CES 2012: Unit 13 preview - the bite-sized handheld shooter

While other games such as Resistance and Uncharted aspire to compress a console game into the handheld experience, Unit 13 - developed by SOCOM developer Zipper Interactive - is doing the exact opposite. Instead of aiming for heavy narrative, Unit 13 is trying to be the perfect game for, say, playing while you wait for an oil change.

The game offers both single player and co-op and stretches across 36 missions. You are given the choice of playing with one of six different operatives, all with their own unique skills and abilities. For example, one is more focused on stealth, while the other is great with explosives. Choosing a certain operative for a mission may make the game harder or easier depending on how much of a challenge the player wants.

Above: Zipper's SOCOM roots are definitely showing

Based on an estimated 10 hours of campaign, it’s not the longest game you’ll play on Sony’s upcoming handheld, but the ability to pick up a mission (varying between three and 20 minutes in length) and burn through it based on your limited time is a satisfying feature.

Above: The shooter in action (inside a small Vita screen, of course)

Shortness in length definitely doesn’t mean shortcomings in gameplay, since Unit 13’s got plenty of options to make your loadout impressive. It features 30 weapons, seven projectiles and over a dozen weapon attachments. This combined with the fact that each operative can level up ten levels and you have a game with some meat on its bones. The game includes a Bulletstorm-esque in-game scoring system to help you keep track of your progress. Multiple headshots in a row will result in more points and so on.

But where Unit 13 really aims for greatness is as a social game. Zipper hopes that the leaderboards for the game will become highly competitive. In fact, they’re banking on it with many online-centric features. For example, every day the team plans to release a unique mission that everyone can only play once in an effort to create an even playing field. It’s a method of telling if you’re good enough to top the leaderboards, since those who rank highly, even without playing those extra stages, really are the cream of the crop. Another planned feature is a notification that lets you know when a friend has beaten your score so you can race to put him back in his place.

Above: Taking advantage of all of the Vita's features should make for a good time

Unit 13 utilizes both the front and back touchpads, both in methods major and minor, to take advantage of the nascent hardware’s abilities. The front touchscreen can be used for weapon selection, throwing a grenade or pulling up an interactive tactical map - which is wonderful if you typically struggle with in-game maps; apparently touchscreens are the solution. The back touchpad is less utilized, and can be used to switch which shoulder you’re shooting over. A minor capability, we know, but it offers a world of possibility.

As one of the first shooters available on the Vita, Unit 13 is a very promising title. We certainly wouldn’t call it life-changing, but it is unique in its efforts to provide a quicker, more concentrated experience in a shooter for the upcoming handheld.