Insomniac is an incredibly talented development studio, responsible for one of the PS3's best games in the form of Ratchet and Clank: Tools of Destruction, but developing the PS3's premier FPS is something else entirely. With the console war more heated than ever before certain games are held up as talismans - a reason to buy one console over another - and Sony simply hasn't had an FPS to compete with the might of Microsoft's Halo. It tried first with Killzone on the PS2 and failed, and now Resistance flies the flag for the PS3. Although the original game proved to be a stellar launch title, is the sequel the system seller FPS Sony needs?
This sequel picks up where the last game ended, with hero Nathan Hale an exhausted, almost beaten figure of a man. The alien race known as the Chimera, which focussed its assault on the UK in the first game, is this time attacking the East and West coast of the US, so it's up to you as Hale and a special Sentinel task force to stop them. Things are hard enough, but Hale is also always having to contend with the Chimeran virus that gradually takes hold of him throughout the campaign. Once again the alternate reality history means that the world in the 1950s is very different to how it actually was, with more advanced weapons and technology at your disposal.
One of the key differences to the original is the diversity of the campaign levels, with Hale being taken to all manner of locations, from run down cities to swamps and alien space ships. This has allowed Insomniac to move away from the many hues of brown that more or less defined the original. Diversity is good, but Resistance 2 struggles to tie everything together, with the campaign feeling quite disjointed. The storyline in the original failed to make too much of an impact on us, mainly due to the lead character's lack of likeability. Insomniac has worked on making Hale a more rounded character (who actually speaks this time), but even after two games we struggled to feel a connection to him as the hero.
This doesn't stop the core first-person gameplay being solid and from time to time quite exhilarating. The majority of fun stems from the weapons you'll get access to, with many old favourites returning (the homing bullet Bullseye and through wall shooting Auger being two of the best) alongside a load of excellent newcomers. Your own play style will determine which you prefer, but at times it's incredibly hard to decide which two you want to carry - sadly Insomniac has adopted a Halo-style two weapon approach. Our favourites of the newcomers include the superb Marksman, a long-range battle rifle; a brilliant Magnum revolver that allows you to detonate bullets on secondary fire; and the Wraith gattling gun, complete with shield on secondary fire. Top these off with some brilliant grenades and you've got an arsenal every FPS would be jealous of. Insomniac has always excelled at creating brilliant weapons and Resistance 2 is no exception.
This is all well and good, but good weapons need great levels and enemies, or they're useless. Resistance 2 has a bit of both, but isn't nearly consistent enough to take it into classic status. Enemies come thick and fast, are big and small, and generally behave intelligently - although from time to time they seem intent on killing you instead of the many team mates that stand in between. A few of of the large battles are great, but there are too many generic levels that could have come from any FPS of the last five years, and a number of cheap kill enemies that really serve no purpose other than to inject some unfair difficulty.
One new enemy, the Predator-like Chameleon, comes at you cloaked and makes the screen shake due to its heavy footsteps. This could have made for some brilliantly tense gameplay, with one or more of these beasts hunting you down, but what you get is a few moments where a handful come at you in turn, with you either shooting them dead in half a second or you being instantly killed. It's essentially a great enemy (although not exactly original), completely wasted. A water-based beast is equally strange, in that it will instantly kill you if you get near it, but you can't kill it. Even if you pump bullets into it while stood on dry land, just feet from it, it won't die.
Resistance 2's campaign doesn't really get going properly until you reach Chicago, with a big chunk of the game prior to that being fairly tame and disappointing. It's almost as if different teams made a few levels each, as the quality varies so much. Had every level matched Chicago in terms of thrilling, tense gameplay and visually impressive set pieces, we'd have had a real contender on our hands. Chicago mixes adrenaline pumping sections against wave after wave of stampeding Chimera, impressive level design and the best visuals the game has to offer. It's a level that shows what Resistance could become and highlights just how weak other parts of the game are - and don't get us started on the final, incredibly underwhelming boss battle.
As we've already touched on, visually Resistance 2 is an incredibly mixed experience. At its best it stands up with the best on the PS3, with highly detailed characters and enemies, spectacular set pieces and a unique style. At other times levels look bare, textures are rough and clash with one another, the lighting appears flat and the environment seems to have been put together rather hastily. Some of the worst offenders are the large boss enemies you'll fight, with a few in particular not nearly detailed enough for what is thought to be the most powerful console on the market. Certain stages also suffer from pretty terrible aliasing, with jagged edges appearing all over the place. One level seemed to suffer from this in a rather extreme way, and also saw smoke popping into view and lighting switching so quickly it was as if a light switch had been flicked.
Thankfully the single-player campaign is just part of the package, with Resistance 2 also including a separate co-op campaign for up to eight players (two on a single system), complete with unique class-based gameplay, and competitive multiplayer for up to 60 players. The sixty player competitive play is well done, with players competing in squads at different locations on the map. This might seem like cheating slightly (at times it feels like you're playing in much smaller games), but Insomniac should still be applauded for offering something that rival first-person shooters don't even come close to. This objective-based Skirmish mode is joined by the usual suspects, online performance is good and leaderboards are there to keep track of how you compare with the rest of the world. MyResistance.net is also available as a resource for all the stats you'd ever want, serving a similar purpose to Bungie.net for Halo 2 and 3.
Perhaps the most exciting and unique part of the game is the eight-player co-op, in which you choose from three classes (medic, solider and special ops) and level up your character as you progress. Encounters scale to who you're playing with (things won't be so tough if you're playing split-screen two-player co-op compared to a full eight-player co-op session) and objectives change from game to game, making this something you'll be able to come back to over and over again. All co-op games rely on teamwork, but here it's perhaps even more essential than usual. To succeed you'll need to make the most of each character class' abilities (thankfully you can change class at any point and not lose any progress you've made with your character).
In what is a similar set up to an RPG or MMO, you earn XP for kills, but you'll also earn it for doing what your character is designed for. Spec ops, for example, can re-supply soldiers with ammo, so doing this will earn XP, while medics will obviously earn XP for reviving fallen comrades. The more XP you earn, the better your ranking, and the more new weapons and Berserk powers you'll unlock. These Berserk powers play a vital role in the trickiest sections of the co-op campaign, in particular the medic's ring of health, that heals everyone that stands within the circular zone. Overall, co-op is a very different experience and, while not for everyone (especially those that wanted a more traditional co-op experience), is a brave move on Insomniac's part.
If you own a PS3 then there's no doubt that you should pick up Resistance 2. It's a solid FPS, with moments of brilliance and some top notch multiplayer modes. It isn't the system seller it could have been though. The campaign is the biggest offender, switching between mediocre and spectacular far too regularly, as does the presentation. The storyline and characters once again fall flat, with Insomniac failing to build anything to really care about into a sci-fi premise that has an awful lot of potential. There's plenty here to work with; we just hope Insomniac finally puts all the pieces together for the inevitable third game.