I am the shaven-headed, SMG-sporting commando, sneaking through a warehouse connected to a huge aircraft hangar. I huddle up against a crate - two enemies around the corner - and with a deft flick on the anologue stick I spin out to catch them off-guard.
Smoothly switching to iron-sights using the touchscreen icon, I hover over the first enemy’s head and promptly plug it with a silenced round. “+1000 points - Headshot” flashes up on the screen. I am Boss.
Alas, I'm quickly a dead boss due to being mown down by the dead man's pal, who's been alerted to my presence by the suddenly lifeless body slumped at his feet.
Maybe I should have used a grenade and taken them both out. Or maybe I should have sneaked up to higher ground as the sniper and taken them out from there.
The Vita-exclusive Unit 13 from SOCOM and MAG developer Zipper Interactive seems to be as much about how you undertake a mission as the missions themselves, with the social features of Sony’s new console surprisingly at the core of this arcade-like shooter.
Lock and load-outs
I say ‘arcade’, but that’s really just one aspect of the game.
Along with combo timers (which tick down between kills) and point-scoring for headshots, Unit 13 also finds time to pack in RPG-like persistent levelling and six character classes, as well as awarding extra bonuses for stealthily picking through a level, Metal Gear Solid-style.
The main part of the game concerns the Mission Grid, which you can undertake either by yourself or in co-op with a friend.
Like a military form of Blockbusters (an old UK gameshow), completing a mission opens up the adjacent levels on the grid, allowing you to pick and choose your route through the game.
These levels vary between four different mission types. Probably the most traditional is Direct Action, which takes place across a large level and tasks you with completing a set list of objectives. Meanwhile, Elite takes place on smaller maps, but removes modern safety nets like regenerating health and checkpoints to crank up the tension.
Check your six
The levels are deliberately designed to contain multiple routes and possibilities, with certain areas better for specific classes of characters.
At the end of each level, your score is tallied up and posted to a variety of leaderboards, notifying friends and awarding stars according to how well you performed.
These stars then unlock special ‘high value target’ missions that, once beaten, cleverly send themselves out to all your friends and PS Vita players nearby. These people can then play the level even if they’ve not yet beaten it (but only once). If these players beat the level, they share it out, and so on, in a viral reward system.
The game itself is a traditional third-person action affair - a genre Zipper has made its own with the SOCOM series.
Unit 13 doesn’t contain the squad-based scheming of that franchise, though. Instead, you’ll be pushing up against walls (using the Circle button), and flicking between a tight camera and iron-sight view with the touchscreen, which acts as an extension of the Vita's physical buttons.
Despite looking and, in part, playing like your typical shooter, Unit 13 possesses varied scoring and social features which make it stand out.
It remains to be seen whether the scoring is balanced enough to offer true high score exploration, but we’re looking forward to giving the game a proper tour of duty when it emerges during the ‘launch window’ for the PS Vita.