Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Path of Least Resistance... Ice Burn Eh? Seriously, Why Am I Not Getting Paid Huge Sums of Money for These Pithy Pearls?

Resistance 2 from Insomniac Games is the highly anticipated sequel to the fairly enjoyable Resistance: Fall of Man. Insomniac is one of Sony’s prize jewels, an exclusive PS3 developer who makes big hits on a tight time schedule. This time around however, for the very first time in fact, I wasn’t pleased with their output. This game has its moments and is sure to be enjoyed by many but I’ve played too many shooters to accept a second-rate product from a first-rate company, especially in the saturated season we fortunately find ourselves in.

Resistance 2 continues the story of Nathan Hale and an alien invasion that takes place on an alternate earth in our World War II era. The all-powerful Chimera have filled America’s skies with massive warships and are exterminating the nation in a maelstrom of nuclear fire. Playing Hale you will visit various locales throughout the States, gun down the inhuman enemy in droves, and perform the standard suite of special forces-type missions that are always used in games to explain how one man can destroy whole battalions of troops, detonate massive pieces of architecture, and change the course of a war.

Resistance 2 achieves an impressive scale in terms of both the size of its enemies and the amount of them on screen at a time. To do this however they had to sacrifice a large degree of detail. This isn’t so bad when the game has you in large, outdoor spaces but when Hale goes indoors to military bunkers the game looks cheap. The only time the game’s many indoor segments look pretty are when you are traversing through predictable alien environments with their mirror-like sheen, weird geometry, and utter absence of anything else. Just what are the aliens doing with those acres of empty real estate? Even when the environments of Resistance 2 look okay they don’t ever live or breathe. The atmosphere throughout the game is thin.

It’s apparent that the developers fell in love with Call of Duty 4 between their first game and the second. All of the shooter mechanics have switched over, from the iron sights aiming, to the 'red screen' health regeneration, to the limited weapon inventory. This could have been a good thing if they were able to achieve such precise results as Infinity Ward did with their game, but Insomniac didn’t. The shooter controls are spongy and inaccurate despite fiddling with settings so instead of achieving the more satisfactory ‘stop and pop’ style of gun play you’re forced to ‘spray and pray’ instead. As well the HUGE crosshairs are awful, part of that word is made up of 'hair' as in: thin strand of, for a damn good reason.

Hale is a super-absorbent bullet sponge on normal difficulty and as a result you don’t need to respect the lines of fire. You wind up learning that it’s okay to be hosed down with the glowing tennis balls that passes for lethal ammo because they hit you to little effect. Perhaps they had to make this concession due to the number of enemies attacking you on screen but the end result is unrealistic and inconsequential feeling combat. When an enemy has you in its sights and is plunking away at you three, four, five times, you know you still can take a couple more rounds before you need to get behind cover.

This slavish mimicry to another game went to the point where it even worked against Insomniac’s established strengths. This company has always been great at creating a variety of interesting, imaginative, and even wacky weapons with which to dispatch your foes. In the first Resistance game you eventually had access to a huge variety of firepower and the strength in that was there was always a different way to approach a battle. In the second game they went with the 'two weapons only' mechanic which is fine for realistic shooters but not so good with far fetched enemies. Every time a giant-sized monster appeared on the screen I knew there would be a rocket launcher or similar heavy weapon lying in wait for me. In Resistance 2 you are told in no uncertain terms how to play their game, a little too much for my tastes.

Hand holding: every game needs it to a certain degree, to keep players moving along, but when it happens too much it becomes the unwelcome guest. I don’t know why Insomniac thought that pulling the player out of the game into even the most minuscule of cut scenes was a good idea but it abounds and is wholly unnecessary. Another gripe I have in this regard is a certain type of enemy that cannot be killed in any way. You have the ability to bring down a three hundred foot tall creature but this one type of medium-sized enemy remains impervious to any and all weaponry.

Taking this to its logical conclusion one should surmise that an impenetrible enemy will spell the doom of the human race eventually but worry not, for there are invulnerable humans to balance out this clear advantage. Hale gains companions in this game, annoying tough guys who cramp Hale's style and chew up scenery trying to justify their existance. Also, the enemies rush right by them to attack you. Apparently poor Nathan didn't get the memo to pick up his invisibilty device and so you get to watch wave after wave of Chimera ignore your teammates and come right after you. You can hide behind your buddies but hilariously this does you no good. You are the squad's resident spank-monkey so pucker up and yes sir, you may have another. This my friends looks and plays as half-assed and unacceptable as it sounds.

What’s at the heart of these design choices is a ‘play our way or the highway’ philosophy that exposes the limitations of what you can do in the game. Once players experience this stuff they lose immersion. These are old school shortcomings and I don’t mean that in the good way. Most designers have dropped these conventions and so I am perplexed as to why Insomniac went back to them, to old design compromises that weren’t even present in the first game?

Beyond the single player experience there is what seems to be a beefy cooperative game and multiplayer competition. If you liked the game mechanics then these are welcome additions that will add value to the disk. After finishing the game I briefly tried these modes and came to realise that there was no way I was using this particular shooter to grind through a bunch of levels and upgrades. I just didn’t like it enough to spend any more time with it.

Perhaps Resistance 2 to was going to be a higher quality game that got rushed to completion? Few companies have been as prolific this generation as Insomniac has and maybe this game is revealing where their development schedule is starting to tear at the seams. I'm guessing of course. The first Resistance game was treated by most, including me, with softer gloves because it was Insomniac’s first attempt at a mature shooter and there was much of their good work ethic in place to mitigate some of the freshman errors. Now with this sophomore effort we see the game they supposedly wanted to make with the experience of the first, and the end result is my own personal final verdict on the franchise: Resistance isn’t a very serious shooter and it doesn’t need to be followed any longer. I won’t just be trading in Resistance 2 but the first title as well because this series isn’t going anywhere I’m interested in. Oh well, there’s always Ratchet and Clank.

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