With the PlayStation Vita sporting two analog sticks, shooters suddenly make a lot more sense for on-the-go play. One of the first to hit the console will be Unit 13, a third-person military shooter. Developed by Zipper Interactive--makers of MAG and SOCOM 4 on the PlayStation 3--Unit 13 aims to meld social features with gunplay, making use of the Vita's NEAR functionality and changing the way players progress through each stage.
The heart of those changes lies in the level-selection grid, which will be familiar to anyone that's played the likes of Angry Birds or Cut the Rope on the iOS. Each level is represented by a numbered square on a grid. Traditionally in such games, you'd progress through each level in turn, making your way through to the end. In Unit 13, you can play through the levels in a different order. For example, if you complete level one in the top left-hand corner of the grid, you can either hit the adjacent square to the right to start level two or hit the one below it to start level 10.
This works because each of the 36 levels is a self-contained mission, with points awarded for how quickly you complete certain objectives, such as disabling a computer system or gunning down a certain number of bad guys. Each mission also contains a high value target to hunt, which rewards you with extra points. The mission grid is at the heart of the game's social features. Each time you complete a mission, your score is broadcast to your friends and nearby Vitas via NEAR.
They can then try to beat your score and the mission that you completed, regardless of where they are within the game grid. This gives them another way of unlocking later missions without traditional linear progression. All of your high scores are uploaded to worldwide leaderboards, making it easy to gloat to your friends. If you're not blessed with great shooting skills, though, daily challenges will allow you to rise to the top of a daily leaderboard, giving you your five minutes of fame.
Apart from the social features, the game itself plays like most other third-person shooters out there. There's a class system for characters, each of whom are armed with different weapons; a cover mechanic that lets you hide behind objects; and waves of nameless bad guys to shoot with your rifle. In our hands-on, we played one level set within an industrial building that was littered with the usual shooter tropes, such as exploding barrels, crates to use as cover, and mazelike corridors to navigate.
The dual analog sticks made aiming and shooting a breeze, and making our way through to the objective of hacking a computer system was a doddle. There's some implementation of Vita's touch screens too, so you can use the front or back to swipe through your available weapons. Unit 13 will live or die by its social features, and those depend on how many people will be tempted by the new franchise when the game is released alongside the Vita next year. Look out for more on GameSpot soon.