If you're going to make a first-person shooter, you might as well take aim to deliver the best of what this style of gaming has to offer. That's what Ratchet & Clank developer Insomniac Games must have done with Resistance: Fall of Man. One of the most highly anticipated titles in the PlayStation 3 launch lineup, Resistance is a technically impressive, well-designed, intense action game that unmistakably draws inspiration from some of the finest recent examples of similar games. Resistance doesn't attempt anything wildly different than other first-person shooters out there, but by offering a strong selection of interesting weapons, plenty of ruthless foes to shoot them at, good level design, and an excellent presentation, it accomplishes what most such games fail to do. A fully featured multiplayer mode for up to 40 players rounds out an exciting campaign in what's an all-around great effort and a promising example of what the PlayStation 3 can do.
Resistance takes place in a grim alternate reality in which World War II never happened, yet something possibly even worse happened instead. As political tensions run high in the middle of the 20th century, a monstrous race of horrifying creatures suddenly shows up and starts killing everyone. Initially presumed to be a Russian biological weapon, this fiendish species is known as the Chimera. It quickly overwhelms Asia and most of Europe before it focuses attention on the United Kingdom. In the game, you play as a no-nonsense American soldier named Nathan Hale, who is sent in to reinforce the UK's defenses. A brush with death early on gives Hale a unique perspective of his foe and, before long, he's lone-wolfing it against the worst that the Chimera has to offer. As Hale, you'll blast your way through the devastated streets of England and also find yourself deep within the enemy's own territory as you struggle to survive and turn the tide of a losing battle.
The story is told from the perspective of a different officer who briefly interacts with Hale during his missions against a seemingly unstoppable enemy. Her solemn narration is easy enough to follow but not particularly engaging because by her own admission, she doesn't really know what's going on in Hale's head or what's going on with the Chimera. Brief but nicely done cinematic cutscenes using the game's 3D engine at least serve to give Nathan Hale a believably concerned look between battles. Still black-and-white images and charts that are made to look as if they could have come from the early '50s also help set the mood and premise of each level in the game's more than 10 main stages. However, the story in Resistance is there mostly to justify a number of fairly conventional, though very well done, first-person shooter battles. You'll learn a bit about the Chimera as you fight, and there's some resolution once you finally finish the campaign after countless grueling shoot-outs. But Hale's character is never developed and he almost never speaks, and the plot has some noticeable gaps. Ultimately, this is a game whose personality mostly comes across when you're shooting something. The Chimera and their ugly spider-like features make them easy to hate straightaway.
Resistance controls just like other first-person shooters on consoles. You use the two analog sticks to move and aim, while the left and right shoulder buttons trigger your weapon's primary and alternate firing modes. The game takes a few small liberties with certain conventions, but none that will substantially change how you'll play it if you're used to playing similar stuff. Some of these tweaks to the formula have to do with how you recover your health between shoot-outs. In Resistance's campaign, your health bar is divided up into four quadrants, which automatically recharges up to the nearest quadrant if you avoid getting hit for a little while. This isn't quite like what's become trendy because of games such as the sequels to Halo or Call of Duty, in which your health recharges completely between firefights. Here, when your health is low, you can still survive the typical encounter but you'll really need to be on your guard. Also, unlike in those games, Resistance lets you pick up and carry each new weapon you find, which may not seem as realistic as having room for only a few guns, but it means you get an increasingly powerful, all-purpose arsenal at your disposal. The game transparently saves your progress as you fight through the campaign and uses a checkpoint system in mid-mission. Checkpoints can be fairly sparse at times, creating tension and the need to replay some tough battles repeatedly. But because the combat is dynamic and exciting, having to do this usually isn't a bad thing. However, the game does get almost punishingly hard near the end at the default difficulty setting, forcing a little too much trial and error. There's an easier and a harder difficulty setting as well.
It's worth noting that the motion sensor in the PS3's stock Sixaxis controller is put to limited but oddly likable use in this game. For instance, there's this one ghoulish Chimera creature that attempts to sidle up to you and grab you by the throat. Should you let this happen, you can shake the controller to break free from its grip. Because this effect is used sparingly, it's surprising and effective. In multiplayer matches, you might also catch fire if you're torched by an enemy flamethrower. You can't stop, drop, and roll, but by shaking the Sixaxis, you can put the flames out. It's a simple, fairly intuitive way to make you feel a bit more connected to what's happening onscreen.
What helps to distinguish Resistance from other first-person shooters is the quality of its weapon design, its enemy artificial intelligence, and its presentation. While these aspects of the game are not substantially different or vastly superior to what's been done before, they're right up there with the best of what such games have had to offer. Resistance doesn't include any real-world weaponry but lets you brandish an impressive variety of powerful make-believe automatics and energy weapons, many of which have imaginative alternate-firing modes. Your starting weapon, a powerful rapid-firing rifle with a 50-round clip and a mounted grenade launcher, will be a mainstay throughout the campaign. You'll also quickly find the Chimeran equivalent, called the bullseye. This is an energy rifle that has the unique ability to fire homing beacons, which causes all of your bullets to zero in on those beacons. So it's possible for you to tag an enemy, then step behind cover and fire straight into the air as those shots automatically change trajectory to find their mark. Another remarkable weapon is the auger, a massive rifle whose shots burrow straight through solid surfaces, making them very difficult to evade. Better yet, the auger can form an energy barrier to protect the user against incoming fire. You'll gain a real appreciation for this fearsome weapon during the campaign.
Not all of the weapons are noteworthy because the lineup includes your fairly typical shotgun, sniper rifle, rocket launcher, and so on. Interestingly, when you finish the campaign for the first time, you'll unlock some additional weapons that you can find if you go through it again. You can also find these in the game's multiplayer mode. If there's an issue with the game's guns, it's that you wind up depending on the first two weapons most of the time. Each of these weapons is a fairly standard point-and-shoot affair, so it's perfectly effective to just stick a target in your reticle and go full-auto on it. Resistance definitely has more of a run-and-gun feel to it than a deliberately paced, tactical shooter. However, you still need to inch your way into enemy territory. You'll also need to use grenades to disrupt enemy formations because getting surrounded by your enemies brings swift death and a visit back to the nearest checkpoint. Resistance winds up feeling quite a bit like the Halo games in how it balances a simple, action-packed style of shooting with a basic need to frequently take a defensive position and wait for opportunities against entrenched foes.
The game presents the Chimera as a virtually unstoppable foe, while Nathan Hale seems uniquely capable of surviving their attacks. In reality, they're not quite as tough as they look--some concentrated gunfire will bring any of them down eventually. You'll also pick up on how heavily injured Chimera troopers tend to stagger to their knees, which is the perfect time for you to finish them off and the wrong time to move on to the next target. You'll face a variety of Chimera during the course of the game, including some very predictable spider-like things that burst forth from egg sacs and rush you mindlessly. The vast majority of the time, however, you'll be fighting squads of Chimeran hybrids. Typically armed with bullseye rifles, these soldiers are quite effective at using cover, as well as flanking and rushing tactics. They'll also flush you out of hiding with one of their hedgehog grenades, which send deadly needles flying in every direction when they explode. Fighting against the hybrids grows to feel a bit monotonous in spots because they're by far the most common type of foe you'll face. Yet it's a testament to the quality of the game's artificial intelligence and presentation that battling these forces is often quite thrilling.
The nature of the combat against the Chimera changes quite dramatically depending on where you're fighting. Much of the shooting in Resistance occurs at medium and long ranges as you, any fellow soldiers, and the Chimera move from cover to cover, taking potshots. However, you can also look forward to plenty of room-to-room fighting, as well as shoot-outs from within dimly lit, claustrophobic corridors. Even if you don't usually get a good sense of a desperate war being waged, you get a good sense of scale from the different environments in the game. Battles can be particularly fun when you're joined by friendly soldiers and get to intercept enemies focused on taking down these computer-controlled comrades. But there are never more than a handful of humans there to help you out, and they'll probably wind up dead soon anyway. The game does have a few nice moments in which you're able to save another man's life as he's about to be executed by a Chimeran monster. Yet this aspect seems like it could have been more fleshed out because the game does little to make you care for your disposable allies, who run into combat shouting typical "we're under fire" platitudes.
For variety, Resistance throws a few vehicle-driving sequences into the mix. And if you squinted your eyes during these parts, you could mistake them for Halo. Piloting a highly destructive tank or driving a jeep with a machine gunner in back does make for a good diversion, though these vehicles are so powerful that they make you wonder how humanity lost so badly to the Chimera in the first place. Then again, the Chimera have a few imposingly large vehicles and creatures of their own. Yet the way that the human vehicles make you feel practically indestructible undermines some of the sense that you're fighting an uphill battle. Even so, these sequences are rare and different enough from the on-foot running and gunning that they're a welcome part of the campaign. While fairly straightforward, the campaign does a great job of never stooping to make you backtrack, solve puzzles, or otherwise waste time doing anything other than fighting against powerful foes. It does this for a good 10 to 12 hours, culminating in a series of difficult showdowns.
There are several good reasons to go back to the campaign multiple times, including the extra weapons that get unlocked after you finish the game once. You can optionally play through the whole campaign cooperatively in a split-screen view, though it's too bad you can't play cooperatively online. Co-op mode naturally invites some new types of tactics, and it's somewhat easier than playing solo because you can revive your partner if he goes down, which is a good way to take the edge off of the hard difficulty mode. The campaign also lets you dig around for unique pieces of military intelligence that are scattered throughout the levels, which give some additional insight into the Chimeran menace and the back story. Finally, the campaign features a series of unlockable challenges that are called skill points, which are achieved by accomplishing certain specific feats. For instance, you can earn one by roasting several bad guys with a single air-fuel grenade. These points are tallied up to unlock some bonus features, such as concept art galleries.
Of course, there's an entire multiplayer mode to keep you busy in addition to the campaign. Multiplayer features a variety of maps (based on areas from the campaign), some of which accommodate smaller eight-player or 16-player matches, while others are intended for full-on 40-player war. There are six different multiplayer variants in all, including your conventional deathmatch, team deathmatch, and capture-the-flag types. There's also a last-man-standing-style mode called "conversion"; and two base assault modes, called "meltdown" and "breach," which are reminiscent of Unreal Tournament 2004's onslaught mode in how they're set up to make players fight over specific points on each map. Playing on prerelease servers with a full 40 players, we experienced smooth, lag-free battles in each of these different modes of play, although your mileage may vary. You can also play over a network or try to squeeze some enjoyment out of a split-screen mode for up to four players. Resistance's online multiplayer interface lets you easily find ranked or custom, unranked matches. It also includes support for setting up competitive clans, a "party" system for seeking out online matches together with your friends, and a "buddy" system for keeping track of which of your friends are online. You'll also rank up and earn special insignias based on your multiplayer accomplishments.
The most interesting aspect of Resistance's multiplayer mode is that you can play as either the humans or the Chimeran hybrids, and the two sides are quite different. Humans can quickly sprint from point to point and have access to an onscreen radar that points out both friends and foes. Chimerans make bigger targets and don't have a radar but can enter into a rage at the touch of a button, which temporarily makes them faster, stronger, tougher...and capable of seeing through walls. Although either type of character can use any weapon once they pick it up, the respective sides also start off with their standard-issue rifles. Overall, the differences between the two sides are pronounced yet seem nicely balanced. The multiplayer modes typically force you to change sides in between rounds, which also helps break up the pace of these matches. Even if it boils down to the same type of thing that other shooters have been doing for a while, the well-designed weaponry, exciting presentation, and support for a large number of players makes Resistance's multiplayer mode impressive.
Resistance is going to invite a lot of close scrutiny on the most superficial level. And in spite of a few easily dismissed rough edges, it looks fantastic. Much like the rest of the game, the quality of the visuals might not be vastly superior to what other graphically impressive shooters have delivered in the past, but they're at least as good and marginally better in most ways. The Chimeran hybrids are great to see in action, and you'll likely appreciate how errant gunfire tends to puncture the tubing on their strange backpacks. The game features some great-looking flame effects and some strikingly impressive yet underutilized glass-shattering. It also features plenty of excellent lighting and weapon fire, as well as beautifully rendered, realistic environments. Although, some of the visual design, such as for the Chimera's ominous-looking steel barriers that wall off portions of England's cities, evokes a real Half-Life 2 vibe. Resistance doesn't always succeed at clearly defining its own visual style, but the visuals still are terrific and will substantially contribute to your enjoyment of the game as a whole. It helps that the frame rate stays smooth and steady even when the action gets very intense. Bear in mind that Resistance looks much better when viewed on a high-definition display; on a standard television set, the game's visuals seem understated and may be hard to distinguish from those of other sci-fi-themed shooters.
The audio doesn't give up much slack either. Powerful weapon effects reverberate loudly throughout the game, though the human rifle's roar is much more dramatic than the bullseye's high-pitched whine. The sound of stray gunfire hitting everything around you will be more than enough to make you look for cover. And the Chimera sound appropriately menacing, if predictable, with their low, guttural growls. Resistance's musical score is fittingly bombastic, symphonic stuff and picks up sparingly during particularly key moments during the campaign. It's not especially memorable, but it works very well to deliver some of the campaign's most exciting sequences. Besides the narration, there's not a lot of speech in the game, either. But what's there is fine, even if the British soldiers you'll be fighting alongside seem just a little too upbeat about the dire circumstances. As for Resistance's other technical merits, loading times between missions are noticeable but not bad in spite of how the game frequently writes to the PS3's hard drive between missions, presumably to help keep loading times to a minimum.
If you consider yourself a fan of first-person shooters, then you really owe it to yourself to give Resistance: Fall of Man a shot. Whether that means taking the plunge for a PlayStation 3, playing one over at your filthy-rich friend's house, or whatever else it's going to take is beside the point. What matters is that developer Insomniac Games took the best aspects of some of the best first-person shooters from the past couple of years, added some great weapons and visual flourishes, and put it all together just in time for the PS3's launch.