Despite promising to be a game that was by all accounts bigger, better and more epic than its predecessor, Resistance 2 was one wrought with many problems. A victim of its own huge ambition, it was a game that promised so much but ultimately could not deliver the bite behind developer Insomniac's bark. Returning to the same universe after the conclusion of R2, Resistance 3 is something of a series reboot with a new hero, back to basics game design and Insomniac's renewed devotion to make things right again.
Playing as Joseph Capelli, who fans might remember as the man who ended R2, players are thrust into an alternative version of the 1950s that is now completely overrun by alien/infected bad-guys known as the "Chimera". As one of only a few pockets of humanity left to carry on the fight, Joe and his family are struggling to make a life in the American countryside, while the gradual Chimeran-induced climate change puts their future survival in a dubious position. When Russian scientist Malikov, another series veteran, suddenly arrives with a clichéd last hope of turning the conflict around to defeat the Chimera and restore the planet back to its natural state, the two men embark on a journey across America to destroy the Chimera's base for good. Indeed, the story is one that has been written countless times before, but it serves as a decent enough vehicle to keep the action going.
When Resistance 2 was released, much fan criticism was directed toward the changes made to the inventory system. Out was Fall of Man's weapon wheel which allowed you to carry the entire arsenal of oddball weaponry; in was a two guns only system inspired by popular titles like Halo and Call of Duty. While it seemed like a relatively small change with the intent of streamlining the game, it affected the brilliant "right gun for the right situation" mentality of the original. As a result there were far more scripted encounters with the Chimera using whatever gun Insomniac happened to provide you with at the time, instead of figuring out yourself how best to tackle the situation with what you had.
Thankfully Insomniac have seen the error of their ways and fully reinstated the weapon wheel in Resistance 3. In addition to this, a level-up system for each gun further hammers home the point that you should be changing weapons as much as possible to survive more effectively. It works in the rudimentary way of awarding your weapon experience points per kill, but when you see that your level 2 shotgun now fires flame rounds and has undergone an awesome visual transformation, you can't help but feel satisfied with the system in spite of its simplicity. All of the wacky alternative fire modes, such as the homing rounds for the Bullseye and the deployable energy shield for the Auger return once again, and the entire arsenal just feels smoother to aim than in previous Resistance games.
It's not just weapon choice that factors into the strategy either - in a brave move, Insomniac have ditched regenerating health for a vintage health pack system. Bear with me, before whatever you have in your mouth is projected all over your screen in disgust: it works surprisingly well, and even feels refreshing after such a long absence. No longer can you mindlessly charge into the fray and expect to retreat back to relative safety, only to rinse and repeat until all Chimera are dead. Health packs are balanced well by not only being scattered throughout the maps, but are also dropped by dead Chimera. The entire system creates a tactical "kill-or-be-killed" feeling that ties in perfectly with the desperate theme of the game, and also makes sense given that new protagonist Joe is a normal human.
Other criticized aspects of R2's campaign were the lacking objectives and some poor enemy encounters. R3 feels more natural in this regard, mixing up just the right concoction of enemies in relation to how much firepower you currently possess. Environments are suitably war torn and provide fun hunting grounds for the Chimera, particularly the later levels which are set in cities full of underground subways and bombed out buildings. There are occasionally some cinematic sections of the game in which you just have to run for your life from huge Chimera - these are usually quite spectacular to watch, but they require little skill to pass. While trying to keep spoilers to a minimum, there is a particularly brutal turn in the story about 3/4 through which provides some variety in the form of melee combat and a bit of baby's first stealth game.
After two years of development, Resistance 2 received a lot of flak for an unfinished look to many of its levels. This time around, Insomniac have taken an extra year creating Resistance 3 and it certainly translates to a better looking game on screen. Utilizing a new lighting system to add weight to every scene, as well as virtually every post-processing effect in the book, it is a marked step up from all of Insomniac's previous efforts and occasionally even manages to stun. One particularly impressive aspect is how deftly the engine manages to handle both the micro level detail of small environments as well as the macro level detail of the massive set pieces. Little effects like dust swirling around the environment and the return of Fall of Man's brilliant snow effect can sometimes make you stop just to look around.
The color tone of browns and greys is an often criticized part of today's games, and some might not appreciate its return in R3, but it compliments the apocalyptic mood perfectly and there is just enough tonal variety to keep it interesting. The only negative aspect of the visuals that I can point out is that the game runs in a sub-HD resolution which can make it look quite blurry, but it generally works in tandem with the post-processing effects to create an appealingly dirty image.
While not pertaining to graphics, a special nod has to be given to the game's immersive DTS 7.1 sound mix. The pew pews of the guns are beefy and the surround adds a thick layer of atmosphere to the game's outdoor scenes. The sound effects of the Chimera, particularly their dropships, contribute to their ominous nature - you always know that bad news is heading your way when you can hear their signature hum swooping in, a bit like the Combine Gunships in Half-life 2. The music isn't particularly memorable but manages to (unsurprisingly) set the tone better than Resistance 2's soundtrack.
The changes made to the gameplay have restored R3 back to the quality of Fall of Man, and it can be argued that the inclusion of new elements like the weapon levelling system and the changed health system make it even better. The campaign tops R2 in practically every area, feeling consistent, polished and also actually finished this time - Insomniac's devotion to making the series right again beams throughout. In terms of an ending to the trilogy, it provides us with answers that are not completely unexpected, but also not too ridiculous either. The final scene was appropriate, although it was quite brief and could have added more context to the events that had just unfolded.
In addition to singleplayer, there is a robust online mode with all the options that you would expect to find, as well as the reintroduction of R2's regenerating health. Player count has been scaled back significantly from R2's busy 40 players to just 16, but it's not a negative as the experience feels more focused and intimate as a result. The unique weapons in the Resistance universe have always helped differentiate the online from other games, so it's all the more pleasing that Insomniac have broadened their appeal with the levelling system. Due to fierce competition from Battlefield, Gears, Call of Duty and Halo, online might not grip you for quite as long, but it still adds enough additional value to the package to be relevant. It should be noted that the online requires a network pass to play, which is included with all new copies of the game and is available to purchase separately on PSN - used buyers beware.
As a conclusion to the franchise (no doubt pending an awkwardly justified fourth game and spin-offs), Resistance 3 manages to send it off as gracefully as possible. It is not going to suddenly elevate Resistance to the hall of fame of the FPS genre, but Insomniac Games manages to deliver the most solid title in the series to date - so much so that it almost seems like a shame that it's ending. With Christmas around the corner and prices dropping, it seems like an ideal stocking filler - definitely a better proposition than a lump of coal.