Call me crazy, but the first two console installments of the Resistance franchise have left me mildly disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, Resistance: Fall of Man and Resistance 2 are perfectly good first-person shooters, and I’m genuinely captivated by the fiction of this alternate history, but so far the series has failed to live up to its potential coming from a developer as talented as Insomniac Games. Take Resistance 2 for example. The plot was over-complicated and the campaign poorly paced. If not for multiplayer, the unique 8-player co-op campaign in particular, Resistance 2 would have taken more than a single step back from its predecessor. Now that Resistance 3 has arrived, is the third time the charm?
Resistance 3 takes place four years after the events of Resistance 2. With over 90% of the population either killed or converted into Chimera, the remaining members of mankind have essentially conceded the planet to the extraterrestrial species and are now living in seclusion. You play as Joseph Capelli. Yes, that Joseph Capelli, the former SPRA soldier who killed Nathan Hale, the protagonist from the previous two games in the series. Joe and his wife and son have been living with a group of survivors in an underground outpost in Haven, Oklahoma for a couple of years now, but when a Terraformer threatens to change the landscape of their home, Joe and the survivors are forced to evacuate. The Terraformer was there for a reason, though. It was following Dr. Fyodor Malikov, the world’s leading expert on Chimera, who implores Joe to escort him to New York where a wormhole threatens to send Earth back to the Ice Age, a climate that is sure to eviscerate the rest of humanity. Joe reluctantly agrees.
What follows is an interesting change of pace for the Resistance series. Whereas the previous two installments focused on the Chimera invasion of Europe and North America respectively, Resistance 3 presents a more personal story about one man’s journey and his internal struggle to stay the course or return to his family to ensure their safety; a family that was the very reason he left the military in the first place. The opening moments do a brilliant job of setting the tone for the campaign. If you didn’t know anything about the Resistance franchise you might think it was a survival horror game at first, and even though it eventually becomes a more action-oriented experience in the third act of the game, the campaign as a whole is not only well paced but also nicely varied. By the time you reach New York it truly feels like you’ve been on a harrowing journey from the mid-west to the eastern seaboard.
As much as I enjoyed the single player campaign, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was a filler episode. How can I put this? Resistance 3 is to Resistance as Halo: ODST was to Halo. It’s a story that exists within the game universe, but not one that really addresses any of the burning questions gamers might have about the over-arching fiction…at least not on the surface. This brings us to our Bill Maher-inspired segment, New Rules.
New Rule: If you’re going to hide away additional story bits in the form of notes, audio recordings, diary entries, etc., for players to find, don’t make those story bits crucial to the narrative. It’s one thing to find an audio recording that provides a glimpse into the life of another survivor, but it’s an entirely different scenario to find scientific research that provides valuable insight as to the existence of feral Chimera, or why the Chimera have opened a wormhole in New York to begin with. It’s poor storytelling when, instead of weaving plot points into the main story, you force players to search every nook and cranny of a level for fear they might miss something important. This practice isn’t unique to Resistance 3, but it’s a trend that really does need to come to an end.
The best part of the campaign is easily the vast array of weaponry available (yay, the weapon wheel is back). Returning staples include the Auger, .44 Magnum, Marksman and Rossmore Shotgun. There are plenty of new weapons to choose from, including the Atomizer, Cryogun and my personal favorite, the Mutator, which reduces enemies into steaming piles of combustible, mutated flesh. Every weapon in the game has a primary and secondary fire. For example the Mutator’s secondary fire unleashes a plume of diseased mist that disorients enemies in the area. Each weapon can also be upgraded, a system that works simply enough. The more you use a particular weapon, the better you’ll become with it. Level a weapon up enough times and you’ll unlock a new alternate fire. For instance, if you upgrade the Mutator you can use it to affect the Chimera on a cerebral level, turning them against one another.
The campaign does suffer a few drawbacks. First, Joe Capelli is not the most likeable protagonist and therefore can be a little difficult to relate to. Second, the friendly AI in the game is utterly useless. You’ll have to kill every single enemy, even in the few instances when a friendly character is present. The friendly AI is essentially window dressing. And don’t get me started on the escort mission midway through the game. It starts with the friendly character escorting you, which is a nice role reversal. I move when you move, got it. Yet moments later, when the shoe is on the other foot and I’m escorting him, he constantly moves ahead of me before I’ve had a chance to secure the area. In a word, the friendly AI is frustrating. As for the enemy AI, they can be quite aggressive and challenging at times, but I’m not fond of their impeccable accuracy from a football-field’s length away with short-ranged weapons. They’re called close-quarter guns for a reason. Last but not least, the ending is…abrupt. I don’t want to spoil anything for anybody so I’ll just leave it at that.
Resistance 3 features an all-new engine and the result is a much more visually appealing experience. The lighting effects are outstanding and the weapon effects pack that much more punch. The environments are incredibly detailed, so long as you don’t look too closely at the textures. The enemies are well-modeled and terrifically animated, but the human characters look a little off. I can't put my finger on it but something about them just isn’t quite right. Audio is equally strong, highlighted by first-rate sound effects, excellent voice acting, and a wonderful dramatic score composed by Boris Salchow.
One of the highlights of Resistance 2 was its 8-player co-op mode, a campaign that was separate from the single-player campaign. Since Resistance 3 was designed to be a more intimate experience, co-op is limited to two players through the game’s main story. That level of intimacy extends to competitive multiplayer. Gone are the massive, 60-player skirmishes, replaced with 16-player battles in one of five modes: Chain Reaction, Team Deathmatch, Deathmatch, Breach, and Capture the Flag. There’s a progression system where players can spend points earned online to unlock customized loadouts that include various tactical, support and combat bonuses, and while you’re at it you can put a check beside “killstreaks” on the multiplayer index. With the likes of Battlefield 3, Uncharted 3 and Modern Warfare 3 looming on the horizon, Resistance 3 faces an uphill battle in the competitive multiplayer arena, but its unique assortment of weapons make it worth trying out.
Bigger isn’t always better. That’s the lesson Insomniac Games appears to have learned following Resistance 2. From the single-player campaign to co-op and competitive multiplayer, Resistance 3 is a considerably more intimate experience. It’s arguably the best installment to date, but I still think Insomniac Games can do even better. Sadly, the developer recently confirmed this was its last go-around with the series and they’re moving on to new projects. Will Sony assign the franchise to another developer? Only time will tell. Until then, Resistance 3, like Fall of Man and Resistance 2 before it, is a perfectly good if unspectacular shooter.