Version tested: PSP
The PSP is in a curious situation. Perhaps a victim of its own multi-functional design, the handheld has clocked up impressive sales in the face of daunting competition from the DS, yet in 2008 it seemed like the games were drying up. "Make more games!" said Sony to its third-party developers, before sheepishly muttering, "Oh, and maybe we should do the same."
Not that there haven't been games, and games based on popular PlayStation properties. This time last year, for example, there was God of War: Chains of Olympus, which made Kristan go all 8/10. Resistance is the next big franchise to get the shrinky-dink treatment and, once again, the result manages to sweeten the compromises of the port with satisfying action and impressive production values.
Set after the first game, and therefore presumably running alongside the events of its PS3 big brother Resistance 2, Retribution's story follows disgraced British squaddie James Grayson as he gets dropped into a new theatre of war in mainland Europe. Having been forced to kill his own brother in one of the Chimera conversion centres, Grayson went AWOL and began waging his own war against the baddies, free from interference from the military brass. Finally captured and sentenced to death, he's offered a last-minute reprieve if he agrees to help The Maquis, a French resistance group, repel the invaders.
It's a convoluted back-story, and one that unfortunately skips past what sounds like the most exciting part - Grayson's rogue one-man crusade - in favour of objective-led missions handed down by bossy-boots military men. The narrative isn't helped by some awkward dialogue, delivered in a variety of distracting British accents. Grayson himself is a surly and fairly unpleasant man to follow around, and sounds a lot like Ray Winstone by way of a racist minicab driver.
None of this really matters once you're shooting at stuff, however, and the game wisely gets to the shooty bits once the obligatory story cut-scenes have done their thing. The game has switched from first-person to third-person, but since Sony Bend studio has spent the past decade making the daft-but-awesome Syphon Filter series, including two solid PSP versions, it's a wise choice.
Bend (named after its Oregon base - also home to the world's first pregnant man, fact fans!) has proven experience in squeezing the most from the PSP hardware and it pays off in spades here. Retribution looks great, with the sort of attention to detail and solid 3D environments that are often fudged for handheld audiences. Control, another area where ambitious PSP games suffer, is also handled with thought and care. The left stick moves Grayson, the face buttons control your aim. Right shoulder button shoots, and left activates whatever secondary fire your current weapon has.
The d-pad is called upon to flesh out these basics, with right cycling through your arsenal and left reloading. Targeting is automatic, using a broad rectangular reticule. You lock on to any enemies inside this area, meaning that the gameplay can retain the fast run-and-gun feel of the PS3 series without tripping over the limits of the PSP controls. It can feel a little frustrating at first, having this crucial element of shooter control taken away from you, but for those who like to do things manually, tapping up on the d-pad puts you into a slower but more accurate zoomed-in viewpoint or, when wielding the Fareye sniper rifle, the scope view.