It's easy to complain about the state of modern first person shooters. They all look the same and consist of fighting nondescript foreigners or aliens and there are chest high walls as far as the eye can see. Anyone can beat them with enough patience because your wounds heal over in a matter of seconds and you're never far from a checkpoint. The weapons are usually boring and you can only have two at a time. Insomniac tried something slightly different with Resistance: Fall of Man: they abandoned the tropes that were dominating the genre and instead opted to focus on the game's weaponry. Sure, the color palette was no different than your typical shooter, and the first one could certainly use some polish, but the retro gameplay mechanics were there and it was a nice change of pace. Health bars, creative weaponry, an alternate 1950's timeline, and a lack of realism really helped Resistance: Fall of Man stand tall in a sea of stagnancy.
But then something weird happened, and Resistance 2 seemed to forget about all that made the first game special. Sure, it had better production values and the action set pieces were superior, but they didn't add any new weapons or features and they decided to make the game more like every other FPS game on the market by incorporating regenerating health and limiting your carrying capacity. In the eyes of many, this was a betrayal of the fans of the first game.
This time around, however, everything you loved from the first game is back, and Resistance 3 is one of the most refined shooters I've ever seen. The weapons look and feel better, the environments are splendid, and I've never seen an FPS with such a powerful atmosphere. You don't even need to have played the first two since the glorious opening cinematic (which plays as the game installs itself) will get you caught up on the story thus far, including the events that put the protagonist in the position he's in.
This time around you are Joe Capelli, a man who was in Nathan Hale's squad and dishonourably discharged for his actions at the end of Resistance 2. Four years later, in 1957, Joe is doing his best to live a quiet life surviving with his friends and family in rural America. Right from the get-go, you know that this isn't going to be some grand tale of victory and defeat, this isn't really a story about the military efforts or the chimeran invasion, this is the story of one man doing what he can to survive and protect his family in the aftermath of a disaster. It's about loneliness and hopelessness, and Insomniac makes use of every visual and audio device they can to further enhance that sombre mood. The human spirit has shattered, and almost every mission is a constant reminder that this is the end for us; the various rebel factions you meet and assist along the way have long since stopped trying to do anything other than survive. As the title implies, resistance is futile, and men will fall. I would not hesitate to say that the story is among the best in its genre, but that's not saying much, since most FPS games are usually content to give you random excuses to shoot things without any personification of the characters you play as.
This crushing defeat is further accentuated by some of the best art direction I've seen in a video game. Not since the Silent Hill series have I seen a game utilize light, fog, and shadow to evoke such powerful emotions, and I've never seen it done in an FPS. In fact, I'd almost go as far as to say Resistance 3 could, at times, be seen as a survival horror game thanks to the tone and mood, aside from the fact that they give you enough weapons and ammo to (literally) overthrow an alien invasion. There were a few scenes that really stood out for me, including a boat trip amongst a thick fog where you see the vague outlines of a massive beast wreaking havoc in the distance, which you had to hopefully avoid since it would be futile to try and fight. There was also a scene at night where you're hiding in a forest, avoiding a patrol ship where the light and shadows of the trees dance precisely as you'd expect them to, giving the same sense of dread and hopelessness that you'd expect from a War of the Worlds movie. There's even a scene early on where you're in your hometown, fighting off the Chimera as a storm whips up the dead and lifeless trees. Even the gentle orange glow and lighting effects help to make this scene more dramatic in spite of the action that's going on all around you.
The whole game is poised to be a metaphorical autumn to the human race. 90% of the population has died, everything is going cold, and the world is preparing to start life anew, this time without us. The various scenes and set pieces really accentuate that metaphor to the point where the final mission is set in a snow-covered but abandoned New York City. That really is as bleak as it gets.
Art direction, in itself, is plenty to go by and even the technically inferior games can still look better than the best polygons the industry has to offer, but there's no need to worry about that here. Resistance 3 is not just gorgeous, but a technical marvel in almost every right. Yeah, the lip sync is off and for some strange reason the animations when climbing a ladder are jerky and robotic, but other than that, the game looks and feels very natural. As I said, the fog effects are hauntingly effective, which is something so few games seem to be able to pull off. In addition to that, the lighting, water, and general clarity of the characters and scenery are unparalleled. I'd honestly go on record saying this is one of the best looking games I've ever played once you combine the art direction and the technical proficiency on display.
To compliment the outstanding visuals, we are treated to a rather muted but effective score. There's sadly not much to say, but I will agree that sometimes silence is more effective than any orchestra. You'd be amazed how scary a scene can be when all you can hear is your own breath and the footsteps of something that wants you dead just a room or two over. Well, it'd be more effective in imbuing dread if that wasn't an invitation to kick some chimeran ass with my arsenal of unique and creative weaponry. Like I said, it could be a horror game if not for the weapons and ammo you accumulate throughout.
Overall, it looks and sounds fantastic with only a few hiccups, and the game plays like a charm, too. The PS3 controller has admittedly been lagging behind when it comes to FPS control, but Insomniac has managed to overcome that minor barrier and has made an intuitive and natural feeling shooter that is precise, tight, and a lot of fun to play. I tried playing with the Playstation Sharpshooter, but for the life of me I couldn't get it to calibrate properly so I opted to play with a controller instead. Plus, the sharpshooter (and move controls in general) didn't work when playing co op, so that limited my options, and I really wanted to play Co-Op. However, the thing I liked most about Resistance 3 was not the controls or the story or the visuals, but how retro the gameplay felt. Oh health packs, how I've missed you so! I'm so happy to not have to choose which weapons I want for each level, and I felt the co op was perfectly executed, save some jarring moments where the cutscenes didn't account for my partner's presence. But yes, all the things you've heard about the game being a return to its roots is true, it doesn't play like most first person shooters and that's it's best selling point.
One of the things that makes the game so special is that you can carry all 12 of your weapons and four grenade types at all times, allowing you to pick and chose your attack style based on what you like to do rather than what the game decides you should be doing. I liked this because the weapons are really creative and fun to use, rather than just being a means to an end. It's just better when you have 12 options at all times instead of 2, yet so few developers remember this. Anyone familiar with the Resistance series is familiar with the guns they've made, but for those new to the series, I'll tell you this: there's an X-ray gun that can shoot through walls. That is all.
Like the last two Resistance games, each weapon gets a secondary function, but this time you can also level up each weapon based on how often you use them. The Auger (that x-ray gun that shoots through walls) gets spread shots, while the Rossmore shotgun gets incendiary ammo when you upgrade it for the first time. It's nothing you've never seen before, but it does encourage you to spread your weapon usage out and try new things, rewarding you for creativity and ensuring you actually get use out of the entire weapons wheel instead of just the assault rifle and sniper.
But then there's the health bar. Like I said, I've been sorely missing this feature in FPS games for the better part of a decade and it makes a nice return here. Yes, health packs are plentiful and you're probably not going to die all that often, but you play very differently when you're in the red, offering another level of strategy to the mix. You're much more cautious and hesitant than in most shooters when full health is only a few seconds away at any time. Some will hate this feature, and for them the game actually gives you an option to unlock regenerating health once you've beaten the game, so that's nice. Speaking of which, cheats! Just an entertaining aside, but I haven't seen a cheat menu for ages! It's the little things that make a game fun, and I certainly appreciate it.
But the game is not without its flaws. While the first 80% of the game is atmospheric and remarkably well presented, the last two missions seem to drop the ball on its narrative focus and gameplay by going back to those same tropes I've been lamenting in every other FPS game. Difficulty is ramped by taking away your weapons and making you face insurmountable odds, and it goes from being a personal story of redemption and survival to a wide-scale attack on the chimera. Yes you had to travel halfway across the country to get to your destination, and yes you did what you said you would, but it all feels so pedestrian, the repercussions of your actions so ambiguous. It was a real shame since majority of the game seemed like it could have been leading to something profound and deep but instead could have given you a victory screen consisting of 'Congratulations, you landed a blow to the chimera but the war still rages on', plastered on a picture of you returning home. It just seems like such a copout when you consider most of the game was about the mood and the overwhelming sense of dread. There were also a few very minor glitches, but they lasted all of a second at a time and had no effect on gameplay.
All in all, the campaign lasted me about 8-9 hours total, which is average for an FPS game. But for those looking for extra stuff to do there's plenty of stuff to keep you busy. There are dozens of journals and audio logs hidden throughout the game, you can spend hours just levelling up all your weapons, and for those looking for a challenge you can also play through again on a harder difficulty. I actually wouldn't mind doing this since I had so much fun throughout the majority of the game, especially some of the boss fights that I'd like to experience again (even though most of them consist of “hit the glowing weak point for massive damage”). There are also a slew of unlockable cheats, options, videos, and art galleries to keep the collectors busy for a while. Insomniac also packed in a bunch of demos and videos on disc, so they definitely didn't skip out on the content, even though it's all pretty basic stuff.
Like every other shooter on the market, Resistance 3 also has competitive multiplayer. Sadly, there isn't much to say about that aspect of the game since it's virtually the same as every other competitive multiplayer FPS this generation. You level up, you get new abilities and unlocks, and that's about it. It's not a selling point, but it's a nice feature to have, even if it is pretty standard fare. It is worth noting that while Resistance 2, had massive 60+ player battles, Resistance 3 limits it to 16 total. For some this is a downgrade, for others it keeps things sane. In the end, it's simply a matter of opinion.
In the end, Resistance 3 is about as good a game as you could really hope. Sure, the story and gameplay suffer a bit in the end, but it was able to marry the best of modern and retro shooters into one of the best in its genre to come around in the past few years. Its art direction totally nails the sombre mood that the series has driven home for years, and the change in pace from wide-scaled shooter to a more subdued and personal story was arguably the best thing Insomniac could have done to breathe new life into the series. Add to that the creative arsenal and perfect controls, and you have one hell of a fun game, even though I doubt the multiplayer is going to be particularly significant in the months to come. If you were on the fence about getting Resistance 3, I give it an enthusiastic recommendation; it's not very often that I am so caught up in a game I can beat it in one day.