre-release play-testing but, surprisingly, it doesn’t hinder your enjoyment of the game as much as you might have feared.
The balance between tackling missions all guns blazing and opting for the stealthy approach is almost perfect, with both styles having benefits and offering unique takes on the gameplay. You can sneak around the maps, using melee to take down your enemies, or you can decide to run in and pull a Rambo, with both proving to be extremely useful in different situations. Fortunately, the game is never quite so pushy that it forces you to choose one or the other; you’ll be able to complete each mission using whichever approach you prefer, assuming you take the time to figure out the map and your enemies’ patterns.
Speaking of enemy patterns, the game’s AI is perhaps its most disappointing feature. Opposing forces are uninspiring at the best of times, and have a tendency to simply wait around for you to get within a certain distance of them before they actually bother doing anything. This makes skirting around the periphery of the map, picking off stragglers with a scoped weapon a tad too tempting in some of the more populous levels. Even when they do see you, they all too rarely display any kind of intelligence in their approach, opting to simply stand there and shoot before ducking into cover, then trying to run a few yards and ducking into cover again. If you get your own cover placement correct, you’ll simply be able to line up your weapon and wait for them to run straight into your line of sight for a headshot.
Given the importance that the game places on the aforementioned headshots, offering bonus points for them over traditional kills, one would have thought that they would be a touch more difficult to execute, but that’s simply not the case. Perhaps it’s down to the fact that Zipper has clearly done everything they could to make this as accessible and enjoyable in short bursts as they possibly could.
In truth, it works for the most part. We rarely found ourselves getting bored with the solo missions, and “just one more go” was a commonly aired sentiment around the office, but for those of you looking for a little more depth from the single experience, there’s also High Value Targets for you to tackle. Here, you’ll unlock a series of increasingly difficult enemies to take out based on your progress in the regular missions. These nine missions are a whole heap of fun, and despite not adding a huge amount of play time to the overall package, they work particularly well.
In order to really get the most out of Unit 13 though, we recommend you take it online. This side of the game is based almost entirely around two player online cooperative play
, which lets two players tackle any of the game’s single player missions for starters. Given the structure, or lack thereof, in the single player mode it’s not surprising to learn that things actually work a lot better with another player in tow.
Working well in tandem with another is simply joyous to behold but, conversely, if you get stuck with a lemon of a partner the experience can be excruciating – as has happened to us more than a few times when our partner simply didn’t have a clue what was going on, where he was supposed to go or who he was supposed to shoot at. Unfortunately, when it comes to multiplayer games of this kind, you need to take the rough with the smooth, and putting up with a few painfully inadequate players is worth it for the great partnerships you can build with more able combatants who actually remember that healing you when you’ve taken a bullet too many is in their best interest.
To round the package off, there’s also the game’s Daily Challenge
feature, where you’ll be able to tackle a brand new mission each day. The aim here is to get as high a score as possible in the single attempt afforded to you (don’t worry, if you die you do get to continue from a checkpoint, but you just can’t complete the mission more than once) and see how you rank against the rest of the world.
If you’re the highly competitive type, Unit 13 has buckets of opportunities for you to show the world just how good (or bad) you are, and it’s this feature that will really offer the most longevity once you’ve completed all the missions both solo and in cooperative mode. As far as shooters go, it’s far from the most polished in the world – the visuals are nothing to write home about, and the presentation is minimal at best – but it really does work rather well.
For those looking for serious depth, particularly on the single player front, it’s not likely to win you over, but if you’re content with sitting down for an hour or two at a time to tackle the missions solo and with a friend, then you’ll get more than your money’s worth. Unit 13 is definitely a title that is greater than the sum of its occasionally flawed parts, and for that we salute it (with gunfire, of course).