On the eve of the half-decade anniversary of the launch of the PlayStation 3, Insomniac Games is back with their third game in one of the console’s original series with Resistance 3. Not all fans of the original Fall of Man game took kindly to the sequel most controversial changes, such as reduced weaponry, lack of co-op campaign, and infamous one-hit kills, and their cries were definitely heard loud and clear. The new game rectifies many of these issues, bringing a familiar first-person shooting experience to fans and newcomers alike. Maybe a little too familiar, actually, as the game seldom does more than is necessary to distinguish itself from practically any other first-person shooter franchise out there. In a season that promises several highly-anticipated competition (almost all of which share the distinction of being part three’s), simply being ‘OK’ may not be enough.
Resistance 3 picks up immediately after the tragic events of R2, swapping out old protagonist Nathan Hale for Joe Capelli (a dead-ringer for Mad Men’s Jon Hamm), who gained a certain notoriety for his role in helping discover the vaccine for the Chimeran virus, thereby giving mankind a fighting chance against the alien invaders. Now a hero for his fellow surviving humans leading the resistance, Capelli worries about the safety of his young family and wants to keep them as far from harm as possible, which isn’t an easy task when aliens are terraforming your planet into a giant ball of ice. Fyodor Malikov, the scientist who Nathan rescued at the tail end of the last game, believes that he’s found a way to finish the invaders off for good, which sets the stage for a suitably epic excursion across the country to New York City.
I’ve read that some people have been impressed by the story presented here, calling it an emotional masterpiece that elevates game storytelling to the next level. I’m not one of them, and I’m curious if these same reviewers were playing the same game I was. Resistance 3’s narrative plays like bad fan-fiction masquerading as B-movie filler, populated with clichéd characters and telegraphed moments that felt stale years ago. I suppose that blatantly stealing characterizations and plot devices is what passes for innovation in the videogame world these days (The Walking Dead is particularly plagiarized here), so that the majority of those playing would mistake this sloppy storytelling as ‘unique’ is understandable.
But a major problem is that the actual campaign never feels like it has a clue to what it wants to be, finding ‘inspiration’ from practically every other first-person shooter it can. From forced narrative free-roaming sections, endless ‘defend the whatever’ moments, to even survival moments aboard transportation (two here, including a boat and train), chances are you’ve already played this game before. Familiar set pieces like escaping an overrun prison still have their charms, but more often than not the game succumbs to what could charitably be described as intellectual theft. A prime example are the new survival moments that are virtual carbon-copies of Left4Dead, requiring you to splatter your way across hordes of easily killed Chimera, right down to the exploding Boomers.
A lot has been made of Resistance 3’s weaponry, which are indeed great, but that’s a gimme considering it’s from the Ratchet and Clank developer. Another great thing is that the game keeps in old-school, and fans will appreciate the two-weapon limit has been lifted, and you’re now able to employ as many as you come across. They’re pretty awesome; easily the series’ best, and so incredibly fun to use that you’ll be itching to try each for yourself. One of the game’s few real innovations is how each weapon will self-upgrade after being used often, making them even more devastating (and interesting), and each has a secondary-use that helps add a layered strategy to keep even the most mundane battles interesting and fresh. Familiar guns like the Bullseye, Magnum, Marksman, and Rossmore make their welcome return, as does the Augur (shooting through walls is always fun). The strangest new addition (and sadly, underused) is the cobbled-together Mutator, which transforms foes into exploding piles of green puss.
Graphically, the Resistance franchise has never been one of the PlayStation 3’s best, falling somewhere between a higher-resolution PS2 game and a truly ‘next-generation’ experience. The trend continues in Part Three, as super-detailed backgrounds and locations are interspersed with pancake-flat bitmaps and choppy models that wouldn’t look out of place in your typical Wii game. Audio dialogue is rarely in-sync with what’s happening (more than once I missed an objective because I couldn’t hear it), and the game’s numerous cinemas are presented almost entirely in grainy full-motion video using enhanced versions of in-game models, yet the animation lacks fluidity and the facial expressions pantomimed to the point of silliness.
The rest looks intricately detailed and fine, but it’s that fake-world detail where your interaction doesn’t really impact the world; you don’t case a shadow, you don’t visually affect water, and even the smallest of cliffs will impede your progress (don’t stray from the path, son). Some of the more interesting baddies look and animate nicely, especially those larger-than-life foes that necessitate one-on-one battles, but so much of the visual impression is what’s expected – but never more – from a modern FPS. Perhaps this mix-match of visuals was necessary to keep the framerate humming along at 60fps and the game playable, but it’s definitely one of the platform’s lesser-efforts.
As with past games in the series, the control is absolutely perfect, smooth and responsive to the point that I almost didn’t want to stop playing until the credits started rolling. The game does support Move controls, too, though I wasn’t able to adequately test them in time for this review (other editors tell me they work fine, on par with most Wii first-person shooters, but aren’t preferred for the long haul). Even with many of the gripes I have with the lackluster story and copy-and-paste scenarios, the one thing that I’ll never fault this series for is having one of the most spectacularly controllable schemes that I’ve ever had the pleasure of handling in any first-person shooter, on any platform.
A word to the wise: the game’s multiplayer requires the use of Sony’s Online Pass, which limits use to a single PlayStation 3 console per game (or per code, if you purchase another). This means no renting, no borrowing, and, most devastating, no real traction among players. For many the Resistance franchise is an untested beast, and requiring players to invest fully before even trying will likely leave people doing just what the name says: they’ll pass on the online. Why a game that desperately needs every advantage to set itself apart from the competition, especially with heavy-hitters Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3 just around the corner, would come with a self-inflicted would is baffling. Yes, I know other companies are doing it, but you know what they say about fools and cliffs. Its stunts like this that essentially drove otherwise loyal PC gamers to bootlegs and crippled the PC game market.
Of course, actually playing the various multiplayer modes is fine, if you don’t mind the expressionless character models and by-the-numbers gameplay. Apart from the much welcome inclusion of playing a co-op campaign (thank you) there’s the usual assortment of popular modes that you’ve seen, played, and may have gotten bored with elsewhere. One of Resistance 2’s most interesting bits, the massive 60 player matches, has been scaled back considerably to a mere 16 here (most likely owing to the fact that 60 player matches weren’t that fun), which balances things quite a bit. Staples like Deathmatch and Capture the Flag are all here, naturally, as are new modes like Breach (capture chain reactors) and Chain Reaction (defend targeted areas to avoid nasty wormholes forming). Rounding things out are Killstreaks, Abilities, as well as weapon upgrades and other such things, all of which you’ve probably seen before.
Despite its lack of originality and poor attempts at storytelling, Resistance 3 is actually an enjoyable first-person shooter, and never strives to be anything more than that. Many of R2’s most pressing complaints have been fixed here, and fans are sure to appreciate the return of co-op multiplayer and being able to store more than two weapons in their queue. Speaking of weapons, their fantastic and easily the best in the franchise, upgrading themselves as you play and urging you to try them out on unsuspecting Chimera scum. The online multiplayer, while adequate and enjoyable, does nothing to separate itself from any other first-person online experience, and it’s hard to imagine anyone behind converted here. Still, there’s plenty to like and enjoy here, just don’t expect anything more than average.