The realm of counterfactual history is a breeding ground for some of the most horrific scenarios imaginable. What would have become of our world if Germany had won the war, if Kennedy or Khrushchev had pushed the button, or if a confused George W had launched an all-out attack on Ikea rather than Al-Qaeda? Would Ulrika Jonsson and Sven-Göran Eriksson have swapped lunching at The Ivy for waterboarding at Guantanamo Bay? Would ABBA be charismatic insurgence fighters with Dancing Queen discussed alongside the works of Wilfred Owen?
Trumping all these nightmarish parallel paths in our past, however (even the possibility of an Osama Björn Laden) is Insomniac’s vision of an alien invasion in the early years of the 20th century. In the Resistance universe, it’s no longer the monsters hiding under the bed and in the closet, it’s the humans. And by the time we reach this third instalment in the series, the marauding Chimera don’t so much represent a thorn in the side of humanity as a gun to its head.
After the series’ original hero, Nathan Hale, was stood down at the end of Resistance 2, you now take on the role of Joseph Capelli, initially a peripheral character who grew in importance in the latter half of the previous game. Capelli’s substantial promotion for Resistance 3 sees Insomniac develop him from disposable jarhead into a classic film leading man. He’s ruggedly handsome, an imposing figure in both stature and resolve, and standing with his arm around his wife and young son they could be the perfect, wholesome American family from a 1950’s life insurance commercial – although whether such a policy would pay out for death caused by alien genocide is debateable at best.
With the transformation of Capelli comes a change just as distinct in Resistance’s emphasis. The first two games in the franchise were staunch military shooters, with Resistance 2 in particular falling into the trap of groping around for mainstream appeal by clutching at some of the traits of more prominent shooters. Its only-two-guns-at-a-time system was lifted straight out of Halo, while its giant boss fights owed at least a nod of recognition to Gears of War. What resulted, was a single player campaign that hid its lack of originality behind a creaking stage show of vast monsters and simplistic shooting.
While R2 wasn’t as bad as some would have you believe, Resistance was always at its best when it was being itself, not aping its peers. It’s a relief and a joy then, to see the individuality and humanity Insomniac have injected into Resistance 3. Together with some hugely improved lighting and visuals, these give the game an atmospheric clout that help make it the graphic novel to Resistance 2’s Saturday morning cartoon. The game design here is some of the best you’ll see in a shooter campaign this year, and the bleak continuity to the levels mean they don’t just hang loosely together but combine to create a dark fiction of desperation that often borders on hopelessness.
While the impetus for Joe’s journey from Oklahoma to New York is somewhat hokey, it’s the landscape around him that’s so compelling. After being forced from his warren of subterranean tunnels out into the ill winds of America’s dust bowl, Capelli picks his way through the skeletal remains of human society. It’s a lonely trek, punctuated only by activities including a rickety boat ride along the misty backwaters of the Mississippi, a quiet stroll through the moonlit forests of Pennsylvania and the chance discoveries of enclaves of survivors. Some of these have turned to God, others to savages, but all represent the fears of a species hunted to the brink of extinction.
Of course, there are Chimera at every turn, including some unpleasant new varieties, and your encounters with them are made memorable largely due to Resistance 3’s weapon set and environmental architecture complimenting each other so impressively. The way the multiple paths through each level diverge and intersect, combined with the game’s arsenal of 12 unique weapons – including the Cryogun freeze ray and the Auger that allows you to see and shoot through solid structures – mean there’s more scope here for creative strategy than in almost any other FPS.
Each of the guns also comes with an entertaining and extremely useful alternative fire, the electrical Atomizer, for example, fires out a small energy well that sucks in all enemies in the vicinity. And while the inclusion of health packs instead of regenerating health may seem as archaic in FPS terms as Resistance’s 1950’s setting, it only adds further to the tactical considerations.
The A.I. is more energetic than attentive, and while there is still the occasional boss fight, these are much less stilted than those in Resistance 2. At 7 to 10 hours, depending on difficulty setting, the campaign is sufficiently lengthy without ever resorting to padding. The entire thing can be played on or offline in a welcome, if slightly shoehorned in, 2 player co-op mode, although sadly the 8 player class-based co-op many would say was the best feature of Resistance 2 is absent this time around. The game also supports both PlayStation Move and 3D support, both of which are decent rather than outstanding, although the 3D does play to Resistance’s B-movie inspirations.
Going directly up against the giants of the online shooter world was never going to be easy, and Resistance 3’s multiplayer does itself no favours by making itself unnecessarily punishing to newcomers. The odds are stacked heavily in favour of more experienced players, with beginners loadouts greatly restricted and the powerful perks and killstreak rewards too easy for higher level players to dominate with. Most of your favourite modes are here and the maps are a selection of little labyrinthine corners of the wider Chimera-ravaged world. If you persevere you’ll uncover a solid and enjoyable multiplayer, but not one unique or accessible enough to set it apart from the field.
Insomniac has hinted strongly that this will be their last Resistance offering as they move on to fresh projects. If this is the case they’ve certainly gone out on a high. A respectable multiplayer component compliments a grim and brilliantly realised campaign mode which leaves more than enough doors open for a new team to develop further. The care and attention Insomniac have lavished on Resistance 3 makes it easily the best Resistance game to date, and when it comes to quality sci-fi counterfactual history, you should accept no alternative.
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