The Resistance series has had an interesting run, jumping from PS3, to PSP, and back. The original was a solid FPS released in the PlayStation 3's infancy, while its sequels were a little overshadowed by Killzone's. Now it has landed on Sony's new baby, the PlayStation Vita, ahead of its rival.
The series overall story is that aliens have invaded earth and have been converting humans into savage Chimera. Of course, all that has the military fighting them in a futile attempt to save humanity. Silly, silly, humans.
Resistance: Burning Skies is a side story of sorts. It's set between Resistance: Fall of Man and Resistance: Retribution - during the Chimera's invasion of America - and focuses on New York. Specifically, New York fireman-come-Chimera hunter, Tom Riley. His family has been taken by the Chimera for conversion - along with the rest of New York - so, with axe in-hand, he sets off to save them.
Aside from his axe, Riley's arsenal consists of weapons seen in the previous iterations - primarily the Chimera's bullseye, an army issue carbine, and a new take on the shotgun - which is now combined with a crossbow.
Each gun is better for different situations; the mule is great for close quarters and mid-range combat, while the larger guns are perfect for taking out bosses. Strangely, the former two don't sound very lethal - giving out a "popcorn popping in the microwave" kind of sound - it's a little better with headphones. The larger guns sound vastly better.
On that note, you may be wondering how the rest of the audio is. The voice work is solid across the board, and dramatic music hits right on cue for ambushes. Although it does spoil the surprise a little when you are strolling through a corridor, and dramatic music hits as you approach the door. It doesn't give away what the sort of awkward situation you are about to walk in on, but it does make you approach with caution - for all the good it does you.
The use of Chimeran guns - or even advanced human hardware like the mauler - brings up an interesting point: it's never explained how an average New York firefighter can pick up alien weapons so quickly - he just picks up the bullseye and begins shooting.
The previous Resistance protagonists at least had military backgrounds, so it was reasonably believable that they would get a grasp on alien guns easily. But how is the average New York fireman going to have the skills to simply pick up and use them? It's a little far-fetched. You might think he had someone give him an idea of how the alien guns work; however, he didn't have an army officer on hand at all times. If he does have some sort of military background, this is never explained.
Aside from the lack of explanation on the alien weapons front, developer Nihilistic Software has done a great job of incorporating Riley's fire fighter background into the franchise by adding an occasional rescue scene - typically saving soldiers from fire, or ripping civilians out of Chimeran pods. Although it dilutes the action a little, it keeps the pace smooth and make Riley seem less like a hardened military goon - as his firm grip on guns seems to suggest - and more like an 'average Joe', caught up in a fight for humanity.
In addition to the fireman elements, Burning Skies takes the cover based combat of the PS3 titles and enhances it. Now you can crouch or stand behind cover, and Riley will automatically pop up to shoot. It's similar to Gears of War's cover system, but in first person perspective - although, due to the perspective, you can't fire blind.
Visually, Burning Skies sits somewhere between the PlayStation Portable's Resistance: Retribution and PS3's Resistance Fall of Man. Riley traverses through a wide range of locales - from New York buildings to alien ships - on his journey to save his family from the Chimera. Once you finish the game, you'll notice a stark contrast between the dark ending scene and the sunny New York day on which the story begins.
As nice as it looks, it can get a little too dark in certain areas - such as under bridges or air ducts - and none of the guns have a torch attachment. It's easier to see where you're going if you play in a darkened room, but who wants to shut out the sun on a lovely day?
In terms of level design, Burning Skies is as linear as the previous titles - you fight from set to set, watching cut-scenes reveal the story. There are a few really cheap ambushes - one of which room has chimera coming from a surrounding circular room, dropping in from the ceiling - but on average the firefights are quite fun. Unfortunately, there are some frustrating scripted events, some of which can take a few attempts to pass - such as escaping a building before the place turns into a giant furnace, burning everyone inside.
Other points of frustration come with the boss battles. While you take out bosses by targeting specific points, the boss battles are insanely hard - especially the multi-tier battle. Some games have multi-tier boss battles that save between tiers; chopping the arms off triggers a check point before you attack the legs. This isn't the case in Burning Skies; if you die on the second tier, you have to repeat the first. It gets frustrating very quickly.
Given the switch in controller - removing the L2 and R2 buttons - Burning Skies puts the Vitas touch screen to good use; primarily for things like opening doors, throwing grenades and using a weapon's secondary fire. It can feel a bit awkward at first, but doesn't take long to come to grips with. In the Bullseye's case, it's easier to tag chimera with the touch screen than it was on the Dual Shock 3. On the down side, you may accidentally use a weapon's secondary fire - say firing a grenade - instead of opening a door.
Overall, Resistance: Burning Skies is a solid addition to the series. Its story unfolds at a good pace and looks great on the Vita. There's only one thing missing: the skies were never burning! Maybe a bit dark in places, but never burning. At some point I could have used a burning sky to lighten up the game. Apart from that, Resistance: Burning Skies has set the bar high for future handheld first person shooters.