The controls might be a bit spotty, but Resistance: Retribution looks to be one of the more substantial handheld multiplayer experiences in some time.
When I said a couple days ago that I wished I'd never traded my PSP for a burrito (this is a true story), I meant it. For a system that used to be little more than a very sleek looking paperweight that I could watch Borat on using an outdated storage format, 2009's certainly looking like its time to shine: LittleBigPlanet, Rock Band, Assassin's Creed are coming to the handheld by year's end, Sony revealed earlier this week.
Though it didn't get mentioned in the midst of all those heavy hitters, Resistance: Retribution might deserve a closer look from PSP owners not content to wait for the fall line up. I got a brief taste of the game's meaty multiplayer portion recently, and though it's a little rough around the edges, there's still plenty to admire.
It looks phenomenal, for one. It's easy to forget how powerful the PSP is in the graphics department, but one look at Retribution's sleek interface, sharp textures, abundance of lighting effects and smooth framerate will quickly remind you that the PSP's basically a PS2 that can fit in your pocket. Last year's Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core took the cake for prettiest portable game, but Retribution easily steals that crown.
As for gameplay, Resistance fans might be a tad wary of Retribution's shift from first-person Chimera blasting to third-person. Rest assured there's a lot that's similar, from the overall sci-fi WWII ambiance to the weapons from the two PS3 games that show up here, including the gun that has a mobile forcefield that's way overpowered. And if you're just playing single-player and own Resistance 2, you can set it up so you're playing Retribution with the Dual Shock 3, making the experience even closer.
That's not the case in multiplayer, where you'll have to use the PSP's default setup. The left analog nub controls backward and forward movement and strafing, while you use the face buttons on the right to move the camera and aim. The d-pad is used for special actions, like jumping out of cover (the game will automatically put you in cover, which is by turns convenient and annoying) or reviving fallen allies if you get to them in time.
For someone who already finds dual analog stick aiming less than ideal, this control scheme was more than a bit unwieldy when it came to actually shooting at dudes. Developers Sony Bend (of Syphon Filter fame) saw this coming, though, and implemented an aim assist system that attempts to make things easier but really just turns shootoffs into auto-aim-while-strafing-offs. The aim assist is a bit too forgiving, although given that there was a wide margin in kills between the top players and the bottom losers, there's probably room for skill somewhere in there.
Maybe I just needed to get used to it more, maybe it just needs a little bit more tweaking - getting autoaim right in a shooter is some serious sorcery - but if Bend can get that together, they'll have a great package. Everything else delivers more than you'd expect from a handheld multiplayer mode. There are eight different gametypes (each supports 8 players max via ad hoc and online), from run-of-the-mill deathmatch variations and Capture The Flag, to Assimilation, where one team is the Chimera and are trying to assimilate humans on the other side. On top of that, all in-game stats get compiled and uploaded to the MyResistance site just like, well, a real console shooter, so all you stat whores can go gawk at your kill counts with the LAARK whenever you want.
I only got a taste of a couple of the gametypes, but what I did try left me impressed. The levels are nicely designed for the 8-player cap - you aren't constantly in a gunfight, but you never go too far without running into some action, either. And there were some strategic moments as well, like when a Chimera brother in arms and I bunkered down near a flag point and set up an ambush with some shotguns in hand, though, selfish player I am, I was too chicken to go revive my partner when he got shot up.
Multiplayer isn't exactly what we think of when we want our gaming portable. Long multiplayer sessions are better suited for sitting in a nice, comfy chair or a fat, comfy couch. Portable games are for bus rides or the john. Resistance: Retribution seems like it could work in either context - matches are fast-paced enough for an easy fix but can also last long enough and provide enough strategic opportunities to keep you glued for longer stretches of time. Sony Bend just needs to tweak that autoaim system, and they'll have a multiplayer experience worthy of the Resistance name.