There’s no getting away from it: Unit 13 can feel like a placeholder, occupying a slot in PlayStation Vita's early line-up until something bigger and better comes along. It’s a military shooter, it has two-player online co-op, and it will cover those bases until a Call of Duty, a Medal of Honor or a Battlefield makes its way to Sony’s new handheld.
Yet this is doing the game a bit of a disservice. It might not look distinctive and it might suffer from a lack of a compelling story or innovative game ideas, but in its own slightly workmanlike way, Unit 13 is quite a clever handheld shooter. It does what it does very well, and it’s been structured in a way that makes it perfect for fast, full-blast sessions of action. It’s also surprisingly addictive, and not nearly as instantly forgettable as some people have suggested.
We won’t go into too much detail on the premise, because lord knows the developers didn’t bother. Unit 13 is some kind of international counter-terrorism force that takes on missions to tackle terrorists. It has x members with a range of entertaining US, British and foreign accents, and each one has a speciality, ranging from stealth to sniping and all-out assault. Each mission involves being dropped into an area where those terrorists are hanging around or up to something nasty, and you have several objectives to complete before you can be extracted. There’s no real connecting storyline that we can spot, and what personality there is comes down to some radio jabber, some of which shows a sense of self-aware humour that you wouldn’t suspect the game possessed.
Missions are picked from a grid. You start in the top-left corner and, by completing missions and unlocking the adjacent ones, you slowly work your way through the lot. To keep things varied, each mission has a type with its own rules. In Direct Action it’s just about killing terrorists, grabbing information and blowing things up, but in a Covert mission a single alarm will end the mission, while Deadline missions have you working – for some obscure reason – against the clock. In Elite missions your health, which usually recharges in classic Call of Duty style, no longer does so until you reach specific points. Most missions can be tackled in between five and fifteen minutes, and none outstays their welcome. In fact, there’s a high level of tension all the way through.
The game works from a third-person perspective, and gives you some indication of how good Vita’s dual-stick setup is for shooters. The left shoulder button aims and the right one fires, and you can switch to sights or a sniper zoom at a tap of the touchscreen. The game’s cover system works well, with your current hero hugging the nearest crate or wall at a touch of a button, and other controls like grenades or button interactions are sensibly mapped to the touchscreen. Suddenly, the small disparity between Vita’s controls and PS3’s seem even less of an issue.