If Resistance: Fall of Man traced humanity's descent and the rise of Nathan Hale the hero – and the PS3 itself, and Resistance 2 took the fight to the USA and plotted Hale's downfall – as well as tempering the franchise a little bit, Resistance 3 could be seen as not only the darkest moment in this alternate human history, but also a possible redemption for the entire Resistance franchise.
With Resistance 2 now a distant memory of towering boss fights, complex and convoluted multiplayer and ultimately mixed responses from gamers and the wider media, all eyes were on Insomniac today. As a long-time fan of the franchise, I was pretty wary going into my first hands-on with Resistance 3. After all, a lot of shooters – particularly dystopian ones at that – have come along since the last game, and the PSP's Resistance: Retribution did little to stoke the flames of my interests.
Good news: Resistance 3 looks and plays like a game that's had a long development cycle; a year longer than Resistance 2, spent crafting new ideas, developing a rather spiffy engine and refining the solid gunplay foundation.
Joe Capelli from Resistance 2 takes lead role; set four years after the events at the end of the second game, Resistance 3 looks and feels noticeably different. 90 percent of humanity is gone; Capelli is a married man with a child – and he's on a trek from Oklahoma to New York. Why the pilgrimage? Insomniac is staying tight-lipped to that end.
The demo, set in an area of Oklahoma known as 'The Haven' (set about a third of the way into the campaign), is the perfect chance to show off just how desperate things have become for humanity in the last four years. The Chimeran threat is now out of control; the alien invasion has focussed on teraforming North America one city at a time, literally pulling up the earth and turning the land inside out.
Capelli, like most of the survivors, has been injected with antibodies to the Chimeran virus that Hale gestated – so the first thing I noticed was the lack of regenerating health. Cue applause. Great decision. Now you have a standard circular health bar at the bottom left of the screen-- and when you take too many hits, that's it, bucko. As a direct result, cover really does become so critical during encounters. Moreover, Insomniac has retooled its level design ethic. While still ultimately linear and guided by waypoints, The Haven was a great demonstration of how Resistance 3 is opening up each area of the stage.
I found myself no longer pressing down one corridor to the next, maybe breaking to shoot through a warehouse or yard. Instead, the Chimera were dumped en masse from dropships – and I was constantly surrounded. The world still retains the paused-1950s charm of Resistance 2, but everything is that much more eroded, making cover fragile and fleeting.
It's also a dirty, dust choked atmosphere, laden with smoke and particle effects. The jump in sheer graphical polish from the second game to now was impressive. As debris is blown around, shaking stop signs in the wind and obscuring the enemy in the distance, it really added to a feeling of desolation and disorientation. In simple terms though, it almost measured up with another sci-fi PS3 shooter on the horizon – a comparison I'm sure Insomniac would like to avoid but might also nod towards earnestly.
After pressing through to the main square of the town and admiring the aggressive and careful enemy AI (flanking and true squad tactics were immediately noticeable – as well as slick death animations and smooth transitions in between), I got to play against a Brawler. The Brawler is a behemoth of knuckle-dragging, car hurling proportions – and it moves at a serious clip. It pounded through my cover like styrofoam, swinging itself onto a large central building and started tossing rusty cars my way.
Using the returning Auger – now with a more subtle, less obtrusive secondary shield, and a trusty .57 magnum, I was able to target its weak spots and bring him down, ending the confrontation and wrapping up the demo. It was a fleeting but challenging 10 minutes or so, but it was enough to fill me with confidence for this entry in the franchise.
It's a small point, but the weapons wheel makes its return in Resistance 3. For fans of the first game, this comes as a big relief too. Certainly, holding down triangle for a moment feels very intuitive, even when a four tonne alien is charging at you. Radial menus are the way forward, to be sure.
There are still a lot of questions to be answered – particularly whether or not the game can maintain this kind of pace and bring more refinement and even some fresh invention to the table. However, it's clear that three games in, Insomniac has finally hit full stride. The mechanics are tight, the engine is stylish and smooth – and it has personality. For a game that's heavy on greys and browns from what we've seen so far, it might just be enough to win back detractors when the game lands in late 2011.