Game Rant's Anthony Taormina reviews Unit 13
Back during the era of the PlayStation 2, Zipper Interactive was among the premiere developers crafting unique experiences for Sony's console. Known for bringing online multiplayer to the PS2 in the form of SOCOM Navy Seals Zipper was a developer ahead of its time, but time's have certainly changed.
Since then Zipper has struggled to stay afloat (and may even be closing their doors) and their once renowned prowess has been lost amidst military shooter after military shooter. However, there is one last gasp for Zipper Interactive, a chance to once again bring a new military first person shooter, Unit 13, to an exciting new Sony platform, the PlayStation Vita.
Unfortunately, as indicated by Unit 13's numerous inconsistencies, Zipper Interactive has clearly lost their touch.
Still, amidst all the flaws and blemishes, the game controls surprisingly well and lets the Vita's touch controls be an extension of the experience rather than a forced gimmick. It's gameplay that is extremely familiar, especially for fans of SOCOM, with the only real inventive addition being the ability to touch the screen to reload, plant a bomb, or collect intel among other things.
Perhaps Unit 13's biggest strength rests with its ability to accommodate short and long play sessions. Each of the game's 36 missions, while in no way connected by a story or common theme, can be finished in under 20 minutes, and are extremely varied and unique — at first. However, after about an hour or so, it's plain to see that Zipper Interactive recycled the same five or six levels, unlocking small pieces here and there, but ultimately using identical arenas. Across the game's four mission types -- which focus on either being speedy, having a finite amount of health, or simply needing to kill everyone -- these problems get magnified, and make what is actually a good looking game seem stale.
Even just completing the missions, which requires standard third person shooter gameplay albeit with a few caveats like snap to target thrown in, becomes a chore and is further bogged down by the game's horrid AI. Occasionally enemies will attempt to flank, or try to flush the player out, but most of the time they will either stand still just asking to be picked off - or they'll forget they're in a skirmish entirely and go back to their predetermined route.
Zipper has crafted each level in such a way that there isn't one clear route of attack, which helps facilitate variety amidst the repetition, but the enemies are so dumb the player can usually just circle around, pick off a few guys from behind, and then circle around back, until the room is clear.
As the difficulty ramps up the enemies become more ambitious — I once had an alerted enemy throw three grenades at me upon discovering my position — and end up causing nothing but frustration and headache. It's as if Zipper had no idea how to create challenge in Unit 13, so they decided that a few basic AI priorities, and even a few "monster closets" where enemies continually spawn, would give the illusion of a harder difficulty.
Online co-op might have alleviated that problem had players been more focused on the game's objectives rather than simply trying to rack up as many points as possible for the game's scoring system. Killing with skill or being particularly stealthy will help the player's mission score, and will net the character used in the level better weapons or attachments. It's pretty standard stuff, and it's a shame that the way in which experience is doled out favors a run-and-gun style over being tactical and premeditated, an odd choice considering this is a tactics-based shooter.
Zipper should be commended for providing enough in the way of unlockables, daily challenges, and "dynamic" versions of levels (aka we randomized the objectives) to incentivize keeping Unit 13 in your Vita cartridge tray, but the game plateaus too early for any of those draws to grab hold. Just getting through the game's main missions the first time is tedious enough, making the thought of replaying a generic tan fortress level again extremely unappealing.
Unit 13 is a poor translation of the formula Zipper found so much success with back in the the early 2000s, but at least it's not bogged down with gimmicky support for the Vita's bells and whistles. The third person shooter has evolved, and with it has come a gamer that expects a little more out of the experience, even if it is on a handheld. Some elements, like short mission length and solid shooting mechanics, show that something interesting was there, but the whole package is ultimately brought down by flaws in literally everything else.
Frustrating AI and a small level selection, among other things, make this feel like a rushed Vita title that has no business carrying the Zipper moniker. It would have been nice to see a shorthanded developer go out with a strong showing, but instead they simply proved how out of touch they are with today's gamer.
Do you think that Unit 13 was a return to form for Zipper Interactive, or a sign they just couldn't keep up with the times? How can a third person shooter best accommodate the Vita's many features?
Unit 13 is available now for the PlayStation Vita.