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Review: Resistance: Fall of Man (PS3)

May 6, 2009

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Resistance: Fall of Man can be thought of as a modern first-person shooter captured in its adolescence. It arrived on the tailwind of the best and brightest PlayStation 2 and Xbox shooters, and it follows their lead with panache, sporting engaging firefights, creative weapon designs and exciting combat. But unfortunately, it suffers from last-generation conventions that leave the player feeling beleaguered too often by mazes of corridors, uneven pacing and a sorely missed online cooperative play mode.

Yet in spite of feeling a bit frayed around the edges and worn with age, Resistance is an undeniably fun and engaging journey that’s still worth taking.

But first, I should preface by noting: I had a hard time determining the best approach for reviewing Resistance. On the one hand, it was a highly vaunted flagship title that was widely regarded as an early adopter’s best bet for his or her shiny new PlayStation 3; but on the other, that was just about two and a half years ago, and expectations for games have changed significantly since then. Resistance arrived on North American shelves on November 14, 2006 — five days after Gears of War — and since then we’ve seen the genre rapidly evolve with heavy hitters like Halo 3, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, and Killzone 2. And perhaps most importantly, it would certainly be unfair to discuss the game without addressing its recent sequel, Resistance 2.

As a result, this review will be followed up in a few days by an in-depth review of Resistance 2, which will compare the two games at length.

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Thanks to the Chimera, pretty much every inch of Britain that you'll encounter is halfway reduced to rubble.

Resistance’s premise is absolutely one of its most valuable assets; in fact, it may be the best spin on the oversaturated World War II first-person shooter genre since Return to Castle Wolfenstein. The game focuses around a devastating and unexplained emergence of deadly alien-like creatures, called Chimera, which swarm out of the Soviet Union and encroach upon Britain from the English Channel. The year is 1951, and you are Sgt. Nathan Hale, an American soldier who interestingly bears the namesake of one of the United States’ first spies. Tasked with aiding the British defenses, you’re dropped into an intriguing mixture of mid-20th century society and futuristic tools of destruction.

Insomniac deserves commendation for creating a surreal, fascinating world bolstered by a brilliant premise, but the game regrettably falters in its delivery. Pre-rendered cutscenes built on in-game assets may have been adequate at best in 2006, but in 2009 it’s the scarlet letter of rushed production. Frankly, it looks hokey, but the real problem is that it jerks the player out of the action too frequently.

The between-level story sequences strive to be more sophisticated. They feature the narration of Cpt. Rachel Parker of the British forces, who serves as Hale’s radio guide throughout the game. She grimly describes the devastation wrought by the Chimeran war machine as still images of annotated maps and war-torn battlefronts zoom and pan across the screen in a Ken Burns documentary style. It’s a nice departure from the shaky-camera, testosterone-and-blood storytelling approach of games like Gears of War, but at the same time it fails to complement the game’s frenetic, fast-paced combat. Instead of enriching the player’s experience, the cutscenes only alienate the player from the game.

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An example of the game's interface; note the segmented health meter in the bottom-left corner.

Resistance utilizes an unusual, segmented health system. As was the case in The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, you have several life bar segments that will regenerate over time. Take too much damage, however, and a segment will go away, diminishing the maximum amount of health you can have until you stumble upon the next medical kit. It’s designed to emphasize a tactical approach to each encounter, but it leads to increasingly difficult firefights, because you have to be more and more cautious as you inch closer to death. It ends up feeling frustrating at times because it punishes anyone attempting run-and-gun play approach and forces players to be more cautious and stealthy.

There’s nothing wrong with that approach to combat, but with relatively limited cover mechanics (you can duck or move behind an object, but the game offers no assistance) and an abundance of health and ammo pickups, Resistance plays like an old-school shoot-em-up shoved uncomfortably into the auspices of a “next-gen” first-person shooter.

If you hop online with Resistance for a game of deathmatch, you’ll discover there’s still plenty of action to be found:  Tons of people are  still duking it out, servers are still alive and kicking, and leaderboards continue to tick away for every player killed and every point yielded. There’s even a few additional maps that can be nabbed for no additional charge, making it painless for new players to join the fray on even footing with long-time players.

It’s a little difficult to recommend Resistance as a substitute for a shooter designed for long-term online play when games like Call of Duty 4 emphasize persistent character development and present a wide assortment of extra challenges for the hardcore to pursue.  That being said, anyone looking for a few quick rounds of play is almost certain to have a good time.

Resistance: Fall of Man is available on PlayStation 3 for $29.99.

Recommended for:

  • PlayStation 3 owners in search of a solid shooter that, in spite of a few antiquated design elements, delivers legitimate thrills and engaging combat
  • Action game fans who value a long, replayable single-player campaign at a low price

Not Recommended for:

  • Anyone who has played through Resistance 2 and wants to see how the series began; Resistance: Fall of Man will feel like a giant step backward
  • Competitive online shooter fans seeking their next addiction — the game does little to offer a persistent sense of progress to players
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