Developer Zipper Interactive made its name on the PlayStation 2 with SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs. However, the studio has struggled to find an audience in the modern era with MAG and SOCOM 4 failing to live up to expectations on the PlayStation 3. Now, Zipper is taking on the PlayStation Vita with Unit 13, and while the title isn't a must own, it is a fun shooter for people on the go.
There's no story to wrap your head around in Unit 13. Instead, there are more than 35 missions for you to jump in and tackle by yourself or with an online co-op partner. The gameplay will feel familiar to shooter junkies -- with your character anchored in the center of the OLED screen, you can melee, aim down the sights, and switch weapons with simple button presses.
Sticking to cover can be stiff and the gameplay isn't silky smooth, but Zipper should be applauded for porting a shooter control scheme to the PlayStation Vita that feels so much like a console experience. The Vita's touch screen does come into play when reloading and using items, but they feel natural.
You'll also use the touch screen to tap the mission you want to jump into. The meat of the game is a tiled menu that lists each operation. At a glance, you can tell if the mission at hand is a speed, stealth or "shoot everything" task -- each genre packing its own win/loss conditions. This setup is the perfect fit for the PlayStation Vita. At a glance you can see the length, difficulty and type of mission so you can pick the perfect covert op for the time you're willing to spend.
This variety plays to the different operatives at your disposal. Unit 13 packs six military men that each have their own bonuses and weapon loadouts. You pick the one most adept at the upcoming mission and head into battle to earn experience points. Each character can be leveled up to 10 to unlock more and more perks.
It's important to find a gunman you connect with because Unit 13's big draw is high scores. Each mission boasts a leaderboard -- global, friends and people near you -- so you can try to be the best on the block. Getting better ranks comes down to getting more points. As you progress through a mission, stealth kills, combos and more give you points that tally in the corner of the screen.
At the end of a mission, you're ranked on a five-star scale. Your total stars from every mission unlock High Value Targets, which are basically VIP missions where the enemies are tougher and checkpoints are nonexistent. On top of that, there are daily challenges that give you a specific task and one chance to see if you're the best in the world. That's cool.
So, Unit 13 sports good controls, plenty of missions and lots to unlock - - why is it just "good" on the IGN review scale? Well, there's no soul to the game. Without a story, the missions are just tasks for the sake of tasks. That's fine, but leaving nothing to focus on but the missions amplifies the gameplay problems.
For starters, the AI is all over the place in Unit 13. On one attempt, you might take out a guy silently, but on the next identical attempt, you might get discovered -- that hurts. The same can be said when a silenced shot to the head on the second floor that alerts guards on floor one. It's as if Unit 13 changes the rules on the fly. Once, a terrorist spotted me from clear across the map through some steps, but another time, I shot a dude to death and the guy directly next to him kept staring at the brick wall in front of him.
There's also some funky "fourth wall" stuff, too. Rather than be constantly moving, enemies don't start patrolling until you enter an area and trigger them -- it's a bit like The Truman Show. Similarly, once the enemy is alerted to your presence, certain maps have bad guys spawn over and over again. In one mission, there's literally a room that's a deadend, and I'll be damned if enemies didn't come out of it two by two over and over again. If you can't have regenerative health (as is the case in some missions), why can the enemy have regenerative troops?
These little things chip away at the fun in Unit 13. I enjoy this title and plan on playing it every now and again. The missions are clear cut and who doesn't like to shoot things? But when I think back on the review, the times that stand out are when I was screaming because a shotgunner suddenly decided to come running at me. Even when things went well, it was usually from failing over and over again so that I knew what do the next time. That didn't make me feel like a badass.
Unit 13 doesn't have flashy visuals or an in-depth campaign, but it does have good controls and plenty to do. I think the AI could use a tune-up and the visuals some polish, but if you're looking for a game to sink bullet after bullet into, Unit 13 will keep you entertained.