Perhaps it’s simply because I played Resistance 3, the third entry in Insomniac Games’ PlayStation 3-exclusive FPS franchise, during the same week I played Epic Games’ Gears of War 3, but I found a surprising number of similarities between these two sci-fi shooters.
Both are about humans living in desolate worlds destroyed by war. Both feature a non-human menace that infects and corrupts people, transforming them into soldiers for their species. Both stories have a family bent and focus on a last ditch attempt to rid their respective worlds of the murderous creatures invading them. And both deal in extreme violence, especially of the up-close-and-personal kind (Gears’ chainsaw rifle, meet Resistance’s sledgehammer).
And yet Resistance 3 still manages to deliver a distinctive experience.
Part of its charm comes from its road trip narrative, which feels smaller and more intimate—and yet somehow more terrifying and depressing—than its two predecessors. As we travel from Oklahoma to New York, we discover that our new hero, Joseph Capelli, is much more vulnerable, and, consequently, more relatable than the franchise's previous protagonist, who had extraterrestrial strength and abilities.
He blames himself for the death of Nathan Hale, the man many considered to be humanity’s last hope. He’s not infallible, and proves this when he is captured and tortured by one of the sociopathic gangs that make up the remnants of human society. Most importantly, though, he’s a father who finds his strength to fight in his need to make a better world for his sick son. So strong is his bond with his family that a home-stitched blue mitten dropped by his boy while fleeing a battle becomes a talisman for which he is willing to risk his life.
It’s not quite maudlin enough to make us start shedding tears, but it does rouse something. We sympathize with him, feeling at first his sadness regarding the state of the world, then his anger at his seeming inability to do anything about it. And we're right there with him as his rage gives way to a creeping, righteous resolution to get the job done at any cost.
And that’s exactly what’s needed, because Resistance 3 is anything but a walk in the park.
The game is loaded with speedy, eerily precise Chimera foot soldiers that can track and shoot us through walls, toddler-sized crawlers that are nigh impossible to defend against when swarming, and towering fiends that require acute strategy and plenty of patience to take down. There’s nothing quite as spectacular as Resistance 2’s famous skyscraper-sized boss, but the level of challenge is at least equal to its predecessors, minus the cheap, unfair deaths that the series used to cruelly dish out.
What's more, our enormous arsenal—Joe is capable of carrying at least a dozen implements of alien death at a time—is filled with rifles that gain special abilities with use. Granted, the notion of a carbine suddenly spawning a bayonet simply because it has successfully mowed down 50 enemies is a little ludicrous, but the upgrade system cleverly encourages players not to grow too attached to any one weapon and to have fun experimenting with odd guns that might otherwise go ignored, such as one that freezes enemies in place and another that disintigrates them.
You can expect a few slow segments, including treks through long underground tunnels and repetitive sequences spent defending a train and a boat. Something about these missions just feels dated and uninspired. At the very least their length should have been shaved down considerably, for the sake of both plausibility and pacing.
But Insomniac makes up for its lesser moments with dramatic journeys through the ruins of St. Louis and a snowy, enemy-occupied New York City. In these chapters objectives frequently shift from simply trying to move through enemy strongholds in one piece to last-stands in which we desperately struggle to fend off waves of attackers with dwindling ammunition and health supplies ( Resistance 3 is that rare, modern shooter in which health does not automatically regenerate, resulting in the sort of sweaty tension more common in older games, when we had one bar of health, one clip of bullets, and were surrounded by enemies.)
I’ve spent only a bit of time online, but multiplayer seems less extravagant than in the series’ previous entries. Gone are Resistance 2’s massive 60-player skirmishes filled with multiple teams and objectives. Instead, we’ve been given some standard and competent deathmatch modes, plus a few team-based objective games, my favourite of which so far has been Chain Reaction, which sees players working together to either open or close Chimeran wormholes. It’s not exactly Call-of-Duty-compelling, but it should provide at least a few hours of fun beyond the campaign.
And the campaign is, in the end, the primary reason to invest oneself in Resistance 3, especially if you’ve been following its alternate-history story over the last half decade. It runs over the occasional bump, but it is easily the most engaging and grown-up tale Insomniac has yet told.
Platform: PlayStation 3
Developer: Insomniac Games