By Xavier Griffiths
The First-Person Shooter genre is extremely crowded and competitive. In order to stand out, an FPS has to be truly unique and not be afraid to try something different. Being a high profile launch title also makes the need to stand out even more dire, in order to validate the purchase of early adopters. In that sense, Resistance: Fall of Man had a large weight on its shoulders being both the Playstation 3’s preeminent FPS and launch title. Developed by Insomniac Games, who stepped out of their comfort zone of humor-injected platformers to deliver a much darker experience, Resistance is quite adept as far as current generation shooters go. At times excellent, and at others a bit run of the mill, Resistance leaves a lasting impression thanks to its lengthy campaign, surprisingly rich multiplayer offerings, and a potent combination of art direction and atmosphere.
It’s 1951. World War II never happened, but a much more desperate struggle has presented itself in the form of a monster outbreak that has emerged from within Russia. Meet the Chimera, an insidious spider-like species who completely devastate Europe. They set their deadly sights on Great Britain which, despite a valiant defensive, is completely overrun. In a last ditch effort to save the country, they employ the most powerful weapon in their arsenal--the American army. America agrees to send in reinforcements after the two nations settle on a secret exchange. You control Nathan Hale, a typical American soldier who prefers to communicate with bullets rather than words.
The game starts in York. As Hale, you are immediately dropped into a war zone and introduced to the basic game mechanics. Movement, crouching, jumping, and aiming are all rudimentary and are appropriately mapped to the controller. Other aspect of the controls can take a bit of getting used to, especially the R3 zooming, but once you have them memorized they will not become a distraction. Immediately, the Chimeran Hybrids assault your company, setting the pace for the epic firefights to come. One thing that sets this apart from standard shooting fare is that the action pauses whenever you decide to change a weapon. Your entire arsenal is at your disposal in order to emphasize the importance of choosing the right weapon at the right time.
Your primary weapon is a dual-action carbine, which deals a fair amount of firepower at a respectable rate of fire. Nearly every weapon featured in Resistance has a secondary function, which in the case of the carbine is a useful grenade launcher. The weapons in Resistance represent the dichotomy between the relatively unsophisticated human machinery and the technologically advanced Chimera. Luckily, both types of weapons are available to you and all bring something unique to the table. The Chimeran weaponry is inventive--borderline genius--again proving that if Insomniac every turned to arms development, the world would be in big trouble. For example, the Bullseye--the Chimeran equivalent of the Carbine--can tag enemies with a homing bullet which directs subsequent shots fired to its' location, meaning your line of fire can bend over corners and from behind cover to take out a hostile. Other great weapons include the Auger, which can shoot through walls as well as produce shields, and the Fareye, a sniper rifle capable of slowing down time long enough to bury a bullet right between the multiple eyes of your enemies. Some weapons do overshadow others, and you can arguably clear the entire game using only the Carbine or Bullseye, but at the expense of missing out on inventively experimenting with the rest of your guns.
After the first level, Hale is infected with the Chimeran virus. Curiously he develops some form of resistance to the infection (hence the title) and gains the ability to regenerate a quarter of his health and occasionally see through walls. The macho man that he is, Hale presses on fighting. Sometimes he's accompanied by other soldiers, who usually act like the standard AI controlled squad mates found in most games (read: stupid and mostly there for show). Their presence seems almost entirely superficial, as they shoot or die without consequence, while Hale continues fighting off the invasion almost single-handedly. Which brings us to Nathan Hale and his unique personality, unique in the sense that he doesn’t have one. The lines of dialogue he sputters can be counted on one hand, and we learn next to nothing about his background or his motivation. This fact is slightly obscured in the way the story is presented as an off hand account of his experience in battle by a female British officer. The best thing I can say about Hale as a character is that he is somewhat shrouded in a cloud of mystery that could potentially explored in the sequel(s), and he never gets in the way of the real stars of the game, the weapons, Chimera, and the admirable set pieces provided by Old England.
York is just one of the beautifully recreated war-torn environments which has been transformed into a lesson in good level design. Hale's long and arduous journey carries him through skirmishes in Manchester, Somerset, Nottingham, and London, encountering the dark architectural makeovers the Chimera made along the way. Sadly, the high-intensity, open battle scenes are sometimes abandoned to make way for solo tours through research labs, lonely subway stations, or warped caverns. These situations slow the pace to that of a grinding corridor-crawler, and are sometimes reliable for a cheap scare. The campaign is split about 50/50 between these sections throughout the 15-20 hour playtime, but sadly it peaks a bit earlier than it should. Luckily, the Chimera are there to keep things interesting till the end.
Sometimes fantastic, sometimes predictable, the Chimera were created with detail to keep your attention. Most of the time you are up against the standard humanlike Hybrids, who provide a decent challenge because they know when to take cover, or when to charge forward, should the numbers be in their favor. It doesn’t take much to kill them, in fact you can dispose of them just by shooting the hoses attached to their backs if you can aim well enough. Titans who tout rocket launchers, lanky humanoids who focus on melee strikes, and leaping crawlers who desperately hunger for your face also vie for your bullet-laden affection. Naturally, each specimen has very distinct battle tactics to keep the combat varied.
Visually, Resistance is technically proficient enough to highlight the Playstation 3’s graphical capabilities. That’s not to say that they are outstanding, the game features a few uneven textures and suffers from an extreme lack of color. The art direction more than makes up for these shortcomings though. Employing the photorealistic carnage of war and the grave, mechanical look of classic sci-fi, Insomniac injected a true sense of struggle and desolation. All the locations are well rendered, punctuated by dead bodies and the remnants of a decimated populous. The game runs without any visual hitches, locked in at a solid 30 frames per second, which is particularly impressive given the amount of action on screen at times. Multiple explosions, crashing dropships, dozens of enemies equally contributing to a light show of bullets, etc.
Resistance holds up just as well with the audio presentation. The soundtrack features a brooding, military score to accompany the onscreen dramatics. Human and Chimeran soldiers alike produce guttural groans as they die. Weapons fire and reload with appropriate sound effects, while the ominous sound of footsteps and eerie drafts, add to the atmosphere. In a nifty bit of sound design, Morse code is sometimes heard in the background as a method to communicate story bits. Which brings up my main problem with the storytelling in Resistance. The back story is meticulously detailed but told through the use of hidden Intel documents. This makes the plot feel more complex than it should and while it does leave an air of mystery to be resolved in future iterations, is not captivating enough to keep you interested in the plot to the end.
Overall the single-player campaign is a well-executed and fun experience, featuring large scope and impressive set pieces. Along the way are vehicle sections, bouts with giants arachnids and mechanical spiders that you will eventually commandeer. Comprised of 30 short to medium sized levels, the campaign holds up to multiple play throughs, and can even be tackled cooperatively with a friend in splitscreen mode.
Resistance features a multiplayer mode as large in scale as its single-player. The game plays host to epic (if a bit too chaotic) 40-player matches, and is completely lag-free. The standard gamut of competitive modes are found here, Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, as well as some unique modes. Both Human and Chimera are playable and have their own strengths and weaknesses. Most of the maps are based on locales from the campaign, reworked and available in different sizes to suit the multiplayer mayhem. The matchmaking is simple and the stat tracking is deep enough to keep you invested in your performance. There is also a ranking feature akin to the one found in Call of Duty, where the better you play, the higher you rank, the more weapons and accessories available to you.
The gameplay in multiplayer boils down to a fast paced frag-fest. Stand still for too long and death is assured. Sometimes it feels like an entire clip is needed to kill an enemy and the Bullseye tagging is sometimes exploited to the point where it feels woefully cheap. And because the game has been out since the launch of the PS3, dedicated players are now experts, so new players may find it tough to develop their skills. Other than those complaints, the online component is rock solid and enjoyable. Downloadable maps are available and best of all are completely free, as of the time of this writing. Splitscreen multiplayer is also an option for up to four players and is just as well put together as the rest of the game.
All in all, Resistance: Fall of Man is both a great shooter and showpiece launch title. Though there are a few kinks in the presentation and gameplay departments, there is enough content here to last you a very long time. The campaign is engaging, and the multiplayer is ambitious, making this a game well worth a purchase.