Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Video Game Review | Resistance 3, dev. Insomniac Games

Once upon a time, Resistance meant something.

In the early years of the PS3, when it looked disturbingly like Sony were yet again fighting an uphill battle, not to mention losing - to the Xbox 360, of course, but also to the Wii, and this when the Wii was at its most potent - Resistance: Fall of Man was a call to arms of sorts. A Halo-killer, they said, with bits of Bioshock in... and who in their right mind wouldn't want that?

Alas, like Killzone before it, and again after it, the first Resistance was crushed under the not-inconsiderable weight of expectations. It was no Halo, no Call of Duty, and assuredly no Bioshock, but for a few text and audio logs your player character - Nathan Hale, a one-man army with a strict sell-by date - could pick up.

For all that, though, Resistance: Fall of Man was alright. It was very much an Insomniac joint: coming as it did from the developers of Ratchet & Clank, it had a neat, arcadey feel to it, a bunch of interesting weapons you could and should switch between on the fly, and a concept (aliens invade) which, if it was a little overfamiliar - and it was - then at least it was a new spin on an old story. The alt-history of the early 50s Insomniac Games' creative team cobbled together was a familiar thing twisted almost beyond recognition. It looked the part, played the part, but its various successes aside, it could never realistically have hoped the part was be any more meaningful than any other understudy's.

With Resistance 2, in 2008, Insomniac only dug in deeper. This was exactly the wrong thing for it to do. Nobody needed yet another wartime shooter, and what had made Resistance: Fall of Man stand out was largely absent its rushed sequel. It was a bigger thing, oh yes, but very far from a better thing. The Resistance franchise was in the end its own worst enemy, stripping its own corpse - how ghastly! - of the very things which had made it distinct... if only ever slightly so.

Colour me utterly bloody beside myself with surprise, then, at what I'm about to say, because Resistance 3 is easily the best Resistance yet. Third time's the charm, right?

It's not hard to see the benefits wrought of the extra year Insomniac took developing this second sequel: in everything from the stunning lighting to the pared-down and markedly more effective narrative, by way of the myriad refinements applied to the twitchy, free-for-all gunplay returning from the original Resistance rather than the more directed experience that (in part) made Resistance 2 such a boob. Resistance 3 is Resistance done right, finally, and the best argument I've seen in recent years for taking whatever time it takes to do something justice, instead of shitting out an installment every holiday season come hell or high water.

Humanity is old news, in Resistance 3. Only a scant fraction of the population has made it through the Chimeran attack initiated in the first game, none unscathed, and the efforts of infected man of action Nathan Hale in the sequel served to quicken the fall of man, rather than stop it. Now even his heroic hardships are of a bygone era, because Nathan Hale is gone: shot dead, in fact, by Corporal Joseph Capelli, which is to say the player character of Resistance the third.

Joseph is one of a few survivors eking out an existence underground in Haven, Oklahoma, where Resistance 3 begins. When their hideaway is inevitably discovered, Joseph's wife Susan begs him to leave her and their son, Jack, in order to go with Dr. Fyodor Malikov to the Chimeran tower atop the ruins of New York, where the scientist believes the wormhole gradually freezing the entire surface of the earth can be closed. Eventually, the former Corporal obliges and sets sail for the Big Apple, but not before Susan has implied that she would pick Jack's safety over Jospeh's any day of the week.

Resistance 3's story allows it a few moments of spectacle, of gargantuan alien grandeur or appalling human horror - best exemplified by a long level that put me in mind of nothing so much as that one time I went to Ravenholm - but by and large the narrative of this finely-honed return to form is a more personal affair than those loosely chronicled in either of its predecessors. And it hits home all the harder for that, imbuing the moment-to-moment experience of Resistance 3 - which is to say left trigger to aim, right trigger to shoot, rinse and repeat... as per the formula of every other shooter, but faster, and more fun for it - with precious import on the small scale as well as the impossibly large.

A darker, more intimate, and ultimately more meaningful sequel to a should have been and a could have been respectively, Resistance 3 simply is, and it is, at last, no longer the least of all the franchises scrapping over the FPS crown. Polished to a sparkling sheen, it is a gorgeous thing bolstered by fundamentally satisfying core mechanics inspired as much by Ratchet & Clank as Call of Duty, and though neither of those series are under any threat from Resistance 3, with this third iteration, Insomniac are finally fighting the good fight.

Shame, then, that if reports are to be believed, this will be the studio's last dalliance with a franchise only now hitting its stride. No doubt Resistance will power on into the next generation, and perhaps beyond, but without Insomniac at the helm, who knows what fate may await the last remnants of humanity? Them, or us.

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