Since its debut alongside the PlayStation 3 in 2006, Resistance has always seemed like a series in search of an identity, with the original Resistance: Fall of Man coming off as a remarkably strong blend of popular genre entries, and sequel Resistance 2 delivering a buffet-like assortment of play options. But latest game Resistance 3 finally establishes a fresh voice for the series, and it's not accomplished through a laundry list of modes or bullet-point-ready features; though with PlayStation Move and 3D support, it certainly has those bits covered. Instead, the third entry stands out thanks to a constant sense of dread and terror that hang like a pall over the unfolding events, which depict the Resistance universe in as grim a fashion as we've seen to date.
Past constructs like the military and government have fallen in the wake of the alien Chimera invasion, and all that's left is for lead Joseph Capelli -- who wrested that role away from Nathan Hale in Resistance 2's bloody coda -- to fight for his family and other remaining survivors by trekking from the Midwest into the frozen core of New York City.
Capelli's quest takes on a strange road trip feel to it, with new adventures, allies, and antagonists found in each point on the map, but it's not the narrative or characters that help Resistance 3 deliver one of the most sensational shooter campaigns in recent years. It's the constant tension felt in each and every enemy encounter, whether you're fighting off a swarm of crawling buggers, wearing down a towering spider boss, or introducing flaming buckshot to scads of fast-moving bipedal beasts.
Many shooters try to build tension via momentous cutscenes or frustrating bottlenecks, but Resistance 3 keeps the pace delightfully stressful throughout thanks to challenging and resourceful foes, plus careful health and ammo placement and the expected slate of fabulously creative and multidimensional firearms. In place of the military tone that dominates the genre, Resistance 3 emphasises terror and uncertainty via harried battles and a killer dose of atmospheric aesthetics.
It's rare that the room you run into will be any more hospitable than the one you scurried out of, and no other shooter in recent memory has delivered the kind of breath-stealing mini-freakouts that I experienced here.
And while some of the up-close details (notably the character models) lack crispness, the overall visual approach here is outstanding, with wonderfully depressing views that are picturesque in a miserable, "world-is-doomed" sort of way. Thanks to some sizzling camera effects and slick set-pieces -- like a barn collapsing around you early on -- Resistance 3 makes a strong aesthetic impression. Its vision of a destroyed, post-invasion 1950s may not offer the kind of iconic originality of BioShock's Rapture, but it's clear that Insomniac put a ton of time into delivering a world that feels simultaneously lived-in and now utterly devoid of meaningful occupation.
Next page: Heart and soul?
The campaign does hold itself back from glory on occasion, though, in part because of a narrative that seems more concerned with tidy and concise moments instead of meaningful storytelling. Capelli's journey dips into human emotion on occasion but rarely connects; and both his personal struggles and world happenings arrive without notable heft, alongside a sudden and unfulfilling ending. Plus, there's a notable stylistic disconnect between the in-game interactions and cut-scenes, with abrupt black-screen transitions between the two.
Resistance 3 succeeds in spite of its plot and inhabitants, relying on immensely gratifying action and atmosphere to make a mark -- but with a little more emphasis on personal stakes and desperate choices, not to mention the bigger meaning behind the invasion, I might be discussing the campaign in the same breath as BioShock and Half-Life 2. It's so distressingly close to classic status.
And Resistance 3 is the rare shooter that seems better enjoyed alone, thanks to inelegant and seemingly tacked-on cooperative design. Instead of a separate co-op mode, the game simply adds a second identical player -- named John Capelli -- to the campaign whether online or via split-screen, and from what I played, it's only acknowledged during the tutorial, as the same cut-scenes and conversations are used elsewhere. It's an awkward and much easier experience, and certainly not recommended for a first playthrough.
But the scaled-back online multiplayer doesn't lose a step, despite supporting just 16 players (as opposed to 60 in Resistance 2). Thanks to the unique weapons of the Resistance universe and distinct human and Chimera abilities, the battles unfold in a thrilling manner, with the team-based modes giving you a chance to play both sides in each match.
It's not nearly as robust as something like Call of Duty: Black Ops, but the sci-fi spin adds a lot to the experience, and modes like Breach -- where sides attempt to protect or destroy armoured stations -- stand out despite standard genre origins.
In a time when shooter campaigns often seem secondary to their bulging online components, Resistance 3 manages to nail the solo adventure and still deliver excellent multiplayer combat. The game wisely fights the urge to simply build upon the thick feature set of its predecessor, and by focusing on striking a fresh tone and delivering some of the most intensely memorable encounters in recent memory, it's transformed a pretty great system exclusive into an essential genre experience.
Resistance 3: Specs
- PlayStation 3 only Age rating: 18
- PlayStation 3 only Age rating: 18
Thin narrative and characterisation aside, Resistance 3 offers an intensely thrilling campaign that emphasises terror and despair, alongside fantastic visuals with varied level designs plus some excellent multiplayer battles.