Look, it's not just a World War II game with aliens in it. It's really not. It looks a bit like a World War II game sometimes, and then sometimes it looks a bit like Halo or Half-Life 2, but more importantly the game's hook is none of these things: it's that Resistance is a first-person shooter made by the mentalists who invented Ratchet & Clank.
What that means is that you spend more time giggling and gawping at the weapons than you do the graphics. Any one of them is worth wasting a whole paragraph on - the BullsEye, for example. Initially it looks like a boring alien gun that sprays little glowing plasma balls. But then you realise there are two types of ammo for it - bullets and tags. Tags, fired off with L1, cling to enemies and draw the bullets in their direction, allowing you to duck out of the way and fire streams of ammunition in giant arcs across the battlefield. Firing tags into the ground doesn't mean you've failed, either - bullets will swarm above them at head height, killing enemies who make the mistake of walking into them, or racing wherever your next tag is sent. Left alone for long enough, they disperse rather violently.
It seems odd that it's taken this long for somebody in the first-person shooter genre to inject a little imagination into the weapons that actually do the first-person shooting, but it's not very surprising to see Insomniac doing it. After all, the Ratchet & Clank platform games have become increasingly gun- and combat-centric as the series has progressed precisely because they're the things for which Insomniac has discovered it has an aptitude. Resistance: Fall of Man, which also offers 40-player online battles, could just be a case of finally letting them run wild. The context and the technology simply elevate their potential.
It's also worth pointing out - certainly on the evidence of the four-level demo included with our debug PlayStation 3, and the presentation Sony gave in London last week - that this is by no means the gritty, earnest slog that it might look in the screenshots. The introductory movie's quite grave, recounting the alternative history that saw the Chimera threat spread across Europe and Africa in the middle of the 20th century - a 20th century uncluttered by the second World War - devouring everything and leaving it up to the Yanks to parachute into northern England to try and mop up the bloody mess. But despite the occasional sign of World War II-looking troops at your side and tactical blasts on the radio, the plot doesn't play the sort of sombre role it does in games that share these visuals. Don't get me wrong - what happens to Nathan Hale and humanity and so on is probably a lot more prominent in the finished game, but the point is that it's not the reason you're dragging yourself through. Indeed, "dragging" is the wrong adjective. Playing and writing about Resistance soon after working through F.E.A.R. Extraction Point, for example, is very refreshing, because it's a first-person shooter than enlivens the genre rather than simply mimicking what's gone before.
The first demo level is presumably the first in the game, following a cut-scene that explains how Nathan ends up in England fighting giant alien monsters (or are they mutants? what are they? suspense me-do!) in the streets of York, London and - it's been much heralded - Grimsby. Initially this sees you doing logical first-person shooter things: leaping over low ledges with the X button, firing off Carbine machine gun rounds with R1 and discovering the grenade launcher attachment on L1 (and then vowing not to test buttons next to walls any more as you explode and reload). You blast your way through a few Chimera grunts, with their big spiky heads and backs, and as you approach a town square you take care to test the physics - shooting out car windows, check; smacking car doors closed, check; blowing up cars, check; stop picking on cars and try shooting at signs to see if they fall over, check. You then click in the right-analogue stick to go into over-the-sights zoomed view to tackle a few Chimera embedded next to the house ahead of you. Soon you grasp how the health system works, with four rectangles that work like a truncated version of the Halo system - whittled down one by one or, if you manage to find some cover, able to recharge depending on which chunk is currently taking damage. You work out how to reload, obviously, (square), and smack people in the head with the triangle button melee attack.
Then things get a bit more interesting. The next level, near Nottingham, begins with a giant thrust up a hillside, flanked by fellow Americans (whoop, holler, etc.). The view is spectacular, not just thanks to the masses of detailed foliage and troop movements, but also the fact that the hillside's piled high with embedded gun positions, trenches and spiky metal walls designed to impede your progress. There's a lot of enemy fire, but, ooh, you've got some new weapons. There's the shotgun you found before, with its single- or double-barrel modes of fire, but why not try something else? Here's the Auger, which fires a bolt of energy. Looks quite standard. Except, actually, the blasts tunnel through walls - not immediately, as you'll discover when you're on the receiving end, but effectively enough to take out enemies buried behind cover. Not only that, but by pressing L1 it spits out a see-through energised riot-shield, which stands in front of you allowing you to fire through it, but not be hit, for as long as it remains powered. Discoveries like these aren't just fun; they're funny. That sense of Ratchet & Clank again.
And so you tear up the Nottinghamshire countryside with your friends the Auger, the BullsEye and the Rossmore 236 shotgun (which aptly demonstrates the locational damage system by taking an enemy's legs out from under him as you fire it off in surprise), coming up against some new threats in the process, like the little headcrab-esque spider enemies who swarm you in the trenches. In a nice touch, when they grab hold of your face you have to physically shake the pad to get rid of them. But let's move onto the Southern Command level, where things start to get a bit trickier.
It takes you under the ground, into what looks like your overrun military headquarters. Entering at the top of a giant metal staircase, which creeps around the edge of a very tall room down into the heart, you're immediately up against little prancing enemies, who leap from one point on the wall in a flash to the next, and need to be picked off very quickly. There are also bigger, tougher, brutish enemies in what look like spandex trousers (but probably aren't), firing bolts of white-hot death in your direction. It's worth pointing out at this stage that throughout the game the AI of your enemies is a sort of "basic plus". It's not exactly Halo, but it poses a challenge, although on this particular staircase the main challenge stems from your enemies' sheer weight of numbers and ordnance. So, instead of dashing back into the fray, you respawn and hold L2 to investigate your weapons load-out, using the left analogue stick to point to the gun you want to switch to. By this stage you've got the L23 Fareye, the Sapper and the Hailstorm, not to mention a couple of types of grenade.
We go for the Hailstorm, and immediately it calls to mind Tribes' Spinfusor or the Ripper in Unreal, firing volleys of white bolts that bounce back and forth across the narrow confines of the stair section - although "reflect" is a better word. Insomniac has previously said that this is one of the guns that simply couldn't be done on PS2, with each bolt's trajectory as it bounces off walls requiring quite a lot of calculation, and the effect is initially lost. It's only when you get further in, and you're camped on one side of a crate and a Chimera trooper's camped on the other, and you bounce a death-blow off the ceiling above, that it really gels. Helpfully, it can also fire a little self-sufficient turret using the L1 button, which provide backup.
Then it's onto the Fareye, which is the sniper rifle. Zooming with R3, and adjusting the same with the up and down buttons on the d-pad, you're able to zip out of cover and tackle enemies crowded around a circular conference room. But watch out, because hiding outside to regroup doesn't eliminate the risk - like you, the Chimera have access to the Auger, and its burrowing bullets appear as spinning white marks on the wall as they tunnel in your direction, forcing you to stay alert even when you're behind the cover of masonry. But the Fareye's a powerful tool, and your ability to hold L1 to engage the "concentration" part of it is wonderful. Where shooters of the past have had you hold your breath to concentrate your sights, Resistance adds an element of slow motion. Effectively what we're talking about is a powerful sniper rifle with a limited-use Bullet Time element.
Busting through you find yourself in an elevator heading down. You see the helipads and warehouses and runways outside, but the lift takes you deeper, into the heart of the staging area, where a giant transport rests on an elevated landing pad above a huge underground base, with violence erupting in every area. As the mesh doors open you're faced with a giant, rampaging enemy as tall as three men with a giant weapon to match his giant reach - something that becomes a factor as he stomps after your circle-strafing actions. Whichever weapon you choose, it's a big fight, with regular Chimera troops blocking your path as you weave and duel. Soon after, the level's over.
And then it's to the climax of our demo version, where you'll need to call on everything. Seemingly like Ratchet & Clank, there are levels where the initial burst of gameplay seems to demand everything you have, only to become much greater and more elaborate than you imagined, and call upon a broader and more efficient use of force when you inevitably die and respawn. Starting out on London Bridge, in the shadow of a skyline dominated by a giant Chimera construct - like a city landed forcefully on top of a city, complete with its own alien highways polluting the horizon - you're thrust into the rubble-strewn South Bank and faced with the twin threat of marauding Chimera and Stalkers. Stalkers are four-legged tanks in the style of Half-Life 2, but shorter - spider-like in their movement - and immediately you reach for the latest addition to your armoury, the LAARK missile launcher. It does the trick, but then there's another Stalker. Through repetition you rely on the Fareye, a mixture of the BullsEye and the Auger, and then engage the LAARK as another, greater threat comes into your path.
The greater threat being a far more spider-like enemy with longer legs and the capacity to lob expanding puss balls that explode like biological grenades. Imagine the Alien Queen as a sort of gigantic waterboatman with projectile eggs. Probably better to use the LAARK here, or to hide and use its alternative fire mode, which calls to mind Unreal Tournament's Redeemer. Instead of directing the missile in first-person, you hone it in using the cursor, more like Half-Life's rocket launcher, and with this you can push past your enemy. At which point the Chimera need dealing with, giving us a good opportunity to talk about the grenades. Not the regulars, which are what you imagine - although fun to see in action, thanks to the carefully measured physics - but the hedgehog grenades, which land and bloom like spiky flowers, before ejecting their needles-of-mushy-death at every angle. Hard to come by, but fun to use - the latter being a perfect encapsulation of the spirit of Resistance's more inventive weapons.
It's a game about them, by the looks of it, and gloriously realised in 720p at a solid frame-rate. There's an element of auto-aim, which drags your reticule closer to the enemy hide, and despite my usual reluctance to engage with console-based first-person shooters the analogue controls have an immediacy and versatility to them that works. Coupling the change-weapon function with an instant pause of the game is crucial, and like so many decisions it elevates Insomniac's PS3 debut above the ill-considered fare that typically illustrates a console launch.
In other words, it makes a compelling first impression. It's vast without sacrificing the claustrophobia of great first-person shooter combat; it's inventive without resorting to set-pieces, or simply focusing its energies in specific segments and then moving on as burnout starts to manifest itself; it's about the weapons, primarily, just as you'd expect from a company that seems to love coming up with new ways to kill things more than it enjoys finding new ways to make double-jumping fun. Ratchet & Clank was always a blast, and probably more progressive than Naughty Dog's Jak & Daxter series; first impressions of Resistance suggest it applies these principles to a different genre, and a genre that - despite many successes - could do with putting an emphasis on fun.
Lower down this page there will be, I suspect, a current of distaste for what some will view as the partisan hyperbole of a positive first impression. "Shock! Eurogamer likes a PS3 game!" Well, fair enough - it's probably my fault as much as anybody's that you won't allow us to be enthusiastic about anything. All I'd say is to bear in mind that I don't in any way care if you buy a PlayStation 3. I've been arguing with people around here about actually answering the question of whether you should buy one, because I think any "yes" answer is contingent on a mixture of blind faith, a desire for bragging rights, and financial irresponsibility. (In other words, what on earth are you thinking?) But if you're reading about Resistance elsewhere, and you come across the line "World War II with aliens", dare to disagree. It's not that. It's World War II with Ratchet & Clank. It's a big "if", but if the full game sustains these thrills of experimentation, it'll be excellent.
Watch out for our review later this month to find out where it went.
Resistance: Fall of Man is due out exclusively on PlayStation 3 at launch - 11th November in Japan, 17th November in North America, and March 2007 in Europe.