Resistance: Fall of Man First Look
We visit Insomniac to see how its first PlayStation 3 title is shaping up.
Resistance: Fall of Man, from Southern California-based developer Insomniac, is an upcoming first-person shooter that's arguably the most scrutinized PlayStation 3 launch title. The game has garnered a fair share of attention after being one of the first games to be shown running on the PlayStation 3 at this year's Game Developers Conference. A positive showing at the Electronic Entertainment Expo continued to raise the game's profile, as word spread that the Ratchet and Clank developer was cooking up a tight first-person experience. However, despite the aforementioned showings, we've been anxious to find out more on the game, as info on its story, arsenal of weapons, and gameplay have been deliberately spare. After a visit to Insomniac's Burbank offices, we've finally had the chance to see what's going on with the promising title firsthand, thanks to some time spent with a work-in-progress version of the game.
Our look at the title began by sitting in on a weekly meeting, where members from the teams working on different aspects of Resistance showed off their current progress. The particular day we were there, the environmental-art leads showed off their handiwork on the cinematics and the character leads unveiled some human and Chimeran skins for multiplayer. The centerpiece to the meeting was a look at one of the later cinematics in the game, which gave us a better idea of the game's plot. Sadly, we can't go into too much detail on what we saw, but it helped put the conflict at the center of the game into better perspective.
What we can tell you is that Insomniac appears to be going the Bungie route and not saying much outside of the bare minimum when it comes to Resistance's story. What we know is that the story takes place in an alternate history, where WWII never happened and an alien species known as the Chimera have decided to make themselves at home on Earth, despite the planet's current occupants. You'll play as a US soldier named Nathan Hale who's been dispatched to help the UK repel the Chimera. Though Hale is something of a lone wolf, he'll rely on Rachel Parker, a member of British Intelligence who also serves as the game's narrator.
From what we've seen and heard, Resistance's story is shaping up to be one part X Files, one part Marvel Comics What If? (or for DC aficionados, Elseworlds), and one part Saving Private Ryan. The tale will unfold via the aforementioned cinematics, which will blend hi-res still art with traditional in-engine cinemas, all of which is tied together by Rachel's narrative. The end result in what we saw at Insomniac is a very moody, stylistic approach that helped set the game's unsettling tone. The game's story will also unfold in smaller ways, such as through radio messages you will receive as you play.
One of the highlights of our visit was checking out the latest work-in-progress version of the game. Thanks to a combination of hands-on time and Insomniac-led demos, we were able to check out several different areas in the game. Our first peek was at an updated version of the Manchester level shown at E3. The demo showed several different areas in the massive level. The first area we saw was a cathedral, where Hale and a small team were making their way to a rendezvous point to meet up with another team. We had just enough time to take in the surroundings and realize it was a prime locale for something horrible to happen when flocks of leapers (facehugger-like critters) came skittering down, looking for trouble. Thankfully, the cathedral had a fair amount of maneuvering room, so it was possible to put enough distance between Hale and the creatures to aim properly. Things were a little rougher for his comrades, but if you're mindful of their safety, they'll help you deal with enemies.
The level also showed off a new enemy, the leonine howler. The twisted creature was big and deadly and had an annoying penchant for ramming its targets. Worse still was its equally troublesome ability to live up to its namesake and call in reinforcements. Fortunately, there was a little something in your available arsenal of weapons in the demo that was just right for taking it out. After sending you through the assorted enemies in the cathedral, the level continues through a ruined part of the cathedral wall that lets you make your way to the streets. The street portion of the level offered up a different, claustrophobic feel and resembled a more traditional first-person shooter experience. We were then shown the open area seen in E3, where hell breaks loose as humans and Chimerans clash, and this scene has been polished up some since May. The action had been cranked up some, and there seemed to be a greater emphasis on using cover than we remember. For those keeping score at home, the cathedral and street portion of the level take place after the area seen at E3 and represent the middle portion of the level.
Though three areas are part of the same massive level, they're only a small sampling of the kind of trouble Resistance is going to drop you into. Since Hale is obviously going to be helping out the Brits, the action will spread throughout the isle as it comes under siege. Residents of the UK will likely recognize some familiar urban and rural locales (albeit slightly worse for wear due to the alien invasion). Residents of Grimsby may not be able to tell the difference, however. Time of day and weather will come into play, as well, as you'll find yourself guiding Hale through darkness and snowy environments that are thick with foes. Aside from the leapers, the howlers, and the now-familiar grunts seen at E3, we got a look at a few other enemies in assorted shapes and sizes that show off a good amount of variety.
Besides offering plenty of variety (and copious amounts of target practice), the enemies and levels are designed to encourage players to take advantage of Resistance's versatile array of weapons. The weapons look to have been influenced by Insomniac's work on the Ratchet and Clank series, which has resulted in the creation of a powerful arsenal that's both deadly and creative. Besides the array of weapons seen at E3--such as the augur, the tagging bullets, and trusty FPS staples like shotguns and assault rifles--we had the chance to check out a few others, as well as their alt-fire features, which are all very cool. The rocket launcher, dubbed the LAARK, primarily fired old, reliable rockets, but its secondary and alt-fire functions definitely offer a lot of options for those looking to get creative with their killing. Holding down R1 on the controller will keep the rocket suspended in the air indefinitely until you release your grip. Another nifty option is the ability to fire off a number of smaller rockets to deal with foes before being depleted. A trap weapon, dubbed the sapper, fires seemingly innocuous blobs of goo that can be stuck to ceilings or stacked on the ground. The gooey masses are great for slowing down enemies and, when detonated, taking them out with chain reactions. As with the LAARK, the sapper lets you get hands on and manually control when the blobs blow. You can also set the blobs as a trap, since they'll remain on the map until an enemy stumbles on them, which can be useful if you want to ensure you get no rude surprises from behind when you're sneaking around.
Our look at the secondary fire on weapons showed off a new facet of the augur. Besides its useful ability to shoot through objects, its secondary-fire option lets you erect temporary shields that you can fire through in the weapon's primary-fire mode. This feature comes in handy when you're dealing with mobs firing at you from a distance. Sadly, the shield doesn't stop blasts from others' augurs, so you'll have to be careful, as the Chimerans also pack the versatile weapon and have no qualms about shooting you in the face. One of our personal favorites of the arsenal that we saw demoed was the fareye, which is a deadly sniper rifle that lets you enter a "focus" mode where time slows and you can line up your shot. Besides trying the weapons out in the actual game, we got to see some custom demos in a test room the team uses to balance the weapons. While there, we got a peek at one of the mech vehicles in the game, a wicked spider-looking vehicle known as the stalker, which was begging to be boarded.
The arsenal of weapons, with its various firing modes, may seem a bit complex, but Insomniac has crafted a smart, intuitive control scheme that's in the same vein as Ratchet and Clank's accessible system. As we found out at E3, getting around in the game is a breeze with the basic setup that has you using the dual analog sticks. Weapon switching and firing is mapped to the shoulder and face buttons, letting you swap arms quickly--often a must in the heat of battle. The team is aiming to take advantage of the PS3 controller's tilt functionality as much as possible; the game currently relies on the feature to let you "shake off" leapers or other enemies that grab you.
Besides the single-player experience, our time at Insomniac gave us a peek at the multiplayer game in motion. Though the version was still undergoing a hefty amount of work to ensure the game holds up when 40 players are online. We got a chance to spend some time in a session to get a feel for the experience...and promptly died. In retrospect, it probably wasn't the smartest idea to tangle with a pack of testers deep into their daily blood frenzy, but you learn fast that way. It's a testament to the game's smart control scheme that we were soon exacting revenge like a champ.
Our session found us competing in one of the multiplayer game types, called meltdown. The goal is to take out the opposing team's base. This is, of course, easier said than done, as you'll be able to collect items that upgrade your team's base up to five times. The upgrades start off being low key, but they ramp up to extremely useful. Your first upgrade bumps up your radar to show enemies. The second spawns extra weapons. The third activates turrets in the corridors leading to your base. The fourth activates mine launchers. The final upgrade armors up the core of your base, making it invulnerable to attack and forcing would-be destroyers to take out nearby rods before they're able to focus on the core. The session was very fun once we got the hang of it. The funky part of the multiplayer game is that we were able to play as Chimeran soldiers who have their own unique attributes, namely a rage mode that enhances their stats temporarily, letting you run faster, jump farther, and melee better. Though the multiplayer in Resistance will support up to 40 players online, some of the larger maps will scale down to accommodate smaller groups. The one we played on, a Chimeran dig site, scales to fit as many as 40 or as few as eight. Another aspect to note on the multiplayer is that weapons have been rebalanced--for example, modified clip sizes and firing functions--to ensure a better experience.
Our time with the single- and multiplayer game felt good, despite the expected rough spots from a work-in-progress game. The frame rate held up reasonably well in single-player, and the controls were responsive. There were a few places where the camera acted a bit odd, but reps on hand noted that little kinks like that were in the process of being ironed out. The multiplayer game felt almost as good, although there were some lag issues in spots, but that's to be expected at this early stage. In spite of these hang-ups, the game was very playable and fun in the brief time we played, and both of our sessions with the game certainly showed off a lot of potential.
Besides the gameplay, one of the key points of scrutiny for Resistance will be its visuals. As one of the inaugural titles for the PlayStation 3, expectations are quite high for Resistance to deliver stunning graphics. To ensure the game delivers impressive visuals, and the frame rate to match, Insomniac is taking a multipronged approach to crafting Resistance's graphics. On the art side, the team features a group dedicated to pumping out in-game visuals that will hold up to being displayed in HD. Though we saw the game running at 720p, the team is aiming for the title to support 1080p. A separate group is working on the graphics that will tell the game's story, as well. On the tech side, Insomniac has folks dedicated to making the PlayStation 3 multitask its heart out and work the system's several processors. One of the most obvious areas we saw this at work was for the use of physics in the game, especially the hedgehog grenade. The explosive's tracking shrapnel does its own thing after exploding, and once you factor everything else going on at the same time, the physics here are a pretty complex action. By putting the burden on the PS3's cores, Insomniac is making an interactive sandbox that's shaping up to be quite cool. Though what we played was early and rough in some spots, there's an impressive level of detail on display.
The audio in the game appears to be one of the areas where Resistance's dev team is running amok like a kid in a candy store. The additional channels of audio available on the PS3 have let the team go to town with 7.1 audio. It should go without saying that the weapons and explosions in the game will be getting the star treatment, as they'll be front and center to the action. In addition, Resistance will feature layers of voice tracks unique to the individuals on the battlefield to create an impressive amount of chaos. You'll hear the cries of human soldiers, which we're told are going to change on the fly based on what's going on as you make your way through the game. Your Chimeran foes will get a similar treatment, although their vocals will be in their native tongue. Outside of the playable segments of the game, Resistance will feature a hefty amount of voice-over to tell its story in the cinematics. The work-in-progress version of the game we checked out gave us a good taste of all of the above and left us with a good impression. The mix of human and Chimeran chatter with weapons firing and explosions booming sounded sharp and immersive, which complemented the hectic visuals. We were also able to hear bits of the game's music, which helped sell the tone of the adventure. We heard sparse but effective tracks during combat and proper orchestral-influenced music during the story sequences, which gave it a cinematic feel that worked.
It's not much of a stretch to say that Resistance: Fall of Man will wind up being the game that's held up as the PlayStation 3 poster child when it launches. As the highest-profile title that's been confirmed for the system's launch, it faces a lot of scrutiny. Fortunately, Insomniac knows a thing or two about crafting fun games. The single-player game is good and definitely engaging from what we've seen so far. Besides the gripping action sequences you'd expect out of a first-person shooter that faces you off against hordes of aliens and their superior technology, the game is looking like it's going to have some nice nuances to it, thanks to its story. Further, Insomniac's penchant for giving players wicked toys to wreak havoc with is paying off, as Resistance's weapons are a blast--pun intended--to play with. Though we didn't see much, the multiplayer game has a lot of promise to give the game legs well after players have finished the single-player game. If Insomniac sticks with tradition by polishing up Resistance's single-player experience and delivering on the promise we saw in the multiplayer, the game will be a strong showcase for the PlayStation 3's potential. Resistance: Fall of Man is currently slated to ship this fall for the PlayStation 3, so look for more on the game next month from the Tokyo Game Show, where it will be among more than 25 PlayStation 3 titles at the show.
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