Unit 13 Reviewed
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation Vita.
What comes to mind when you think of the game, Socom? I, myself, remember the long nights playing online with friends on the PlayStation 2 – it was my first true console online experience. With the folks at Zipper and their love for military first person shooters, Unit 13 looks to bring that explosive and addictive formula in a proper portable form. I say “proper” because shooting games never quite worked well with the PSP given its limitations with controls and Zipper’s taken their approach in a different direction than their previous work. With the new hardware and a fresh start, does Unit 13 hit with a bang or just shoot blanks?
First off, Unit 13 isn’t your typical military shooter; it doesn’t have the clichéd storyline with the action hero conquering an evil government and stopping an invasion. Unfortunately, the game lacks an actual story to tie everything together. While this doesn’t necessarily take away from the gameplay, it leaves the player lost within a soulless setting. You know zilch about why you are fighting these enemies, and you’re given nothing more than a small paragraph to explain your characters’ backstories. Now, I realize military shooters aren’t bought for their award-winning writing, but it would have been nice to not feel so left in the dark.
Unit 13 is also different from the likes of its big brother, Socom or Call of Duty, as there aren’t any large scale multiplayer modes – and it works perfectly for Unit 13. In fact, this game maxes out at two players online with a co-op mode, but do not let that frighten you.
The objective behind Unit 13 is scoring…and how you score is all up to you. Once you finish the initial training session to get yourself all cozy with the controls, missions will be available and laid out on a clean and sharp menu system. Objectives in each of the 45 missions range from disarming a rocket, remaining undetected, planting explosives, collecting intel, eliminating all opposing forces, etc. While those aren’t anything new from any other military-based shooting game on the market, how you take on these tasks is what makes this game so great. There is a score-based value for each completed objective; raking up a high score will earn you points that will level up your character.
You have six different soldiers at your disposal and each one offers a unique style of gameplay. Commando provides the all-around experience in each stat; there is no one trait better than the other in terms of health, speed, armor, gunplay, etc. The Technician is a fast class that offers stable ammo capacity and stealth traits while health regeneration takes a dip. Marksman will catch the eye of sniper enthusiasts as you hunt your prey down from afar; however, this class isn’t always ideal in every mission as most maps are close-quarter. The Infiltrator is my personal favorite, strictly stealth-based, I felt like Sam Fisher out of Splinter Cell. Pointman and Gunner are the last two classes, putting an emphasis on health while offering close range firearms for Pointman and a walking machine gun as a Gunner. In each of the available missions you can take any of these soldiers as your primary to help level up at a faster rate. However, doing so restricts your gameplay, so the game tells you what class is recommend at each mission selection.
Unit 13 offers a multiplier to help increase your score, similar to The Club which released years ago. Shoot multiple enemies at once and your multiplier racks up quickly; wait too long in between kills and your multiplier will slowly evaporate. Knocking a few enemies’ heads off their shoulders will score you a lot of points, and completing objectives one after another quickly builds your multiplier. Note that elaborate kills will earn you more points: Simply killing an enemy by gunning them down gains nothing but a very low score, while going undetected and knifing your opponent offers far more points – not to mention that sniping down foes offers a sense of satisfaction.
The multiplier system definitely motivates you to go into battle with a different approach each time. So, if you plan on beating your friends on the PSN leaderboards, you will surely want to experiment with how you tackle each mission. Zipper Interactive really focused on the leaderboard as an incentive to replay missions, and it works brilliantly. You are always in a heated race with your friends and other gamers around the world for the top of the charts. If you want the bragging rights to claim to be the best, then you’ll need to keep an eye on the scrolling ticker in the menus to stay up-to-date on the leaderboards.
There are multiple modes within the selection of the missions, such as Deadline where you are up against the clock in eliminating the enemies and planting charges. Another mode, Covert, is strictly stealth-based, and the smallest mistakes that leads to your being detected can lead to the mission being aborted and you’ll have to start fresh again. Alternatively, Elite Scenarios mode contains missions that do not include any health regeneration or checkpoints, so watching your health is key to survival and it really is “only the strong survive.” Finally, if you just want a simple change-up, Direct Action is the most basic of the modes which can be played by any class and the objectives can be accomplished in any manner.
All of these missions can be completed with a friend online, and the dynamic state of the game provides a different experience than that of the single-player modes. Upon finishing the various missions, you unlock others that were previously unavailable on the selection screen. The mission structure is open and so selective that you can repeatedly grind out a mission style you prefer or attempt a new one – it’s all up to the user.
If you have your Vita connected through WiFi, you can join in on Zipper’s Daily Challenge. You are given only one shot to try and post the highest score on that given day, and the final score is then tallied against everyone else’s for comparison and leaderboard. This is really the highlight of the game for me; you get that one chance to prove yourself to everyone in the world.
Although there seems to be a multitude of gameplay options, after exploring each mode I felt like I didn’t do anything other than the Covert Mission. Unfortunately there isn’t much of a difference between the modes that would make me choose one over another. While the various modes attempt to offer a diverse experience, each one still ends up being the same overall objective: to kill every enemy and reach the extraction point. Though it might seem like that would be the obvious task for any military shooter, I just felt that if there are going to be multiple game modes, they need to differ much more.
If you’re looking for a game with stellar AI, Unit 13 is not going to be on your list. The enemies on the map follow a strict path and memorizing it is part of the game – especially for stealth. The problem is, once they discover your presence, the AI turns into the old DOOM enemies from decades ago. They just come running at you with little thought of being killed themselves, and when they are smart enough to cover behind something they pop out for such a lengthy time that you could shoot, reload and shoot some more. This makes for some easy kills and it’s disappointing, to say the least, that they just feel like zombies. I felt as though I could just wait for the alerted enemy to get stuck by a staircase, or go into a further room to find cover, for crowd control.
With Vita games, there may be a fear that developers will try to put too much effort into touch controls that it will take away from the overall gameplay and make it feel like a gimmick. I can say with a smile that Zipper did not do such a thing. They decided to keep the touch screen use to a minimal, only drawing upon it when it’s really needed, such as planting a bomb or using weapons. If you need to reload just tap the currently equipped weapon. Clearing out a room is as easy as tapping on the grenade or C4 button on the lower left of the screen. Everything is within reach (so you don’t have to move your hand from holding the Vita) and it works perfectly.
One issue I always had with Socom, as well as Zipper’s recent experiment MAG, was the music. Its generic rock tunes and increasingly loud volume during heavy action scenes always felt really cheap, and unfortunately Unit 13 is hit with same ailment as well. Also, all of the enemies sound like they have the same voice. While the voice acting isn’t a huge issue (as they shouldn’t be alive long enough to hear all their chatter) it would have been nice for some variety instead of the usual tough bad guy dialogue and vocals.
Unit 13 features some outstanding visuals for a first generation installment on the Vita. Areas are extremely crisp; grenades shake the area with force and blood gushes out of fallen victims. It’s not without its hiccups though; there are some severe frame rate issues when I ran with guns blazing on both sides. It’s nothing a patch couldn’t fix, but I did have to change my approach when I wanted to go into a room to impersonate my favorite Rambo scene.
Despite its flaws, I hope Unit 13 does well and captures the same amount of attention for fans as Zipper put into it. Its integrated PSN features make up for the lack of any versus multiplayer and their different drive into the overly crowded genre of shooters prove to be a success. The controls are a triumph on a new handheld, which is a rarity, and it’s a simple yet addictive formula of gameplay that is perfect for on-the-go action.
Final Score: 3.75/5.0
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