Version tested: PlayStation 3
Do you like single-player campaigns? I like single-player campaigns, and on the evidence of Resistance 3, Insomniac Games likes single-player campaigns. At a time when more and more shooters are seeing their story modes shrink in size and importance, used only to introduce the assets you'll be seeing online, the robust solo portion of Resistance 3 is a welcome return to the days when the campaign mode was the main course, not the appetiser.
It also feels very different to the previous games in the series, perversely ditching the aggressive militarism which is now so in vogue in FPS circles in favour of a more sombre tale. This is no longer a war game. The alien invasion that raged through the first two games (and one PSP spin-off) is all but over. Less than ten per cent of humanity remains alive and in hiding, and the Chimera are ruthlessly scouring the globe, exterminating survivors.
In the midst of this grim scenario we find Joe Capelli, a soldier dishonourably discharged after spoilery events at the end of Resistance 2. When we meet him, he's living in a makeshift refugee camp in Oklahoma with his wife and four-year-old son. When the Chimera arrive, his family flees into the wasteland, leaving Joe to cling to one last hope: that the fact the Chimera are channelling huge amounts of energy to New York means there's something important there that can end their brutal occupation.
Structurally, it's like a post-apocalyptic road movie. This gives the game the freedom to introduce (and discard) new locations and new groups of characters as Joe makes his way towards the East Coast. Like the Littlest Hobo with firearms, he stumbles into various human enclaves, helps them with their problems and is pushed a few hundred miles closer to his goal by their gratitude.
Even in levels filled with explosions and firefights, the melancholy mood remains. There's a general sense of hopelessness to the story that sets it apart from the chest-beating that typifies a blockbuster shooter. Joe is a doubting, desperate man. The people he meets are clearly doomed, if not during his encounter, then surely some time after he leaves.
In most levels, the genre beats skew closer to horror than to the expected sci-fi or action. Lots of games make use of the imagery of desolate Americana, but Resistance 3 never makes its setting self-consciously cool. A sequence in which you take a slow boat ride through a flooded town is downright eerie, with obvious (and presumably deliberate) echoes of post-Katrina New Orleans. This is a game that knows that quiet can be just as effective as sound and fury.
But for all its downbeat strokes, Resistance 3 is very much a shooter - and as with its predecessors, its weaponry defines it. Once again swimming against the tide of FPS design, the two-gun limit popularised by Halo has been cast aside in favour of a persistent 12-weapon selection which gradually fills out over the course of the story.
Old favourites like the Auger, Bullseye and high-explosive Magnum return; combined with dependable genre staples like a rocket launcher, sniper rifle and shotgun, they provide a flexible arsenal that serves multiple play styles. Added to these are outlandish newcomers such as the Mutator, which fires sticky gobs of mutagenic slime that transforms enemies into pustulent, exploding meatbags, a freeze-ray Cryogun, and the Atomizer, which disintegrates enemies up close.
Secondary fire is one area where Insomniac has set Resistance apart, and that trend continues here. The Mutator can lob gas canisters that leave anyone caught in their range vomiting themselves to death. The Atomizer deploys an energy vortex that ensnares all nearby enemies and churns them into quantum mincemeat. The Cryogun has a recharging pulsewave that shatters frozen enemies.
All are huge fun to play around with, and their usefulness is now augmented by a simple levelling system. The more you use a particular weapon, the stronger it becomes. Every weapon has a further two enhancements that can be unlocked in this fashion, a welcome twist that expands your combat options yet further. We've become so accustomed to the claustrophobic, prescriptive nature of shooters that returning to a game that lets you pile your plate from a whole buffet table of carnage is liberating.
With recharging shields excised in favour of finite health and sporadic medpacks, that flexibility is constantly put to the test. Time and again you'll find situations where progress comes from quick thinking and experimentation rather than bull-headed persistence.
This campaign feels designed to win over players weaned on the great story-led shooters of the 1990s, with open-ended encounters in well designed environments where player choice wins the day rather than rollercoaster funnelling. The AI isn't spectacular, but it's good enough that a change of weapon or a different strategy can radically alter the flow of a battle.
It's just a shame that a studio that has proved so canny and imaginative in some areas remains so tethered to the obvious in others. The FPS is crying out for innovation and Insomniac is clearly a developer with the right combination of craft and creativity - so the presence of some hoary old clichés dampens the mood considerably.
How to explain the boss battles against giant creatures with weak spots that are conveniently exposed and glow for good measure? (Note to game developers: evolution doesn't work like that.) How to justify the use of journals and audiologs as collectable trinkets, a once-clever narrative idea now struggling to be more than background noise? It's not Insomniac's fault that these clichés endure, or that they've long lost their purpose - but it is a shame to see them so readily deployed.
Strangely, the very things that make Resistance 3's solo campaign fly make its multiplayer games difficult to warm to. It's hard to comment on the long-term appeal of the game, given that multiplayer servers have only just been made available at time of writing, but first impressions are both promising and slightly frustrating.
With such an outlandish arsenal, finding the right balance was always going to be tough, and so it proves as new players are thrown into the fray with the bare essentials to be torn to shreds by players of a higher level who have a more robust toy box - including auxiliary abilities unique to online play such as holographic decoys, lightning shields and cloaking devices. Inevitably, starting out with one grenade and a carbine against players who can shoot through walls, round corners and turn invisible means that the climb to level 10 - at which point the playing field becomes much more even - can be a tough and not always enjoyable one.
That's a pity, as there's much to admire in the structure of the multiplayer, with 55 competitive medals over and above the Trophies, plus 47 ribbons for in-match feats. In terms of game types there's nothing here that will surprise, but the same weapon levelling from the solo mode recurs and recharging health is reintroduced online, where it makes a little more sense. It's a solid package; providing the rather crude matchmaking system keeps the lions away from the lambs, it should offer something for everyone.
It's the maps which maketh the game in multiplayer shooters, and Insomniac's work here rivals masters of the form like DICE. Most of the 12 maps are drawn from campaign locations but there are also surprises hinting at the global battle which provides the game's backdrop, with maps set in Colombia, Chad, Australia and even Wales. They're all fine examples of multiplayer design, juggling interiors and exteriors, cover points and open ground, vantage points and rat runs. Regardless of the game mode, it's a pleasure to explore them.
There's also two-player co-op, now applied to the campaign rather than boxed off into its own procedurally generated mini-stories, as in Resistance 2. It is, as always, a welcome addition, especially as it's available in local split-screen. Online, it's restricted to your friends, which feels limiting, but at least it's there.
Resistance 3 gets almost everything right, yet never quite ascends to greatness. Both single- and multiplayer urges are given equal attention, and all the boxes you'd expect a modern FPS to tick are dutifully filled in.
That sense of obligation is, perhaps, the problem. First-person shooter design has reached an evolutionary ceiling and desperately needs some mutant DNA to push it onwards and upwards. Resistance 3 could have provided that genetic jolt; but Insomniac has chosen to look back to how we used to play rather than grapple with how we could play in the future. As understandable as it is, that cautious approach results in a game that is extremely enjoyable, but never as imaginative as you want it to be.
8 / 10