Being a launch title for a new console is a risky proposition. Having little time to learn the nuances of the new hardware, a company promising a launch title faces two outcomes. If you ship a poor launch title, it can taint your reputation and strain your relations with the console manufacturer for the remainder of the console’s life, because you’ve effectively tarnished the reputation of the entire launch. Conversely, a stellar launch title can boost system sales and ensure a steady stream of business for years to come. This gambit must ring especially true for Insomniac Games, whose Resistance: Fall of Man has emerged as the premiere launch title in the North American lineup. Many comparisons have been made to Halo, which served as the FPS beachhead in the launch of Microsoft’s Xbox, and while the comparison is reasonable, it’s not precisely apt. Resistance, more than any other game I’ve ever played, has most swiftly and definitively demonstrated the “next-generation” capabilities of the PlayStation 3. To begin with, the game is stunningly gorgeous. Anyone concerned with Insomniac’s pedigree of cartoonish, stylized design (they haven’t done gritty, “realistic” sci-fi since 1994’s Disruptor) can quit holding their breath- Insomniac’s reproduction of 1950’s-era alien-infested England is stunning in its scope and detail. Whole city blocks are loaded with NPC’s and other effects, producing the kinds of widespread chaos you’d only expect to see in an FMV. The soldiers and the Chimera fight it out across open fields and city streets in jaw-dropping detail, environments crumbling and exploding all around you, every section comparable to the best set piece firefights of any FPS you could name. And the difference, one of the things that really screamed “next-gen” to me, is the permanence of it all. Shoot out a window, and not only will the shards break according to their own (beautifully) modeled physics, but they will stay on the ground for the duration of the level. Corpses stack atop one another, bullet holes remain as lasting reminders of a firefight, everything you do lasts to a degree heretofore unseen in a video game, and it really helps bring the visual immersion to a whole new level. Only once was I ever pulled out of the action by something I saw, a minor texturing error that allowed me to see through a small bit of the floor, and for the staggering amount of graphical detail the game had, a single misplaced triangle in a nine-hour play-session is beyond negligible.
As for the gameplay, it resembles somewhat the mutated Chimera that make up the game’s antagonists: recognizably familiar, but unmistakably different. While it’s true that in the most general terms, not much of Resistance will seem terribly new, there’s enough put into the mix to give it an altogether fresh taste. For instance, the game’s cinematics are all rendered through the in-game engine- a common feat even as far back as the PS1 days with Metal Gear Solid, but with the kind of graphical fidelity the PS3 offers it’s an entirely new and better proposition. And while the typically narrow corridors of a FPS will elicit a familiar claustrophobia from fans of the genre, placing them in the ruins of old English architecture is unlike any sewer pipe or space station they’ve crawled through before. As for weapons, most every gamer is used to familiar regiment of shotgun, machine gun, sniper rifle, and so on, but given Insomniac’s flair for inventive weaponry, players will eventually find themselves shooting (and being shot at) with a variety of inventive and exciting weapons, making every firefight a treat and a challenge.
Without revealing too much of the story here, it should be said that the sci-fi story played out through Resistance’s single-player campaign is pretty imaginative and engaging- the pseudo-historic re-telling of the 1950’s, complete with Isolationist America, unified Europe, and many other interesting tidbits (found mainly through intel folders scattered throughout the levels) to create an engaging plotline that will have you anxious to get to the next level well into the night. Granted, it’s not an epic RPG storyline, but in the service of a first-person shooter, it serves as well as the plot to, say, Halo or Half-Life 2.
In the beginning, you’ll only have the “Easy” and Medium” difficulties to choose from; beating the game on “Medium” unlocks “Hard” and beating it on “Hard” unlocks “Superhuman.” The two starting difficulties lend themselves much more to run-and-gun tactics than the latter two, as once you get into the latter half of the difficulty spectrum cover becomes king- expose yourself for a moment and you’ll find yourself spattered with enemy fire. And don’t think you’re safe behind a light pole or a chain-link fence, either, as the AI in Resistance has the most impeccable aim I’ve ever seen in an FPS. Previously I’ve made a career out of exploiting gaps, both in the scenery and in the AI’s interpretation of it- little spots where I could, say, shoot an opponent’s feet and have them unable to retaliate because they couldn’t “see” the tiny hole I was shooting at them from. Much to my amazement (and partial chagrin) such tactics quickly were demonstrated to be fruitless.
Hiding behind a stack of tires, I noticed a miniscule gap between the two stacks, enough to squeeze a few shots off at an enemy hiding behind their own barricade. I considered myself fairly clever, until the Chimeran Hybrid I was shooting at shot me through the same hole! I quickly scampered to more solid cover, the familiar “This really *is* the next generation” feeling coming over me as I realized that the enemies I was facing could, for the first time, see with the same acuity as I could, and as i continued to play, I knew, without a doubt, that given the slightest passage or space- a bus window, an air vent, an elevator shaft- If I could see them, they could see me, and worse still, shoot me. And even sight wasn’t necessarily a requirement: Cowering behind a car from suppressive fire, I was reduced to near-death when the hail of firepower caused the vehicle to explode right next to me, an expensive lesson indeed- yet one that I happily turned against the Chimera given half a chance in later levels.
Of course, while it’s true that you’re fighting what is essentially a rear-guard action against overwhelming odds, it would be kind of a drag for the game to make you feel hopelessly outnumbered all the time, so occasionally it provides you a respite in the form of vehicle combat. In certain segments of the game, you’ll get to commandeer a tank, a Halo-esque Jeep, and a walking armored monstrosity that bears a passing resemblance to Up Your Arsenal’s Landstalker. These are incredibly joyful breaks in the otherwise stressful on-foot segments, and while there’s still a degree of skill involved in successfully navigating your vehicle through the stage without dying, there’s an undeniable glee derived from taking out an entire checkpoint’s worth of Chimera with a well-place tank blast. In a bit of game-sanctioned schadenfreude, one of Resistance’s many skill points even revolves around mashing a certain number of Chimera under the treads of your mighty tank.
If your ears perked up at the mention of “Skill Points”, I’ll be happy to report that yes, Insomniac has kept the tradition of rewarding players for being exceptionally thorough, lucky, and skilled alive and well in Resistance. Some skill points will probably come about naturally in the course of play, such as “Nowhere to hide”, which one receives after killing a certain number of enemies through a wall with the Augur. Others, like “In for a penny…” players will probably get by luck, when they happen to throw that grenade that kills three hybrids at once. And lastly, Skill points such as “This is my rifle, this is my gun” will likely take hours of concerted effort in order to meet the grueling requirements Insomniac set forth to test your mettle.
If you get tired of the game testing your mettle, you can always leave that task to other players. Using the PS3’s built-in broadband adapter, Resistance supports up to 40-player online matches. While Resistance offers a plethora of online matches and options, the most innovative aspect of its online play is MyResistance.net, a community site being set up by Insomniac to be your one-stop shop for all things Resistance-related. As you score victories and progress through ranked games online, you’ll unlock new skins and other options, some of which the game will hand to you automatically, some of which you’ll be able to download as additional content through MyResistance.net. Add to this the ability to blog about your adventures online, form clans, add friends, and the ability of the PS3 to access the site without ever putting down your controller, and Resistance seems well on its way to having a vibrant and active online community right out of the gate.
Of course, that community wouldn’t be worth much if the multiplayer wasn’t a blast to be a part of. Aside from the lag-free experience fragging, running, and trying to accomplish whatever goals were set before us, there was always just a pervasive sense of fun about playing Resistance online with others that I never really got while playing on the PS2. If there could be said to be an online je ne sais quoi that the PS2 lacked, the PS3 definitely has. All the standard modes like Team Deathmatch and Capture The Flag deliver the classic FPS experiences I’ve loved since Quake, and the newer modes like Meltdown and Conversion bring fresh strategic ideas to the genre and keep me on my toes. And there’s a final kind of multiplayer, painfully remiss in all too many console games these days: Cooperative play. You and a friend can split the screen and fight your way through the single-player campaign, with Insomniac throwing more resistance (ha) your way to account for the increased firepower. Co-op mode hardly needs justification, really- anyone who has ever played co-op before knows well the merits of having another person watching your back and adding another gun to yours, the riotous joy of shouting orders back and forth in a frantic firefight.
You won’t be the only one shouting during firefights, however. Resistance boasts some fabulous sound design, a great deal of it concentrated in numerous voiceovers of the English troops you fight in the midst of. You’re constantly hearing battle orders given and acknowledged, warnings shouted out, all this amid a constant furor of bullets and explosions and the crumbling of cover. As if to drive home the gritty wartime sound design, I once paused just in time to hear all sound cut out save for a British soldier yelling a warning at one of his compatriots, ending with “…before you lose your fucking head!” To be fair, though, the soldiers are never crude for crudeness” sake, like in some other games. In point of fact, there seems to be a balance struck between light-hearted banter and the deadly serious battle commands. At one point in the game, I was trapped with an extremely large Chimera, other soldiers present but unable to aid in the battle. After felling the beast, one of the soldiers commented “Amazing! He took it down single-handedly!” before adding after a slight pause “..I’m out twenty quid!”
What ties it all together is a pervasive feeling of appropriateness- Resistance is intense when it needs to be, fun and action-y when it needs to be, slow and creepy when it needs to be. Everything is placed in the game to deliberately add to a certain kind of atmosphere in a certain time, from the music to the health caches to the enemies. Even the weapons themselves can add to the tension- just being shot at has a different dramatic effect than seeing Augur rounds burrowing through the walls after you or seeing the red laser shined in your face that indicates a Chimera is trying to paint you with a Bullseye’s homing beacon. The end result is the kind of all-encompassing immersion that precludes blinking, where you just want to keep playing a little bit more, just a little bit more…
In the handbook given to us with the review materials, Insomniac president and co-founder Ted Price stated that he wanted Resistance to be “A launch game that didn’t look like one.” Well, today it can be safely said that for all their work the team at Insomniac has realized that goal tremendously. Probably the finest first-person shooter to ever grace a console, Resistance: Fall of Man is easily worth your $50, and may be considered by some to even be enough to justify the $650 investment alone. Resistance will be the gateway through which many gamers are introduced to the PlayStation 3, and it’s an experience akin to having Mickey Mouse greet you at the gates to Disneyland.