Resistance: Fall of Man
STOP SAYING THAT IT'S WORLD WAR II WITH ALIENS!
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.