Unit 13 is a shooter for Playstation Vita, from the makers of the SOCOM games. It’s a genre that’s seemingly tailor-fit to the fledgling handheld, with its twin sticks offering precision control and aiming capabilities. It neglects to provide intricate plotting of any sort, which would have been superfluous in any case. Nuts to that, Zipper Interactive insists, we’re above such capers. Suffice it to say: there’s reams of bad guys to gun down, and you’re… holding the gun.
You’re met at the menu screen by a less-than-rivetting but perfectly functional mission list. It’s essentially a numbered grid, and not even a thrilling, sexy numbered grid of the kind math teachers make sweet forbidden love to in the privacy of their own homes. Presently though, you select a mission and it’s revealed to have a melodramatic title like Operation Open Flame, which adds to the interest factor somewhat. (Operation Huge Meathead Like Arnold Schwarzenegger On Steroids Unleashes A Shitstorm On Some Unsuspecting Dumbass Criminals With Rifles comes later. At least, I’m hoping.) Each operation is divided into a distinct type, depending on the nature of the task at hand. There are Covert missions, demanding less bullet to the groin and more stealthy infiltration. A Mission Impossible affair, if you will, sans beloved mental midget Tom Cruise. Direct Action levels, by contrast, promise run-and-gun ass whuppings by the metric crap-tonne.
However you’re thwarting the merry band of drug dealers, assorted miscreants and general bastions of bastardry, there’s a squad member for the job. Unit 13, the elite military group you control, comprises six agents. Each has their own specialism and range of abilities to augment their talents. Alabama the sniper, for example, could blast the balls off a gnat from a mile away. At close range though, the gnat could probably kick his ass if it got the drop on him, such is his feeble nature. Stats contribute to this as well, with some sacrificing speed for greater survivability and so on. Further, the members level up with experience which allows them to unlock different weaponry to enable various arsenal alterings. The caveat here is the fact that each character has items that can only be unlocked by another in the squad at a certain level. Your personal favourite death machine with legs and a penis will only get you so far, if you’re hunting the collectables. It’s a great mechanic to encourage all of Unit 13 to get involved in the trigger-happy action. There’s a recommended operative for each task, but you’re free to go freestyle and play with whoever you wish.
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Pop Cap’s grotesquely popular strategy title has made an appearance on just about every format known to man. The game is so ubiquitous I wouldn’t be surprised if intelligent toilets in Japan now ran it, for when players need their fix mid-dump. In honour of the recent Playstation Vita release, however, I’m taking a look at Plants vs Zombies anew.
The concept is a simple yet refreshing one. Zombies, video game experience tells us, like to gang up on heavily armed soldier-types, and hobble threateningly towards them en masse. The scene generally resembles a riot at a retirement home, perhaps following a deficit of incontinence pants or a heavily-disputed bingo result. The inevitable Pyrrhic victories that resulted from this tactic have practically added zombies to the endangered species list. These particular rotting bastards, then, decide to prey on a safer target: an ordinary, firearm-free home. What they didn’t expect was a frenzied counterattack from a vast crew of sentient plants.
To be fair, even those of us without maggots growing on our groins couldn’t have predicted that. These guys were utterly screwed.
The playfield is your yard. It’s divided into a grid of sorts. The undead march from the right, while on the left is the entrance to your home. (And your delicate brain-meat.) The centre serves as the battleground, where you plant your vicious vegetable warriors. There are just short of fifty types on offer, and each has been perfectly designed to complement a myriad of strategies. If zombies with a crude screen door shield shuffle your way, Fume-shrooms that blast out noxious gases will be needed to bypass their bolstered defenses. If it’s a foggy night, Planturns must be deployed so you can see where the enemies are before they start chewing your face. All are presented in a delightfully endearing cartoon style, plants and zombies alike with charm you effortlessly. The fearless foliage has also been endowed with hilarious anthropomorphic animations.
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Professor Schaumund, tyrannical bad dude/peculiar mutant penguin thing, is on the rampage again. His vast fleets threaten the skies. Residents of the seemingly-doomed galaxy have no hope of escape. It’s not looking good, I think we can safely say. Fortunately, the Intergalactic Defence Commission has a plan for just such occasions as this. (Foul yourself would be the only strategy I’d be able to offer at this juncture, but that’s likely reserved as Plan B.) There’s a range of starfighter squads available to combat this menace, but they are to remain grounded. Instead, one unlucky victim of rock-paper-scissors heads off in a fantastically powerful prototype fighter to repel the invasion.
Just when it looked to be becoming a romp of Star Wars proportions, (perhaps featuring a few dramatic space battles and unexpected parental revelations from a villain with breathing problems) the scene is instead set for Super Stardust Delta.
After the aforementioned pilot has had a quick grumble about getting the short, shit-encrusted end of the stick, you find yourself in arcade mode. There are five planets, each serving as a sizable level. Octopus-esque dexterity will be required as you weave through asteroids and opponents alike, blasting your way through to that stage’s boss. You’ll alternate between fire and ice weaponry, each effective on different enemies. Boosts, bombs and other special abilities are available to enable a swift egress from hairy moments. (and believe me, such moments are hairier than a tarantula’s testicles in Super Stardust Delta.)
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We’ve looked at Playstation Vita’s AR games, and the crazy brand of witchcraft that powers them. It’s time to explore another of the console’s offerings. Near is a free piece of software, pre-installed on the system, and an impressive one at that.
It’s a similar concept to 3DS’s Streetpass function. Users can put the console on standby while out and about, and automatically share information with other owners they happened to pass. Their charming little avatar, or Mii, will flit onto your 3DS, and vice versa (At this point, I like to imagine the recipient scanning the local area for the ridiculously-bewigged transvestite they just passed, as my Mii is currently sporting Princess Peach’s crown and flowing blonde locks). Near, then, is much like Streetpass. If Streetpass has been working out obsessively, and is now hugely beefed up and infinitely more impressive than before. Streetpass could now kick your ass effortlessly.
When Near is activated and updated, it’ll present you with a simple graph-like map. This will show the avatar of each player in range, and how far from you they are. It’s not entirely clear what this range is, but you’ll get a ‘65 people playing nearby’ notification which is reassuring all the same. Selecting an avatar will show you a list of that person’s recently played games. You can choose to pry further at this point for more details. You’ll get a comparison of their play habits with your own, a list of their collected trophies, and the opportunity to add them to your friends list. Presumably before the police arrive to issue you with a restraining order, this is where your cyberspying ends.
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Fireworks is the third of Vita’s AR games, and the last for now. Cliff Diving and Table Football had their moments, but were really nothing special at all. For me, this latest offering constitutes more of an actual game than Sony’s previous efforts. Let’s take a look.
The primary mode of play is tabletop. Here, you place your choice of the cards numbered 1, 2 or 3. These correspond to an easy, medium or hard setting. Cleverly, each will produce a different house on your screen when the AR wizardry kicks in. 1 results in a shack, while 3 creates a penthouse. The firework display will be more ostentatious in the latter. After all, what’s the use of being rich if you can’t fill the whole neighbourhood with noxious smoke and melodramatic lightshows? If you don’t make every pet in a five mile radius foul itself, you’re a failure as a spoiled rich person.
From the yard of this tiny house of clearly loaded midgets, the fireworks will appear. You follow the ascent of each one, using the touchscreen to set it off. Higher scores and multipliers will be awarded depending on your timing. There’s a very brief window where they will flash, a successful tap here will result in a ‘perfect’ message and a dose of smugness. It becomes quite hectic with many on the screen at once, and failing to detonate one before it lands again will cost one of your three lives.
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Playstation Vita and its AR Play Cards have already brought us the mildly entertaining Cliff Diving. The next offering, available for free download on PSN now, is Table Football. I was disappointed to discover that the title doesn’t refer to Foosball, undisputed sport of kings. Instead, we’re forced to endure a rendition of nerd-tacular tabletop soccer game Subbuteo. The bar wasn’t set too highly with the last AR game (it got firmly stuck in the ‘lukewarm interest’ position), so how does this compare?
Subbuteo’s miniaturised pitch is emulated by positioning three of the cards, spacing them according to the size of pitch you want. You can then arrange the others to form the stands and scoreboard, so a full complement of six cards is compatible. At this point, the usual inexplicable sorcery and general logic-defiance of augmented reality comes into play, and everything springs into existence. You and your opponent’s squads of trademark Subbuteo circle-assed plastic freaks assemble, and the game begins.
It’s the touchscreen control system that I struggle with. In another nod to the original game, sliding a finger across the screen ‘flicks’ a player to elsewhere on the pitch, while the same movement with the ball will pass and shoot. As simplistic as this sounds, everything on screen is so infuriatingly small that it’s a damn fiddly process. The zoom function is fairly dire, all told, so I often managed to launch the ball into the stratosphere by mistake when simply trying to get a player to get their ass in gear.
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Playstation Vita has finally arrived in shops worldwide this week. Provided in the box is a set of AR Play Cards, which are used with some simple games to show off Sony’s take on augmented reality. As with the 3DS’s similar offerings, they’re a great introduction to the console, and showcase for the tech. The first of these is Cliff Diving, available for free on PSN now.
Cliff Diving features the reckless and often painful-looking exploits of Diver Dan. You place one of the provided AR Play Cards on a table, desk, floor or hopefully more imaginative location, and a diving board will spring from it. It will be accompanied by a target body of water (which will become more difficult to access as the levels progress) and the tiny Dan himself.
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