Unit 13 Review
Unit 13 is a good game. I don’t want the reader to misunderstand. Categorically speaking, one can run down the list of technical and gameplay elements and give each one a satisfactory green check mark. There’s plenty to do, the game moves at a good clip, the control is solid, and the extra stuff is appreciated, too. But you’ll have to forgive me…I have something against games that feel a little bland, a little underwhelming and overall, borderline soulless.
Just bear in mind that it’s more of a personal preference; for the most part, the game looks okay, sounds good, and plays well. The graphics are the “okay” part as there’s an almost depressing abundance of dark colors; grays, browns and greens abound, and in terms of detail, nobody is going to call this one a visual tour de force. Still, Zipper Interactive does capture the atmosphere correctly (in truth, how many bright colors can one find on a battlefield?) and although it doesn’t really push the Vita, the graphical presentation is relatively clean and certainly effective.
The audio tries to pull us into the experience by giving us an assortment of realistic combat effects, decent voice work, and plenty of sharp weapon effects. This is one game you’ll want to play with earbuds if you happen to own a pair. And the closer you are to the action, the more intense and insistent everything becomes, from the crack of your firearm to the shouts of allies and enemies alike. There’s just nothing particularly special about the soundtrack, and it all comes down to combat audio, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just depends on your point of view.
Unit 13 offers lots of missions and you can tackle them solo or with a buddy in the game’s online co-op mode. I think we need a true-blue FPS before we can gauge the effectiveness of the Vita’s dual analog sticks, but a third-person shooter is a fine test, and the game performs admirably. As I mentioned earlier, the control really is solid, and your battle management – ranging from switching weapons on the fly to melee attacks – is easily handled by anyone familiar with this type of gameplay.
It really does feel a lot like any third-person military game on a console (even if the technical parts aren’t quite up to snuff). You don’t use the touchscreen as often as you might in Uncharted: Golden Abyss, either; you really only touch to reload and use items, which isn’t difficult and fits in nicely with the rest of the action. It never feels awkward or difficult and for the most part, you won’t have any difficulty adapting to a SOCOM-like title on a portable. Cover can be a little iffy but I got used to it.
I’m also a fan of the various missions. It’s not set up so that each mission can be played however you wish; rather, each mission has different win/loss conditions and a different categorization. There are three basic types: Speed, Stealth, and…well, kill everything in sight. They all require you to adapt to the style in question, which means you’re always changing how you play and experimentation is encouraged. Plus, it’s nice to have a quick overview of each mission, as the menu tells you everything you need to know before you dive in.
You can customize your loadouts, earn experience points, and level up your characters. Each of the six characters can reach a level of ten, which will of course unlock more skills and benefits. Then of course there are the leaderboards that make you want to keep playing (“gotta top so-and-so”). None of this is really a problem; I just find that the entire experience is lacking due to zero story and a mostly aimless feel. Yeah, there are like 36 missions or something, but why should I care? What am I even doing in them that’s so essential?
Plus, even the diverse missions begin to run together, because your interest level will almost inevitably start to slide if you play for an extended period of time. And when this happens, you automatically start honing in on the drawbacks, which includes erratic AI that is rarely predictable. In one mission, your foes might seem brain-dead; they don’t know where you are and when they find out, they don’t exactly respond like trained professionals. In the very next mission, they’re on point from the get-go, and you had best watch your back.
But I would’ve been able to deal with that if this game had a little more substance. Entering my third hour of play, I was getting annoyed at AI I should be able to overlook, and the regenerating enemies were getting on my nerves, too. Thing is, if I had felt more invested in the experience, if I was more immersed in the on-screen action, I would’ve readily looked past these relatively minor issues and have had more fun. Instead, I’m getting all nitpicky and grumpy, even when the base foundation deserves a better critical reception.
Unit 13 is a good game. I have to say that again. It’s “good” from the standpoint of a reviewer who can’t really find any major glaring flaws, although there are obvious minor issues. The caveat is that those minor issues become far more irritating when you start to get tired of a military game that’s too much rinse-and-repeat with no answer for “Why the heck am I doing this?” For the record, the same sort of thing happened when I played SOCOM and MAG…I don’t think Zipper is keen on the whole story thing. It's not always essential but here, I wanted something.
The Good: Solid sound effects. Good control. Touchscreen and traditional mechanics work well together. Lots of missions and micromanagement. Different mission types keep things fresh.
The Bad: Graphics could’ve been better. Erratic AI. Cover system isn’t perfect. No story and consequently, less immersion.
The Ugly: “Guess I’m supposed to go over there…not like I care much anymore.”
3/20/2012 Ben Dutka