The weight of PS3’s initial success as a gaming console fell squarely on the shoulders of a new Sony-exclusive intellectual property, Resistance: Fall of Man. The alternate universe post-WWII shooter from Insomniac Games burst onto the scene with a massive 40-person multiplayer experience unlike any home console had seen before and a decent, albeit by-the-book, single player experience to boot. Its unexpected success, given Sony’s shaky first-party games history, helped birth PS3 an identity and single-handedly moved next-gen console sales despite the then head-turning $600 price tag.
Two years later, Resistance 2 has arrived into a vastly changed gaming climate. Thanks to Fall of Man, MotorStorm, LittleBigPlanet and the forthcoming KillZone sequel, Sony exclusives are no longer the doormat of the gaming industry. With this respect come lofty expectations, a challenge Insomniac chief Ted Price and his crew met head-on and survived with some noticeable, but not game-breaking, kinks in the armor.
The golden rule of thumb with any sequel is to improve all facets of the original and simultaneously offer new experiences the same time. On paper alone it is hard to refute Insomniac’s dedication to meeting these criteria. The multiplayer adversarial modes have been expanded from 40 players to a whopping 60, so many that it is legitimately challenging in a maxed-out match to regenerate in the clear from enemy fire. Cooperative play makes a series debut in the form of an 8-player onslaught heightened by the inclusion of Call of Duty 4 inspired class building. The single player campaign breaks out from its monotonous European-based predecessor to go a picturesque tour of the good old USA.
Resistance 2’s campaign picks up right where Fall of Man’s ends with a Chimera-infected Nathan Hale being taken into custody by US troops as Great Britain falls to the Chimera. After a brief stopover at a once-thought safe haven in Iceland, Hale is shuttled off to San Francisco where the Chimera have begun an impressive multi-city attack against the United States whose impact is felt from downtown cities right into small town America.
Hale’s fate is hard to invest much interest in because the character is about as interesting as bark on a tree. His speech and mannerisms are no different than the grunt soldiers he rides with. He’s merely a tool to wipe out the Chimera with whose image is forgotten right after selecting “save and quit.”
Seriously, who cares about Hale’s background soap opera when there are 300-foot tall Leviathans and almost unstoppable Kraken sea creatures to contend with? Taking these monstrosities out is straightforward and lacking little to no creativity, but their towering presence amps up the intensity far beyond anything Fall of Man’s Chimera threat doled out. Couple these goliaths with a dizzying array of heavily armed mixed with relentlessly quick enemies and deep, enveloping 5.1 surround audio, and the on-screen intensity ranks up there with the best first-person shooters have ever offered.
At the same time, I can’t but feel Resistance 2’s campaign is a missed opportunity for greatness. As intense as the combat is and as geographically and aesthetically diverse and pleasing as the US locations are — a quibble this sequel fixes from Fall of Man — a series of lazy decisions dumb down combat. More often than not Hale is joined by anywhere from one to upwards of 10 soldiers who fight alongside him against the Chimera. Though these soldiers are constantly firing, they don’t seem to inflict much damage on the enemy. Likewise, the Chimera often completely ignore the squad and solely target you, more so on the higher difficulty settings but highly annoying no matter which way you cut it.
The Chimera’s AI is just as unbalanced, wavering between strategically gifted in pinning you down to outwardly incompetent in being within clear site of you or your troops and not taking a shot. Grunts tasked with lobbying grenades will stand still behind a barrier and continuously do so, never seeming to run out. When flanked, they make no move to protect themselves and continue to lob grenades dead ahead like a mindless drone.
Fighting the Chimera is best summed up when encountering the Chameleon Chimera. These cloaked warriors had the potential to be as fearsome and scary to confront as a cloaked Arbiter in Halo. In the Orick, CA level set in the Redwood forest, they make their first appearance amongst the woods’ ambient sounds in a truly frightening entrance. After dieing once, it becomes obvious they always rush from straight ahead from the exact same spots and thus can be easily picked off once this pattern is revealed. The potential for sharp suspense while listening for the Chameleons approaching from random directions in the 5.1 soundstage is lost to predictable and lazy programming.
Dieing for progression “profit” is a theme that plays throughout Resistance 2. Because gameplay is structured in a interesting yet predetermined linear path, death is often the key to life as it reveals the Chimera’s patterns and locations. Hale becomes a guinea pig; run straight ahead, see what kills you and then make adjustments to better manage the situation the second time through.
What is coming next is also telegraphed by which weapons are lying around when passing a checkpoint. If you pass a checkpoint and see a shotgun, odds are favorable a Chameleon is up ahead given that weapon takes them out in one shot. Likewise with a rocket launcher; if one appears, a Titan or something equally big lurks nearby. There are few opportunities presented to inject a little creativity in Chimera extermination.
Resistance 2 is about the spectacle and variety of modes and in that, Insomniac Games has met the sequel criteria with a passing grade. Single player gameplay issues are mostly forgotten when jumping into the 8-player cooperative mode with Chimera by the dozens rushing forward at a relentless pace or the more impressive and technologically mind-boggling feat of 60-player mayhem not for the faint of heart.
For the Resistance franchise to reach beyond an above-average game and into exemplary status, Insomniac will need to address its gameplay shortcomings in, we hope, the next installment in November, 2010.
– Dan Bradley