Shooter fans sick of lackluster options on handheld devices heaved a huge sigh of relief when Sony announced the Vita would ship with two analog sticks. For far too long, developers were forced to come up with clever workarounds for importing shooters to mobile platforms. Some titles (like Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror and SOCOM: Fireteam Bravo) found a way to impersonate shooter controls, but achieving functionality is a far cry from the silky smooth controls proper analog sticks offer. Unit 13 is one of the first Vita titles to take advantage of the long awated functionality.
This third-person shooter made by Zipper Interactive (SOCOM, MAG) stresses tactics over running and gunning. The collection of 36 stand-alone missions centers on a conflict with African warlords, but Zipper chose not to invest much time in the narrative because when you're playing on the go, getting in and out of your experience is sometimes more important than spending your limited time watching cutscenes. As such, the missions sort of work like mini narratives of their own. These tasks typically last between 5 to 25 minutes, and when you complete one you unlock both the mission next to and below it on the mission select screen.
Players encounter four mission types in Unit 13: Direct Action (your standard running and gunning assignment), Covert (stealth-focused recon missions), Deadline (timed missions that force you to move quickly from checkpoint to checkpoint), and Elite (tougher missions that do away with health regeneration and checkpoints). Before starting the mission, players can choose between six operatives to use, each of whom has a different skill set and arsenal. Given their differences in play styles, each operative gains experience differently as well. The infiltrator, for instance, may gain more points by completing stealth takedowns, while the marksman racks up more points for successful headshots.
Anyone who has played a SOCOM game will be right at home in Unit 13. Players move and shoot much like you would expect them to for a modern shooter, but Zipper is also leveraging the unique Vita features to give you even more options on the battlefield. While zooming in on enemies, you can tap the touchscreen to switch between a zoom and a scope view or swipe the back panel to adjust which shoulder you are looking over. Players can also reload weapons, toss grenades, and complete objectives gathering intelligence by hitting the appropriate button on the touchscreen.
Much like the underrated Bizarre Creations shooter The Club, you earn points for each action you complete during the mission, and your final score is compared against your friends and other players via online leaderboards. Taking a cue from the popular Autolog feature found in Need For Speed, Unit 13 promotes competition between friends by broadcasting notifications when someone has beat your high score or unlocked a new weapon.
Once you complete a mission, your point total also operates like experience for the soldier you chose to use. Ten ranks exist for each character class, and ranking up gives you access to new weapons, scopes, attachments, and grenades in the armory.
You also earn a number of stars for each completed mission based on your performance. Once you earn a specified number of stars you unlock a new target to take down in the High Value Target mode. These fights essentially operate like boss battles. To encourage friends to compete with each other for the high score in these more difficult missions, once you unlock a high value target your friends will have access to the fight as well for a limited time.
If you've started to memorize the missions and are looking for a new experience, you can select the dynamic mode option on the mission start screen to randomize enemy and objective locations. Zipper hopes to keep things fresh with a new Daily Challenge every 24 hours. These standalone missions can only be played once, so you better keep your ears open and sight trained on the enemies if you want to avoid an embarrassing rank on the leaderboard.
For those who prefer to play with friends, all 36 missions are playable with another person via the online co-op mode as long as you are using a Wi-Fi connection. Unit 13 has no competitive multiplayer.
Future Vita owners interested in this easy to pick up and play shooter will find it in stores on March 6.