[Editor’s Note: The final score was slightly influenced by the game’s network issues. As these could be remedied at any point, an update to the score is not out of the question in the future.]
Resistance: Fall of Man was the pinnacle of the PlayStation 3 launch line-up. While clearly a first generation title, Resistance featured polished gameplay and concurrently hinted at the technical prowess of the PS3. Two years down the road, Insomniac Games has finished work on the sequel. Though it’s not flawless, Resistance 2 maintains Insomniac’s extremely high quality standard.
Resistance 2 picks up right where Fall of Man left off. Nathan Hale walks wearily up a snowy hillside, head hanging, about to collapse. A helicopter descends. Several men step out and forcefully escort Hale back to the copter. Cue Resistance 2. The game literally begins with the final cinematic from Resistance: Fall of Man, which then seamlessly transitions into the Resistance 2 intro sequence. You’ll immediately notice a few distinct differences – the narrator is gone, and Hale seems to have acquired vocal chords. Additionally, the use of motion capture and the InterSense camera creates a vast improvement in cinematic direction; the real-time cutscenes look like segments straight out of a CG movie.
Despite the pretty presentation, the plot slogs a bit for a series that initially had gamers so entranced. Hale hops from location to location – primarily throughout the U.S. – with little rhyme or reason. It feels like Insomniac decided to have chapters set in particular locations, then crafted the rationale for why Hale and crew had to go there. The diamonds in the rough here are the various ‘intel’ documents scattered about the stages. It’s a bit ironic how in the days of such advanced technology, sometimes plain, old-fashioned text can tell a story best. Throughout the later chapters, the narrative admittedly picks up a great deal, and ultimately ends with a bang.
Resistance 2 may take you across the pond, but you can be sure to encounter familiar foes. The Chimera are back and stronger than ever. As Hale continues to resist their torment, new enemy types will find increasingly more effective ways of dispatching him. Grims overpower you with their sheer numbers, charging repeatedly in tireless packs. Chameleons, as their name implies, cloak themselves and catch you unaware. Ravagers take cover behind their shields, and then proceed to charge and smack you senseless. In total, 12 new Chimeran enemies make their debut in Resistance 2, and it’s a blast to shoot every one of them to shreds.
That is, if they don’t get you first, which they will. A lot. Resistance 2 is a hard game, which is generally quite refreshing. Even on Normal, you must be on your toes if you want to make it to the next checkpoint. Enemy A.I. is excellent, with one aggravating exception; the Chimera will constantly ignore your allies and attack you and only you. Not only does this make some portions of unfairly difficult, it draws you out of the experience when eight Grims dash past your four comrades, all firing powerful automatic weapons, and maul you while you’re simply strolling about enjoying the view.
Once the Grims are there, odd A.I. or not, you have to eliminate them, and that requires a powerful arsenal. Luckily, the folks at Insomniac are renowned for their brilliant weapon design, and Resistance 2 is an opportunity for them to display their creative prowess. While old favorites like the Carbine, Bullseye, and L23 Fareye sniper rifle returns, some new tech is uncovered as you trudge through wave after wave of Chimeran foe. Making their debut are a semi-automatic rifle dubbed the Marksman, a .44 Magnum revolver with an explosive secondary fire, a massive chain-gun which tears through Chimeran flesh, and a blade-flinging weapon called the Splicer. In a notable difference from the first game, you’re only able to carry two firearms at once, rather than the game’s entire weapon set. While this design decision surely spawned some intense firefights that wouldn’t have been experienced otherwise, it’s irritating to die and respawn with an altered weapon set (though that only happens occasionally).
The defining difference between the campaign in Resistance: Fall of Man and Resistance 2 are the boss battles. The Leviathan has gotten major media attention, and indeed that encounter is arguably the most epic, but the others are no lackluster events either. Boss fights in first-person shooters can be tricky to get right, but Insomniac did a great job with both the design and execution of these battles. Getting a cleverly named Trophy after every one doesn’t hurt either.
Even when you’ve defeated the final boss, thus completing the single-player campaign, the game is far from over. There are two other main modes: cooperative and competitive. Let’s begin with competitive play. Insomniac has upped the player cap to 60, which is an incredible technical achievement. With any action, however, there’s always an equal and opposite reaction. In this case, with the maximum, number of players increasing by a 2:3 ratio, the number of modes decreases by a 3:2 ratio (six in Fall of Man to four in Resistance 2). What’s present though – Core Control (Capture the Flag), Team Deathmatch, Deathmatch, and Skirmish (objective-based battle) – works well, particularly Skirmish, which features a perfect balance between intimate play and massive warfare. Plus there’s a ranking system where all in-game actions garner experience, which is always appreciated.
You think cooperative, and you expect two, maybe four people total. Resistance 2 has drop in, drop out online co-op with unique levels, eight players slots, three character classes, and difficulty that dynamically scales based on the number of players present. Essentially, it’s the most ambitious cooperative play ever seen in any game to date, and it works. It feels enormously different from the campaign and competitive play. If I had to draw an accurate comparison, it feels like Fallout 3 with eight times the allies and enemies. The RPG elements are very prominent here. Over time, your character will level up, allowing you to acquire numerous upgrades including new weapons, armor and abilities. There’s also a large amount of teamwork involved. Good communication helps, but you’re rewarded with experience points for being a team player, so nearly any group of rag-tag soldiers will end up working together.
But you can’t work together if your connection doesn’t last long enough, and right now, both of the game’s online modes have serious issues. Tested on two different systems with two different, reliable Internet connections, I was booted out of matches frequently, and various online aspects, like the in-game friends list, often refused to function at all. This may not trouble all players, but it’s evident that such problems clearly need to be patched up to accommodate everyone.
If you’ve already completed the campaign and online isn’t functioning, you can always replay levels if only to gaze at the game’s crisp visuals one more time. They’re not the absolute best on the PlayStation 3, but Resistance 2 is one fine-looking game. Textures and normal maps have been entirely overhauled, the lighting system has been completely revamped to include dynamic lights and self-shadowing, character movement is now based on motion capture instead of hand-animation, engine upgrades allow for larger vistas and enemies, and so on. And that’s without any framerate drops. Oh, and the water is really, really pretty. There’s the occasional visual bug or oddity, but for the most part Resistance 2 is an incredibly polished game.
In fact, that’s the best way to describe Resistance 2: polished. With the exception of some shaky network issues, Resistance 2 is incredibly refined. The gameplay, visuals, and features all scream high production values, and more importantly, great execution. With the risk of being entirely cliché in mind, you shouldn’t resist the urge to pick this one up.