RESISTANCE 3 + SONY WIRELESS STEREO HEADSET
Platform: PlayStation 3
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
OK, background: I think I played a store demo of Resistance: Fall of Man for five minutes once, and I never played Resistance 2. The series started out as a World War II-era science-fiction shooter, based on the idea that an alien virus landed in Russia in the early 20th century and began converting the infected into human-alien hybrids, the Chimera. Chimera are connected to a hive mind and have access to knowledge of advanced technology, which they proceed to build using Russian infrastructure, and soon enough are rolling into Europe. By Resistance 3 about, oh, 90 percent of humanity is dead, and the survivors are living in squalor underground, evading Chimeran death squads. This whole alt-history speculative fiction with bio-horror elements really appeals to my particular strain of nerdiness. It is especially the case in R3 because I've never been a WWII enthusiast and R3 moves the series from "Alternate World War II fought against aliens instead of Nazis" and into "Post-apocalyptic alien invasion that happens to be set in the 50s."
That's enough on the particulars of the story, but I want to talk about the strengths of even having a story for a bit. I find my enthusiasm for playing a game is greatly strengthened by using fiction to set a context for why I'm shooting everyone on my way to an arbitrary objective. The opening of the game is set in a remnant colony of humans, with the player taking the role of a minor character from previous Resistance games who's left the military and found a civilian life among survivors. You walk through an underground settlement, hear people talking, meet your wife, angst about your son's lung problems, pick up your rifle and revolver from being serviced, do some target practice, and then a Chimeran death squad arrives and it's "Oh no, so-and-so manning the perimeter isn't answering his radio! You have to go make sure he's OK, Joe!" So I went off expecting him to be dead but actually he'd just gone radio silent and then he and I made it back to the settlement and started getting everyone evacuated. At every point I had a distinct in-character reason for doing what I was doing—I don't find the idea of proceeding to the next objective tedious because I know exactly why Joe wants to go there, too.
I know this is a bit like an actor demanding "What's my motivation?" before he'll read lines from a script, but this has been the case for me since forever. Maybe other gamers experience their play differently, but I find it a lot easier to engage with a game if I have some reason to care about what I'm doing beyond just the visceral thrill of game mechanics. Contrast this with last week's Bodycount, which just starts by dropping you off in an environment where everyone else is a target, and telling you over the radio "Go over there! You're a soldier and your mission is to go over there!"
The first two-thirds of Resistance 3 are good at this, but the last third is an endless grueling slog through post-apocalyptic environments teeming with enemies and no one else, with no squadmates and no one to talk to, and almost no dialogue from the protagonist. While by that point the game had set up the stakes so I knew why it was important to Go Over There, shooting everyone as I went, I found my enthusiasm waning.
Resistance 3 distinguishes itself from other modern first person shooters by a) having great weapons, and b) letting you keep them. Most games nowadays do the Halo weapon swapping thing, but Resistance 3 just lets you keep every weapon you pick up, switching between them with a system not unlike Mass Effect—hold the triangle button and the game pauses while you use the analog stick to select a weapon from around a wheel. It's fast and intuitive and great. (I'm told Resistance: Fall of Man used something like this as well but I'm always going to think of it as the Mass Effect system). Every weapon plays uniquely, all have interesting alternate fire modes, my favorite of which is probably the revolver, which embeds bullets in enemies or the environment and then lets you detonate them. The default gun, the bullseye, lets you tag an enemy and thereafter bullets will home in on it. In addition, every weapon levels up, gaining new powers (level 2 shotgun rounds set dudes on fire), and furthermore this carries through between games, so if you level weapons up a bunch you can go back and start the game again with superguns. It's New Game + in an FPS! Whee!
It's unfortunate the game falls down in the third act, becoming such a slog and failing to develop the more intriguing ideas presented in the first third (you never get to see the pure-strain aliens who are, presumably, directing the Chimeran terraforming of Earth, even though the game revolves around shutting down a wormhole that's connecting New York to… somewhere in space), because if it hadn't I would have called this one of the best FPSs recently. As it is, I will note it's the best FPS I've played on the PS3 and significantly better than Killzone 3. Actually it's funny how the Resistance and Killzone franchises are opposites—the latter is "Future World War II, fought in space against space Nazis" and the latter is "Historical World War II and then aliens interrupt by invading."
I didn't delve into the multiplayer modes because my internet still sucks. Probably going to get that fixed in November. But this shouldn't surprise anyone who knows how I review FPS games anymore.
As a final bit of commentary, I tried this out with the PlayStation Move, because I like the idea of using that with FPS games, and it still does nothing for me. The default settings make the turning control feel sluggish, and the customization isn't robust enough to let me tweak it into something I can stand. Also, I do not want to have to make a punching motion every time I want to melee an enemy, and the game doesn't detect the melee motion unless you do it really quickly and energetically. I think Metroid Prime 3 ruined me for motion controls on FPS games, since it worked perfectly out of the box.
This second part of the review is going to be briefer, because I don't have much to say about it: This game came in a very large box, because also in the box were a set of wireless stereo headphones, which I guess are Sony's new gadget. I had to grab the latest PS3 system update to use them. They're big earmuff-style headphones with a built-in mic, which provide virtual surround-sound and are much better than the Sony Bluetooth earpiece I got with my copy of EndWar years ago. Since I don't play much multiplayer, I can't speak of the quality of the mic, but the sound quality on the headphones is good. I'll certainly use them when playing PS3 in the future—God knows it's better than the laptop speakers I was using before. It's honestly not something I'd seek out on my own, but they're nice to have. Thanks, Sony!
The downsides are a) battery life is short enough to be noticeable, and b) it's got a USB dongle you need to plug into the PS3. I have an original model PS3 with four USB plugs, but anyone with a 2-plug PS3—Wikipedia says the slim models only have 2—might be left with no place to plug in their controller for charging during play if they want to use, for example, the headset and the PlayStation Eye + PlayStation Move at the same time. Then again, USB hubs aren't hard to come by.
This review is based on a retail copy of Resistance 3, provided for review purposes by Sony, and also a set of wireless stereo headphones provided for review purpose by Sony.