Towards the end of the fourth mission of Burning Skies, protagonist Tom Riley finds himself wandering through an air duct on his way to the next room full of Chimera. Light pours into the vents through the grills he walks over – or so it seems. If you actually look at the grills, which should show the rooms you’re walking over through the slats, you’ll realise that they’re just textures painted onto the duct. You can’t see through them, and the light isn’t actually coming from anywhere. This seems, somehow, like an appropriate metaphor for the entire Burning Skies experience. It’s a game that goes through the motions of giving you everything you’d expect from a Vita title, from a Resistance game, and from a handheld FPS, but look too closely and you’ll realise just how little thought and effort went into it.
First up, the good news. Thanks to the Vita’s second analogue stick, Burning Skies has the best control scheme I’ve ever experienced on a handheld FPS. It’s not perfect (getting your character to run is supremely awkward – you can either double tap the back touch panel or hold the D-Pad down, neither of which is ideal), but there are very few moments of abject frustration. The secondary functions of your weapons are accessed via motions made on the touch screen, which works surprisingly well. The weapons are lifted straight from the PS3 games, and remain relatively fun to come to grips with, if not as fresh as they once were.
Unfortunately, Burning Skies is as bog standard an experience as you could possibly expect. You’ll spend the ludicrously short campaign (we’re talking maybe five hours if you’re lucky) shooting the same brain-dead enemies over and over again, as they desperately struggle to exhibit anything close to a tactical approach to combat. There’s so little challenge or exuberance to this game. Level designs are uninspired, and the uninteresting, disjointed narrative does nothing to compel you through all the generic point ‘n shoot action. It’s a shrug in videogame form.
Graphically, it’s ugly as hell. The environments are bland, muddy and poorly textured, and NPCs frequently teleport around the screen. The enemies are poorly animated, and audio glitches abound. Each mission opens with an embarrassingly low-resolution cut-scene, which you’ll need to re-watch every time you turn the game off and come back. Speaking of which, the developers have made the frankly insane decision of keeping checkpoints and save points separate. Turn your game off, and when you come back to it you may be a good ten or more minutes behind where you were before. For a game on a handheld console – one with notoriously bad battery life – this is a stunningly illogical design choice.
There was nobody online to test multiplayer with during our playtime, but we’re not optimistic. The options and modes were extremely limited: size limits capped at eight players, and while ‘survival’ mode sounds vaguely interesting (two teams, Chimera starts with less people but converts humans to their side with each kill), we can’t see the game’s basic mechanics pulling you away from its console/PC brethren.
Developer Nihilistic seems settled on the idea that bringing Resistance to the Vita is an inherently bold and innovative move, and that doing anything truly interesting beyond that is unnecessary. It’s not a strictly bad FPS, but it’s so damn perfunctory, so set on ticking the absolute minimum number of boxes and moving on, it’s largely boring and forgettable. And the fact that it’s the only FPS on the Vita so far doesn’t excuse it from being such a pedestrian effort