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The Vita gets its first shooter with Unit 13

Sony's newest portable system gets its first military shooter. Does it stack up?

Zipper Interactive/SCEA

When Sony made the decision to give the Vita dual analog sticks, developers must have salivated at the chance to make the ultimate portable shooter. Unit 13 marks the first attempt at a game that's strictly a shooter, and we've gotten plenty of hands on with the final build.

Is Unit 13 a good sign of things to come? Or are shooters doomed on Sony's new portable?

Sure, the Vita's 25-game launch lineup was impressive, but it also left out one notable genre. You'd think there would be a third-person shooter in that lineup, what with the inclusion of dual analogs sticks flanking the Vita's massive screen.

One could argue that Uncharted: Golden Abyss filled that void--and to some degree it did. But in terms of a strictly shooter-only experience, something in the PS3 vein of Resistance or Killzone, gamers were left empty-handed.

Enter Unit 13, the Vita's first crack at a military shooter. Players can take on a generous number of missions alone or over Wi-Fi co-op. There's no support to do co-op over a 3G connection, aside from some stat sharing.

Overall, controls feel good. The game does a great job at sliding in some touch-based functions in logical areas around the screen so that they don't interfere with normal game play. Since the Vita is essentially missing four buttons (L2 and R2 triggers and thumbclicks L3 and R3), it's a necessarily evil to satisfy such a wide range of control.

It'll take you a good amount of time to blast your way through all 36 missions, and each is varied enough to keep you interested. Some are mission-based, others require a bit of stealth. Graphically speaking the game holds its own but can stumble a bit when there's a heavy amount of action on-screen.

Of course I have to mention the inherent analog stick range of motion issue that shows its face in Unit 13. It's the same problem I encountered while playing Uncharted, but just like Golden Abyss, I've found that lowering sensitivity does improve accuracy and control. This is the second game where the range of motion has directly impacted precision while aiming with the sticks.

Zipper Interactive/SCEA

It's becoming a little clear that Vita shooters may have one hurdle to overcome--the overly sensitive analog thumb sticks. However, with a little tweaking and practice, it's certainly not a dealbreaker.

I'll be interested to see how future shooter games fare on the Vita, including its debut first-person title. Until then, Unit 13 easily fills that void.

A single game can prove a point that's been up for debate since the iPad and iPhone made physical controls obsolete: do analog sticks make a game better? In the case of a shooter like the PS Vita's new Unit 13, the answer is absolutely yes.

Zipper Interactive/SCEA

Unit 13 isn't a particularly incredible game. In fact, it feels a lot like the old PSP game Syphon Filter. A bunch of individual bite-sized missions make up the meat on this SOCOM-like stealth shooter, which sends you on missions that feel plucked from a generic book of military-infiltrator plotlines. It looks a little last-gen compared to recent games like Modern Warfare and Battlefield 3, though its style feels like something between SOCOM, and Metal Gear Portable Ops. The 30-plus missions are shorter in length than standard game levels, but earning challenge stars and other leveling bonuses for characters in your squad adds a surprising amount of depth, more so than the average single-player shooter campaign on a console. These are missions you'd actually consider playing again.

However, what makes Unit 13 really immersive, besides that big, bright OLED Vita screen, are its twin-stick controls. Adding a second analog stick to the Vita was always a play to incorporate console-like gaming on the go, and most modern console gaming revolves around first and third-person action, where the left stick controls movement and the right controls head direction. Unit 13 feels liberating to play compared to similar endeavors on the Nintendo 3DS or PSP, but it's not all roses: truth be told, those sensitive analog Vita sticks are a little tough to use in subtle gun-aiming situations.

Zipper Interactive/SCEA

Unit 13 makes me hungry to see Call of Duty on the Vita, or other similar games. It also reminds me what real console-like controls can do to elevate an OK game into a good one. iPad developers of shooter-type games, heed the message sent by this game: if you want to up your game like Unit 13 does, you'll probably need a control pad at some point, too.