In today's gaming milieu, the First Person Shooter has emerged as something of a banner genre; it would seem that every platform is judged in the eyes of the hardcore by the quality of its signature shooter. Indeed, such was the case with Insomniac Games' PlayStation 3 title Resistance: Fall of Man. By virtue of its position as a FPS launch title, early adopters gathered at its heels and elevated a solid but unremarkable game with a fun multiplayer into a veritable 'killer app'. Resistance met with considerable success and so now, two years later, gamers have been graced with a sequel bearing the simple moniker of Resistance 2. Insomniac promised bigger battles, better visuals, and an overall boost in terms of the title's multiplayer options and indeed, Resistance 2 is beefier and brasher than its predecessor in every way. However, the question remains: is resistance still futile the second time round?
Resistance 2 picks up almost immediately from its predecessor's denouement, finding a battered Nathan Hale trekking across a snowy field before being abducted by a group of black-clad special ops. Hale, the lone survivor of an American force deployed to repel an invasion of Britain by the loathsome Chimera, finds himself recruited into a squad named the Sentinels, a specialised unit of soldiers affected by the Chimeran virus and armed with regenerating health and other attributes as a result. Hale and the Sentinels are whisked around from a base in Iceland to various hot spots across the heart of the United States in an attempt to ward off a full-scale invasion of the Land of the Free.
To be generous, the plot of Resistance 2 is underwhelming; barring a few incredible vistas (the invasion of San Francisco is an utterly haunting image) and a brutal finale, Insomniac has done very little to engender any sense of intrigue in the player. The characters, in particular Hale himself, are a series of ciphers and stereotypes with little to say outside their banal military chattering and the Chimera remain an oblique foe. The player is whisked around on various missions with very little rhyme, reason, or context, which makes it difficult to care about the story's outcome.
It is fortunate then that the game's core 'shooting gallery' gameplay is so well-crafted, refined and downright fun. Those familiar with the first title in the series will know roughly what to expect, but there have indeed been a number of changes to the experience this time round. Importantly, checkpoints are now handled better than before, with the game saving the player's progress before every major encounter. Also Hale's regenerating health, which in the first game was segmented into quarters, is now in line with the popular and trendy regenerating health system found in the Call of Duty or Halo series. This is perhaps a controversial change, but it no doubt keeps the action flowing thick and fast without requiring the player to scavenge for health packs. Further, the control layout has been tweaked so as to be even more intuitive than before and the 'weapon wheel' from the first title has been replaced by a two weapon system also made popular by the two aforementioned series. These changes are largely superficial but do much to bring the game into line with modern standards. Some might bemoan the fact that they can no longer carry every weapon into every encounter, but the title is fairly generous in that weapons are scattered all over the United States as if they had fallen out an enormous alien pinata.
Perhaps more significant is the way in which Insomniac Games has upped the scope and pacing of the title compared to the fairly monotonous slog which was the first Resistance. Large scale skirmishes featuring dozens of soldiers and Chimera are intermittently spaced between atmospheric trudges in the dark, listening to the creaks in the wall and waiting for a crazed Zombie-like Chimera to burst out of its cocoon. Combat is now more focussed on buckling down behind solid pieces of cover and surviving against what seems like insurmountable odds. In essence, what one finds with Resistance 2 is a flair for pace and variety; the set pieces are more interestingand cinematic than those of the first title. Screen-filling bosses are now the norm, capping off most levels in the typical fashion. While most of these drooling behemoths are offed in uninspiring fashion with a couple of rockets-to-the-head, they generally provide some much-needed variety into proceedings. The Chicago mission in particular is tremendous, with vicious street fighting interspersed with creeping through dilapidated tenements and engaging in massive skirmishes. The level climaxes with a confrontation between Hale and a skyscraper-sized leviathan which is about the most memorable moment of the game.
However, Resistance 2 is not much of a showcase for the PS3 like its predecessor was some two years ago. While Insomniac Games has upped the scale of their level design and combat scenarios, they have been unable to provide gamers with the technical bells and whistles which have come to be expected of modern hardware. The character models, from the zombie-esque 'Grims' to the ubiquitous Chimera 'Hybrids', look fairly solid and react satisfyingly to every bullet, blade or grenade hurled at them, but the assortment of American landscapes are all rather pedestrian. Incidental details such as blades of grass and rippling water stun occasionally, but for every beautifully-designed and modelled level is another graced with bland textures and a myriad of sparse, dark tunnels which induce nothing but tedium. While the game's colour palette is impressively varied compared to the original title, and the scope of some the monsters and battles is impressive, the overall impression conveyed by Resistance 2 is that it feels slightly behind the curve. In this way, the spectre of titles like Killzone 2 haunt the game's every step.
On the aural side of the game's presentation, things fair slightly better. The weapon sound effects are serviceable as is the musical score, which hits every militaristic, heroic beat one would expect without being especially memorable. Voice acting is generally of a good standard, which is fortunate given that many of the non-player characters will consistently fill players' ears with unintelligible chatter. Ultimately however, the title's graphical and musical insipidness never really detracts from its deeply engaging core gameplay.
Presently, Resistance 2 sits at the forefront of online multiplayer gaming for the PS3, and for this reason, it's a title that will keep on giving months down the line. Players can launch into standard modes such as Death Match, Team Death Match, and Core Control (Capture the Flag), but can also partake in a mode named Skirmish, which allows up to 60 players to be assigned into small squads with fluid objectives. All of the competitive modes play well and the servers are admirable in that lag is almost non-existent for those with a decent connection.
For those who prefer to play nice, Resistance 2 also offers up a unique co-operative mode which, rather than merely allowing a second player to hop into the single player campaign, allows up to eight players to traverse a storyline which complements and runs parallel to Nathan Hale's journey. The mode offers classes, ranging from hardy Soldiers to Medics, and like all other modes in the game, utilises an experience system not unlike that of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Every kill and every action garners experience which allows players to improve their skill ranking and earn other rewards. The co-operative mode is unique among shooters, and for a group of players who make the effort to work together, the results can be riotous and rewarding. It may not satiate those looking to play through the campaign with a friend in the traditional manner, but it is no doubt an impressive and significant part of the package that is Resistance 2.
Resistance 2 may not be the PS3 flagship title it aspires to be, but is nonetheless a welcome feather in the console's cap. It ticks all the right boxes, with tight controls, satisfying gun play, and an amazingly robust set of multiplayer options. The only caveat is that for all its competence in every facet of its production, it fails to wow at a narrative level or provide that je ne sais quoi which would elevate it to something truly special. Insomniac Games have yet again produced a top quality title, but it's ever so slightly soulless for all its craft. Nevertheless, those who can look past the incoherent story and uneven presentation will find themselves embroiled in a superior sequel and one of the best shooters of 2008.