Resistance 2 is an homage to all the first person shooters preceding it. And by “homage” I mean “cliche.” Halo, Half Life, Bioshock, House of the Dead – they’ve all been cut up into little pieces and shoved into the mouth of the golem that is Resistance 2. It’s the type of game an idiot savant might create: The developers understand the details, but there’s a fundamental inability to recognize the bigger picture to which these elements belong. Resistance 2 represents the industry’s worst conservatism, a paint-by-numbers creation starved for inspiration in all aspects. It’s unfortunate, because it had a large budget that, in the hands of a more inspired team, might have added up to something.
I’m not surprised though, as Insomniac’s games have lately started to feel like the product of an especially efficient assembly line at GM. Their Ratchet and Clank series in particular typifies this kind of reliable but iterative usage of templates. In Resistance 2 this laziness of vision – and the single player campaign does feel incredibly nearsighted – comes through most strongly in the visuals. There are a few levels that provide a measure of almost tactile verisimilitude, but for the most part you get the sense you’re playing against a series of blue screens onto which backgrounds of alien towers and ships are projected at random. In the poorly hidden artifice, often with the biggest set pieces revealing themselves as nothing more than moving wallpaper, the game becomes a series of anticlimactic moments. I emerged from one of the early level’s underground bunkers expecting a glorious alien invasion and was instead greeted by a poorly digitized two dimensional backdrop of an invasion with a few polygonal alien ships dangling from their virtual fishing line. The game is full of these sorts of primitive visual tricks that might fool a second grader. But the rest of us, the ones old enough to buy the game, know the difference between a soundstage and a location shot. Other games are guilty of it, but none in recent memory have failed to disguise it so blatantly.
Resistance 2 is set in an alternate 1950’s reality. The cars seem like they are from the ’50s and radios placed throughout the game play diegetic period music, but that seems to be the extent of the game’s efforts to create a sense of time and place. The American cities you travel through are collections of random buildings with no distinguishing landmarks. The eeriest sections of the game are those that are the most generic, as if the Stepford wives got their hands on this game and refashioned it into their boring image. Mash these dead environments together with a series of alien locations jacked wholesale from Halo and the Citadel of Half Life 2, and you’ve got Resistance 2’s art direction. There are some slimy aliens that hatch from – get this – cocoons. The main character also has a shaved head, a taciturn manner about him and no semblance of an inner life. Stop me if this sounds familiar. More solid gameplay could have made the game’s dismally unoriginal settings and characters a non-issue, but the game fails spectacularly in that sense as well.
The gameplay ostensibly takes the best of both Halo and Half Life by mixing together the relatively expansive skirmishes of the former with the speedier, more confined action of the latter. In practice, Insomniac have created a game that plays a lot like House of the Dead in that it throws masses of enemies at the player which he must eventually shoot his way through. There’s no strategic movement at work or incentive to use one weapon over another – its a straightforward run and gun. The game works pretty well in this capacity, to the point that I wonder why they even bothered with abilities like ducking, roadie running, jumping or even walking. The real question is why this game didn’t come bundled with a lightgun.
But, as one of my colleagues pointed out, the single-player campaign is often just a perfunctory exercise for a game that is truly about the multiplayer experience. And in this respect the game looked like it might fare better. It does, but only slightly. The co-op portion of the game assigns classes (medic, special ops, etc) to everyone, which might be interesting with stronger level design. My experience consisted of running down a series of hallways with seven other guys, shooting masses of enemies while occasionally reviving my dead teammates.
I also tried in vain to find one of the 60-player skirmishes the game supposedly features, but server problems prevented me from doing so. There’s an experience system that may have significant bearing on the way the competitive play ends up balancing out, but until the maps really start filling out with players it’s hard to say how those will hold up either. What I can say is that, so far, there’s little to convince me this game is going to go in any directions we haven’t already seen with Halo 3 and Call of Duty 4. The multiplayer in the game is certainly more entertaining than the single-player campaign, but I’m not sure it’s fresh enough to hold players’ attentions in the months to come.
Resistance 2 is a mediocre game. Reviewers are often loathe to flat-out criticize a game that’s competently executed; for some, another outing with bug-eyed aliens and Doom-inspired gameplay will be enough. But players need to demand and expect more from their games, even if it comes at the expense of polish. Insomniac assumes gamers will buy into tired gameplay because the package is shiny. Let’s show them we’re not a school of fish.
Bottom line: You’ve played this game before – many times before.
Recommendation: Don’t buy this game.
Tom Endo is cleansing his palate with some LittleBigPlanet.