Sneaking out shortly after the Playstation Vita's launch, Unit 13 was produced by the same team responsible for the SOCOM series, which also features special operatives in a third-person perspective. I'm actually surprised that this game wasn't branded as part of the SOCOM franchise since it shares a lot of the same DNA of that series.
Unlike most modern-day military games (specifically the Tom Clancy series of games), Unit 13 doesn't really have an overall plot. Each of its 36 missions are bite size affairs, perfect for the morning commute, and are fairly stand alone, so you can play them through in any order. This is probably the game's biggest weakness as some of the missions are fairly repetitive, with the same maps being used with different enemy layouts or objectives. The repetitive nature wouldn't be as big an issue if there was some over-arching storyline or sense of advancement, but when every mission ends with your character exiting the map, and no consequences to your actions, it becomes very easy to put down the game and not bother with it for a few weeks. In trying to make the game appealing to casual play throughs, they've missed out on the addictive nature that made playing games such as 'Uncharted: Golden Abyss' such a must.
Like most games nowadays, there is a sense of progression for the characters whose statistics can increase based on the amount of points you earn for them, but you don't feel much attachment to the characters themselves, as they are effectively boiled down to their soldier class and not given much personality. You can choose from six classes, each with their own expertise and weapons load-out, such as Sniper Rifles, Shotguns, etc. The game itself 'recommends' an operative for you to use for each mission, removing some of the tactical elements.
The game features co-operative play (available through Wi-Fi connections or 3G) and you can see friends progress on the leaderboards, and even share some of the unlockable missions via the 'near' feature, although this hasn't been something I've been able to enjoy since no-one on my friends list has the game!
Graphically, the game looks great. It is reminiscent of the early Xbox 360 graphics and falls slightly behind the current generation of games for that system. There is a rather bland feeling to the locations, which seem to either be pale grey corridors in some military air-base, or sandy brown walls of a Middle Eastern village. Where the background is less than impressive, the level of graphics on the characters that are displayed in third person is actually pretty impressive and is much better than anything from the original PSP's line-up of 3D shooters.
The game has a fairly steep learning curve, especially in some of the more stealth-orientated levels, where you can get swarmed by enemies quite quickly once you have alerted them to your presence. Luckily, the game does have a few checkpoints per mission, so it isn't the biggest chore to replay small sections of one mission to try a different approach to a trickier level.
In terms of controls, the secondary thumbstick definitely adds a whole new dimension to playing this genre of game on a handheld. The PSP versions of the SOCOM franchise had suffered from not having that second thumbstick to control the camera and aim reticule. It is so intuitive to play these games with a dual thumbstick approach that I am surprised it took Sony this long to release a handheld machine with this function.
Overall, this is a great budget title, but not quite worth the full retail price of £39.99, due to the rather barebones feel to the game. If you own a Playstation Vita and want one more game for some variety on a long train journey, than this works well in that respect, but there really isn't enough here to warrant it to be anyone's first game for their machine.
[This Review may also appear on Amazon or Ciao]