This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Resistance 3 with a hint of deja vu.
Polish your assault rifles and eyeball your co-workers meaningfully, because Shooter Season 2011 has officially begun! Between now and Christmas there's Gears of War 3, Serious Sam 3, Battlefield 3, Modern Warfare 3, uh, Caffeine Free? Oh God, that was awful. So much to look forward to, and by that I mean "watch with equal amounts of dread and exhausted resignation as it gradually builds on the horizon like a porridge tsunami." But it all kicks off with Resistance 3. Yes there's quite a lot of 3's going on in Shooter Season 2011, it being the magic number and everything, and if you put one on its side it looks like a little bum.
Now, full disclosure, I haven't gotten around to playing through Resistance 1 and 2, because my attitude was "Hmm, it's brown and bullets are coming out of things and going into other things. I think this is a Charleston I've danced a few too many times before." Apparently Resistance 1 was about Britain gettin' smashed all to fuck, though, so it was good of them to use an idea from my fantasy journal.
Anyway, the protagonist is Joseph Capelli, the bloke who shot the previous protagonist at the end of the last game; apparently protagonists in this series work the same way as Roman emperors. It's an alternate 1950s setting where Marty McFly never invented rock 'n' roll and 90% of the human population have died of boredom - and been killed by the Chimera, an evil alien race... oh, no, wait, there're humans with an alien infection that turns them into a militaristic expansionist hivemind that closely resemble aliens. Seems like Resistance wanted to be either a zombie shooter or an alien shooter or a military shooter and just couldn't make up its bloody mind.
Whatever. Things start off with Joseph bunkered down in an underground settlement in the process of persuading his sexy wife to repopulate the Earth as squirtily as possible when some scientist shows up and announces that there's a big ol' hole in the sky over New York and if they don't stick a big cork in it then humanity's even more fucked than they were already. Thus begins an odyssey across a ruined America, as Capelli reluctantly leaves his family to escort the scientist to the East Coast while trying not to smash his little eggy head in on a bit of wall.
So here we go, another bloody brown shooter for the current age with two weapon slots, cover mechanics, and regenerating health... wait, what are these glowing green things lying around everywhere? Medkits, you call them? What an intriguing novelty. Yes, Resistance 3 does not have regenerating health! Holy bum nuggets! I'm having to desperately seek aid under fire while hopping around on my last remaining limb and things are actually tense and exciting. Oh, but it's small comfort if I can't carry ten weapons at onc - I can carry ten weapons at once. Huh. And there's a freeze ray and a lightning rod and I thing I like to call the Jimi Hendrix Experience because it makes people puke themselves to death. They're quite fun to use. And there's no cover mechanics, because the game assumes you can strategically use a wall without having to rub yourself on it and give it kisses.
So now I guess AAA shooters have realized they've been on to a bad job for the last six or seven years. Resistance 3 isn't bad at all! There might be some minor balance issues - enemies who die from the Jimi Hendrix Experience also infect the enemies around them, so it's possible to wipe out an entire battalion with one shot and a display of chain reaction vomiting rarely seen outside Zyklon B frat parties - but on the whole there are certainly worse uses of your time than Resistance 3.
I do have an issue with the story, in that the Chimera don't seem like much of a threat. They get killed a lot by their own supermonsters gone feral and generally come across as kind of dopey, only letting the world slide into ruin because they lost the instruction manual. We're told that the evil skyhole in New York is going to destroy the world, but it doesn't seem to be doing anything, and it seems like if Capelli fucks this up we could just send another bunch of guys tomorrow in the back of a pickup truck. Like a blind butcher's assistant, I don't have a feel for the stakes.
And I wish Capelli would decide if he's a silent protagonist or not. They characterize the shit out of him in cutscenes, but he completely buttons it in gameplay. And it seems opportunities are missed to call that fucking scientist out for locking himself in a cupboard with the tinned peaches while Capelli scouts ahead for the fiftieth fucking time.
The overarching plot is really just a weak framing device for a handful of different encounters along the course of a post-apocalyptic road trip, such as the nighttime chapter set in a slightly nonlinear abandoned coal-mining town infested with the undead, during which you team up with the town's slightly mad priest and. . .wait a shotgun-cocking second! That's a word-for-word description of Ravenholm from Half-Life 2, except you can't fire circular sawblades at people or drop cars on their heads, so what's the bloody point? And then there's the fact that the climax involves the destruction of an alien control tower in the middle of a conquered city that's creating a wormhole to alien space on top of it, which was how Half-Life 2: Episode 1 ended.
Now I think about it, fighting techno-soldier ex-humans converted by a nebulous alien agenda smacks more than a little of Half-Life 2 's Combine - wha, Combine? Chimera? They both start with C and have seven letters! That can't be a coincidence. And look, Insomniac Games! If you rearrange the letters ["Amassing Income"], lose some of them and add a few more, you get "We Want To Be Valve!" Look at it from the right angle and suddenly it all becomes clear, like one of those 3D Magic Eye pictures. In the developer credits at the end, Insomniac Games just has a list of names with no job titles like Animator or Environment Jizzmopper, the same way Valve does credits. What is it about this that's making me picture Buffalo Bill swaning about with his landing gear stowed?
Well, you know what, great. You're gonna copy someone, copy Valve; I love those guys. But when I say that, I mean copy their methods. Don't highlight large sections of Raising the Bar'' and Ctrl-C Ctrl-V it into your design doc. A rather awkward question comes to mind: all that nonregenerating health, ten weapon slot, non-cover based shooting malarkey that earns the gameplay a pass - is that all there because you thought it'd be fun or because it's what Half-Life 2 did?
Maybe I'm not giving Resistance 3 enough credit. It's not like it's totally wearing a Half-Life 2 skin suit. There are bits where they rip off Metro 2033 instead - no, bad Yahtzee!
Ever resistant to change: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
Rejected anagrams of Insomniac Games: Encasing Mimosa, Messianic Mango, Mismanage Sonic, Commies Anginas and Anaemic Gin Moss
Are we done with the alternate 1950's setting yet