I don’t know about you but my PSP has been gathering dust pretty much since Secret Agent Clank came out last June. There wasn’t much to be cheerful about this past holiday season but Sony is committed to putting an end to that drought. The New Year has already seen the release of LocoRoco 2 and MLB 09: The Show, with a sequel to one of my favorite PSP games, Patapon, waiting to Pata-pata-pata-PON its way back into the hearts of gamers. A new Jak and Daxter installment as well as unique versions of LittleBigPlanet and MotorStorm all loom on the horizon but before we get to any of those, another one of Sony’s mega franchises, Resistance, is getting its turn on the small screen in Resistance: Retribution.
Retribution introduces a new protagonist to the Resistance universe in former British Marine James Grayson, a man haunted by his past in which he was forced to kill his own brother to free him from the grasp of the Chimeran virus; an act that drove him to desert his regiment on a personal vendetta to destroy every conversion center he could find. Grayson was eventually court-martialed and sentenced to death for his betrayal and as he awaits his fate on death row, a high-ranking officer of the Maquis, the European resistance, pays him a visit with an offer of a full pardon in return for Grayson’s assistance in eradicating newly evolved conversion centers that have been emerging across the continent. If you’ve been following the series thus far, the plot of Retribution fills in the gap between Resistance: Fall of Man and Resistance 2.
Sony enlisted Bend Studio, makers of the Syphon Filter franchise, to create the PSP installment of Resistance. In turn, Bend stuck to its strengths and so Retribution, unlike its console brethren, is viewed from a third-person perspective; an astute move considering first-person shooters have struggled on the handheld due to its limited controls. If you played either of the Syphon Filter games on the PSP you’ll feel right at home with Retribution, as it maps essentially the same control layout. The analog nub, in conjunction with the face buttons, is used for movement and aiming. The shoulder buttons are used for primary and secondary fire, and the directional pad is used to cycle through weapons, reload, interact with the environment, and enter manual aim. The game puts to use an excellent auto-targeting system. There will be times when you’ll need to activate manual aim, particularly when Boilers are around or when look down the sights of your sniper rifle, and when you do things can get a little tricky, but overall the control scheme is effective.
As with most third-person action games lately, Retribution stresses the use of cover. The cover system is very natural. Rather than asking the player to press a button to enter and exit cover, the game instinctually allows you to enter cover whenever enemies are onscreen. When they are, you can take cover by simply pressing towards a capable object. That way when enemies aren’t present, you don’t have to worry about accidentally taking cover while moving around the environment. Retribution blends its cover-based gameplay with a number of boss battles and even a section in which you’ll command a Mech, creating a single player campaign that is diverse, challenging and action-packed.
One of the trademarks of the Resistance franchise is its multi-layered arsenal, and Retribution is no exception. Weapons like the Carbine, Auger, LAARK and Fareye make a return appearance from Resistance: Fall of Man, with new recruits including the BM001 Razor, a modified version of the Chimeran Bullseye; a 12 gauge shotgun; and the Longbow 1S-1K, a rail weapon that can destroy drones and kill hybrid enemies in a single shot, and be fired underwater; traits you’ll come to appreciate during the course of the story. Each weapon has primary and secondary firing modes. For instance the Razor’s primary fire is an energy-based assault rifle round, while the secondary fire is a spinning energy blade that homes in on its target, ricocheting off wall surfaces if necessary. Very cool stuff. I do have a bit of a beef with the LAARK. It’s a rocket launcher that can fire two rockets before it requires a reload. The problem is you can’t fire a second rocket until the first rocket impacts. In other words if you miss your target, you have to wait for the rocket to strike something (a wall, etc.) before you can fire the next round; resulting in the loss of precious seconds that can be quite costly during combat.
The solid gameplay is matched by an equally strong presentation. Retribution utilizes Bend’s third-generation PSP engine, technology that is more than capable of handling the kind of action you’d expect from a Resistance title, including the presence of large groups of enemies onscreen without any slowdown. You’ll instantly recognize many of those enemies thanks to some excellent character modeling. The environments are impressive in size but suffer slightly from repetition. Loading times can be quite significant at the start of each level but you’ll be pleasantly surprised at far between those loads are. In terms of audio the voice acting is strong, weapons effects are impactful and the soundtrack is sweeping. Technically, Retribution is one of the better looking and sounding games the PSP has seen.
Keep your battery charger handy, you’ll be spending a lot of time with Retribution. The single player campaign is a fair length and hidden Intel and Skill Points provide incentive for additional play through. Then there’s the multiplayer suite, which allows between 2-8 players to engage in competitive play via Ad-Hoc or Infrastructure. Joining the Cloven or Maquis side, classic modes include Free-For-All (standard Deathmatch), Team Deathmatch and Capture the Flag. In addition there’s Containment, where teams battle for control of coolant nodes, and Assimilation, in which the Cloven player must eliminate the Maquis players to assimilate them to their side. Multiplayer is lag free and well balanced, and should keep fans coming back for more. As a bonus for those who own a PlayStation 3 and a copy of Resistance 2, you can connect the two games to “infect” your copy of Retribution; unlocking a couple of additional features. This includes Resistance: Retribution Plus, which allows you to play Retribution on your television using the DualShock 3 controller, and Infected Mode, which injects Grayson with a mutated version of the Chimeran virus, affording players regenerative health and the ability to breathe underwater; though the latter feature can make the game feel a little too easy.
In the end, Retribution does the Resistance franchise proud on the handheld. As with most action games on the PSP you’ll have to cozy up to the controls a little bit, but if you can manage that it's hard to resist the exciting gameplay, strong presentation and solid multiplayer suite. I don't anticipate my PSP will be gathering dust again any time soon.