Why Vita’s Resistance: Burning Skies is way too short but a level too long

At a mere five hours in length, Resistance: Burning Skies is, astonishingly, a level too long.

It’s in this last hour that developer Nihilistic has seemingly exhausted itself, no longer capable of maintaining the Vita FPS as a harmlessly mediocre shooter and instead heading into offensive territory. In the name of challenge, the player is presented with endless room after room of Chimera that steadily increase in number and strength while the level design dwindles away, giving the enemy a hugely unfair territorial advantage.

And just when you think it might all be over, it hits you with the kind of boss encounter that risks the well-being of your handheld.
It’s to Burning Skies’ credit that it manages to stave off this kind of experience for the rest of the game. Never is this spin-off of Sony’s PS3 franchise anything more than average, but at least that in itself is enough to deliver on the simple thrills that carry you through to the end (or near the end, as it were). And on a system with no alternative right now, it’s got every right to beat its chest about being a fully-functioning FPS.

Burning Skies finds itself rather awkwardly placed in the series timeline, set just before Resistance 2, which saw the Chimera invade America. With all the major events of the Resistance universe detailed in Insomniac’s PS3 trilogy, it struggles with producing a relevant story. You fill the boots of fireman Tom Riley, who sets out to find his family after becoming separated in New York and aid the fight against the Chimera. Focusing on a man trying to find his family could have made for a more memorable, personal tale (albeit similar to Resistance 3’s yarn), but it’s instead tossed out for a fairly standard plot. Reily and his partner, Ellie uncover some devious doings on humanity’s part, but the more this story takes centre stage, the more you lose interest.

Coming off the back of the rather wonderful Resistance 3, there was hope that Burning Skies would continue to exercise the potential of this franchise, but it’s sadly lacking any of the ideas of ambition that made its predecessor a surprise hit. Form the word go it’s a case of moving from one room to the next, clearing out waves of enemies. Bosses, mini-bosses and regular arsenal updates are all it can muster in the name of variety.

At their best, Resistance games present a sprawling selection of insane weaponry to pit against intense face-offs with menacing aliens. Here, a few old series favourites are kept while the new ideas are skimping. A shotgun tied to a crossbow proves a fun plaything, but is as ultimately useful as it sounds. Meanwhile the likes of the Bullseye and Auger feel noticeably dumbed down, largely thanks to the game’s appalling sound design.

That said, rarely is it unplayable, and at least the aforementioned length means that it doesn’t outstay its welcome. On a strictly mechanical viewpoint, Burning Skies is spot on, with tight, responsive aiming. Some of the Vita’s touchscreen controls even add to the flow of battle, allowing for pinpoint placement of grenades and secondary attacks.

It manages to look the part from time to time, too. Huge clumps of Burning Skies aren’t all that appealing to look at but when you get the right mix of environment, enemy and weapon it at least provides a glimmer of how future Vita games will end up looking. Uncharted: Golden Abyss blows it out of the water, but it wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration to say this meets the PS3’s launch standards.

With such a disappointing single-player offering, it’s up to the online portion to provide any real value in Burning Skies. The competitive option is a simple one, only offering three modes for up to eight players. Resistance 3 scaled back on the franchises’ reputation for diverse multiplayer and the same rings true here. That’s not to say that this is bad multiplayer, not at all, it’s just basic, taking absolutely no risks or trying anything unique. Sadly, it doesn’t make much of a case for multiplayer on a handheld.

But where it offends the most is in its asking price. You can see all of what Burning Skies has to offer in less than a day with ease, making the $40/£40 price point something of a joke. As one of Sony’s cheaper PSN-only options this could have at least been a satisfying time-killer. It’s simply not up to snuff when paired with Vita’s other top-tier titles.

Burning Skies need not spell doom for the future of the genre on Vita, though. Sony Bend managed a considerably better effort with Resistance: Retribution on PSP, suggesting that the faults lie with the game’s developer, not its format. It seems to serve no other purpose as to say that, yes, there is now indeed a fully-functioning dual-stick shooter on a handheld. Hopefully the company’s next efforts prove that there can be some much more than that.