Note: This review covers the single-player campaign only.
Nostalgia is a double-edged sword. I have countless happy memories of favourite games from my childhood, but hindsight isn’t always 20/20. There’s nothing worse than revisiting a classic only to discover it isn’t nearly as good as you remembered.
Reviews tend to fall victim to a game’s launch hype, for better or for worse. In the case of Skyrim, all Bethesda really needed to do was release a slightly improved rehash of Oblivion and it was always going to be heralded as one of the greatest games of all time. On the other hand, Modern Warfare 3 needed to be (and wasn’t) drastically different from previous CoD offerings or else be inevitably doomed to overly harsh fanboy criticism. Try as we might, it’s exceedingly difficult to judge a game simply for what it is, rather than how it lives up to its expectations.
To that end, my current modus operandi is to never buy a game at launch. Ignoring how much money it saves me, I can afford to wait until the initial enthusiasm (or lack thereof) dies off before I can sit down, play through a game, and review it with a level head. The Resistance series, developed and published by Insomniac of Spyro and Ratchet and Clank fame, has become an industry heavyweight with no fewer than five additions spanning three consoles. This pedigree, along with generally favourable reviews, inspired me to shell out the pittance it nowadays requires to see where it all began.
Resistance: Fall of Man was the launch title for the PS3 back in 2006. Set in 1951, the distinctly Wolfenstein-esque plot sees an alien race called the ‘Chimera’ (yawn) emerge during WWII and sweep across Europe, threatening mankind’s very existence. You assume the role of Nathan Hale, a sergeant in the U.S. army who takes it upon himself to single-handedly wade into the thick of combat, use an arsenal of weaponry to kick some serious alien ass, and attempt to liberate the human survivors where the combined efforts of the entire English military have failed. Hoo-ah!
I’m not what you’d call a FPS fan, but even I knew precisely what to expect before I ever put the disc in the drive. For the most part, levels of the single-player campaign can be separated into two types: the survival-horror style, crawling-through-the-creepy-tunnels-by-yourself-and-just-trying-to-get-to-the-checkpoint-in-one-piece levels, and the truer-to-FPS style, squad-spawns-in-the-middle-of-a-battlefield-and-kill-all-the-enemies-before-they-kill-you ones. And to be honest, even in the latter your squad tends to die quickly enough that it will turn into the former. Gameplay will be a blend of ducking for cover, frantically searching for health and ammo, and tearing around a corner with your trigger finger and war cry at the ready, which varies according to your chosen difficulty level.
P_L’s theorem: Enemy likeability is inversely proportional to how wide they can open their mouths
The way in which the game slowly introduces you to different weapons is actually very effective. Initially you’ll only get a choice of a couple of weapons and need to kill the stock-standard Chimeran soldier. As the game progresses you’ll discover more of each, at a rate which allows you to become competent and comfortable with what you know before diversifying. There isn’t any one weapon which works best in every situation, and the mechanisms of each are fairly unique. You get your standard-issue rifle, shotgun and grenades, but then you get to experiment with alien weaponry which allows you to lay mines, heat-seek your opponents and even shoot through walls. True, you’ll rarely run out of ammunition for any of them (save the more overpowered ones), but the fact that the Chimera get to use all of them against you too means that what to use and when becomes entirely situation-dependent.
Your introduction to the various Chimera types works in an identical way, but it’s more of a baptism of fire before you’re able to learn the best ways to take them out. All the usual monster types are covered, from the otherwise meek little bastards whose howl scares the shit out of you before you know they’re there, to the gargantuan behemoths that never fail to inspire feelings of ‘ah shit’ even though you see them coming a mile away. Like I said, it’s nothing new to most gamers, but it’s still a competent take on well-worn ideas.
Resistance’s real strength is its graphics. I can still remember the original ads when the PS3 was released, depicting gritty, washed-out wartime locales populated with a horde of grotesque aliens and a lone, grizzled soldier. Even six years on they hold their own. Not once will you see poor rendering or experience a drop in frame rate. The whole thing’s glitch-free and smoother than a baby’s ass and that’s so, so important for a shooter to work well. My favourite example is a level where you’re storming a bunker under heavy artillery fire; as the shells land around you (they never seem to hit you) the sound washes out and your movements become blurred and delayed with the shock. It’s like something out of Saving Private Ryan and it’s absolutely stunning.
The haunting, washed-out graphics give a great atmosphere of futility. Resistance. Futility. Geddit?
The problem is, you can tell that the graphics were the number one concern of development. It’s completely understandable, given the oversaturation of the war-time FPS market and the need for a launch title to provide OMG cutscenes for advertising purposes. If that’s all you need to enjoy it, then Resistance has it in spades. But I’m not one of those people, and as an honest-to-goodness video game, it falls over badly.
I harp on a lot about the importance of narrative, but it’s not unfair when I say it doesn’t really have one. The writers have toyed with the survival-horror approach by trying to draw you in with the mystery of the Chimera and their origin. Who are the Chimera? Where did they come from? Why are they so intent on scouring humanity from the face of the Earth? You don’t really receive any answers to the questions posed, and to be frank, I’m not sure even the writers knew. Perhaps we find out in future instalments, but that doesn’t make this one any more enjoyable. The voice acting is good, but horribly clichéd – the narrator, along with most of the game’s speaking characters, speak like the toffiest of English nobles (personally, I associate cockneys with soldiers a lot more readily, but I imagine they have significantly less appeal for an international market). And I really grow weary of the typical male action hero. You can count your player character’s number of lines on one hand, and if you imagine the deep-voiced, stoic, confident protagonist of virtually any game of the same genre, you won’t be far off the mark. It’s a bit sad that one of the ‘joke’ cutscenes you unlock after completing the game is the only real attempt at humour and characterisation. After the first hour it becomes obvious that you’re here to shoot bad guys, and nothing else.
Gameplay: Hold down trigger, strafe in zig-zags. Rinse and repeat, always repeat.
There’s also a crippling dependency on the hope that the player actually enjoys the gameplay, because it’s as repetitive as shooters get. It’s painfully clear that the single-player campaign was more or less designed to serve as a tutorial for the multiplayer. Yes, you get different weapons, yes, different approaches work better on certain enemies and yes, to an extent you can choose how you want to take them out. But whether you’re lobbing grenades, shooting through walls or setting elaborate traps, the generally small map sizes combined with linear progression means that it all boils down to pretty much the same thing: get the drop on your enemy where possible, hold down the trigger, and don’t stop moving until they do. It’s a generic, uncreative formula and if you don’t like it, then it’s unenjoyably tough shit.
In fact, it testifies to the lack of creativity that there’s very little else to say about this game. The AI is generally good albeit a tad predictable. At its worst it’s laughable – enemies just standing there while their comrades are sniped one by one around them. The game predates trophies, but has its own ‘achievement’ system awarded for performing certain feats in certain ways – mind you, you’ll get them mostly by accident since there’s no prior instruction as to how to actually achieve them. And the ‘intelligence’ collectables are so impotent they barely deserve an afterthought. They’re poorly hidden and offer so little additive information that you’ll probably spend less time figuring out where they are than why you bothered to find them. I’ve completely ignored the multiplayer here, which is perhaps a little unfair when judging a shooter. Of course, given that the game is six years old I imagine that there isn’t much of an online multiplayer scene left these days, and my understanding is that the co-op mode is just a two-player version of the same campaign. If I’m mistaken, well, I did say from the outset that this was only intended to review the single-player campaign.
Conclusion: Given that Resistance was a launch title, it’s probably a bit unfair to judge it outside its temporal context. It did everything it set out to achieve – it showed off the glorious HD potential of the PS3 with graphics that crapped all over those of the previous generation, provided a thriving multiplayer scene, and otherwise gave an adequate gaming experience to those who had shelled out a small fortune for the console it was bundled with. But in and of itself, it offers absolutely nothing that hasn’t been done countless times before, and doesn’t even do that particularly well. If you got it in 2006, cherish the memories it gave you – but if you never get around to it, you’re not missing much.