Friday, September 30, 2011

Resistance: Fall of Man

Despite being a huge fan of Insomniac's Ratchet and Clank series, I had for whatever reason to this point avoided trying their new franchise for this generation, Resistance. Now I wish I had tried it sooner, but not because it was really good and I was missing out. The first Resistance game was a launch title, and while it's probably above average by that standard, it definitely feels every bit like the five year old game that it is. Not only is it not up to the level of subsequent, groundbreaking games like Call of Duty 4, it doesn't even learn some of the lessons that earlier games like Half-Life 2 taught. There are just fundamental issues with the way it's designed that clash with the basic concepts that make today's shooters more fun than older ones. It's not a bad game, but I'd call it fairly mediocre. And while other games I'd say the same thing about perhaps had some interesting ideas and just couldn't pull them off successfully, Resistance is sort of the opposite; it's pretty competently put together for a game made in 2006, it just never gets very interesting.

I had always assumed that Resistance was about aliens invading the planet before World War II could break out, but that's not actually the case. The apparent alien antagonists of the series are actually people that have been infected by the Chimera virus and transformed into mutated, super-strong soldiers, and given access to powerful technology. They swept through Russia and then Europe, with the game beginning with you as Nathan Hale, an American dropped into England to try and help defend that country from being assimilated as well. Nathan quickly becomes infected with the virus along with the rest of the survivors from his unit, but for some unknown reason he manages to fight against it and stay conscious. It's also unknown what the source of the virus is, whether it's natural or created, though I'd suspect the latter considering all the technology that's been somehow created to develop the virus' victims into an army and equip them for battle. That raises another question about who exactly would be behind this, but the game isn't about answering all of these questions so much as just throwing you into a messed up, depressing situation and making you try to fix it, mostly by shooting a lot of guys.

And that's essentially what you do in the game. Levels usually revolve around putting you in some war-torn English village or city, and giving you a fairly linear path to run down while you shoot a ton of Chimera. They mix it up with the occasional vehicle sequence or a battle on a larger scale with some allies on your side. Much like Ratchet and Clank, the game tries to get a lot of mileage out of its unique weapons, although they aren't as successful as they were with their other franchise. There are basics like an assault rifle and a shotgun (the latter of which is useful only for mop-up duty, yet you inexplicably find ammo for it all the time in situations where its use isn't appropriate), but also a handful of more elaborate guns, some designed by the Chimera and some by your side. They all have a hook, like a machine gun that has tags that can cause rounds to home in on an enemy or another that you can eject the magazine from to turn it into a quickly expended, floating turret. Unfortunately, several of these only have very limited functionality, or are limited otherwise by a silly limitation. For example, the sniper rifle can be very effective due to its ability to slow down time (don't ask me), but you can only carry twelve rounds for it at once, despite being able to hold hundreds of bullets for the other weapons at the same time. I understand placing similar restrictions to try to keep things balanced, but that one just seemed particularly silly.

The game could be fine with a less-than-completely-satisfying arsenal of weapons, if the enemy and level design was good enough, but I think there are problems there too. The biggest issue is that the combat is set up a lot like the Ratchet and Clank games, where enemies will frequently come at you in swarms and fire slow-moving projectiles at you, which you have to avoid while returning fire. It works fine in Ratchet when you have a full view of the action and a very agile character. But Resistance is in first person, and Nathan isn't very fast, and you often just get pelted with tons of damage that you can't avoid effectively, instead of a more traditional shooter where you have a certain chance of getting shot that you can use cover and smart movement to avoid the risk of. The problem is increased by the game's strange hybrid health system. You can regenerate healthy by avoiding damage for a certain amount of time, but you can only heal up to the nearest 25% mark. So if you get hit for 20% damage, you can heal up to full, but if you get hit for 30%, you can only recover to the 3/4 level without finding a health item. It's a weird system that has no real benefit, and it makes you wish they had picked one type of health system and just gone with it. The encounters in the game rarely get more interesting than just a new swarm of bad guys, and while there's a decent variety to just what type of weird monster thing will be attacking you, few of them bring an interesting challenge. They either run at you and are pretty easily handled, or shoot at you from a distance and can be kind of a pain to deal with.

As I mentioned before, there's a technical competence to the game that makes it playable. There's a simple flatness to the graphics, as the environments and characters aren't as detailed as we've come to expect, and the sound design is fairly standard too, with functional sound, repetitive music, and voice acting that does little to spice up a pretty standard story. But it all fits together into a coherent setting, and a somewhat interesting universe, with possibilities that the two sequels may or may not have successfully explored at this point. I had enough fun early on when I was discovering new weapons and just getting used to the game, but that eventually turned to boredom and then frustration once the newness of everything worn off and I was left with an increasingly familiar and difficult challenge. At no point could I really point at the game and say that something was broken. All I could say was that I wasn't having fun, and there was no indication that the game was interested in changing that. They just stretched what they had for too long a period, perhaps believing that the game had to be a certain length to be acceptable, and perhaps not having enough development time to create more interesting and unique situations with the launch of the PlayStation 3 looming. This was before games like Call of Duty 4 made it okay to have a campaign that only lasted around six hours, after all. I wish I could have liked the game more, but the simple fact was I didn't. I got the dual pack which included the second game, so hopefully I'll have more fun with that one.

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