Resistance 2 is like a kinky relationship — confusing and frustrating until you add a few more people, and only then a genuine blast. The sequel to 2006’s Resistance: Fall of Man, spearheads the 2008 holiday lineup for the PS3, hoping to fill the online shooter void in the console’s library, but vexing difficulty and numerous cheap deaths prevents full enjoyment Resistance 2’s single player campaign. Online, however, it can’t be beat.
The single player campaign picks up right after the end of the first game. Series protagonist Nathan Hale — who has gained the ability to speak since the first game — is picked up by a shadowy group of governmental figures after thwarting the alien Chimera’s attempts to annihilate the human race. Thanks to a new treatment that inhibits the progression of the Chimeran virus, Hale is placed in an entire unit of half-Chimeran soldiers dubbed the "Specter." From here, Hale wrecks one Chimeran outpost after another, nonsensically avoiding inhibitor treatment and eventually risking complete Chimeran conversion.
The game’s characters are entirely uninteresting, serving little more purpose than to scream military jargon and absorb some gunfire. The game deals with an unexplained alien enemy as well, so plot elements seem pulled from nowhere with little explanation. The arbitrary nature of the story prevents any real involvement with the setting or characters. Intel documents sprinkled in levels attempt to add depth to the game, but they are presented in such a dry and impersonal way that it fails to make any connection.
While Resistance 2’s narrative may not be worth much, the game does impress with scale and spectacle. A handful of events in the campaign inspire absolute awe: fighting a gigantic bipedal robot, overlooking an alien fleet complete with massive capital ships and swarming fighters, and being tossed through downtown Chicago by a 20-story tall troll. The campaign may not have a plot on par with Bioshock or Half Life, but it certainly could have survived on virtue of these events — if only the game wasn’t so damned cheap.
Resistance 2’s difficulty neuters any entertainment that could’ve been derived from the single player campaign. Hale is incredibly fragile; less than one second of direct fire will drop him even at full health, and the player will likely be killed if caught standing in the open when a wave of enemies spawns. An unforgiving health system isn’t the only problem. For example, one enemy in the game, the "chameleon," is invisible most of the time, except for perhaps a half-second before lunging at the player with a fatal melee attack. If the player is looking the wrong way, reloading, or even slightly slow on the draw, Hale will die instantly. Experiences like this feel downright anachronistic in a game that’s otherwise so modern.
Progressing through the single player campaign devolves into very unsatisfying trial and error. The game offers frequent checkpoints to reduce the frustration, but relying on them is a crutch for outright poor difficulty implementation. To put it another way, a week after finishing the campaign I can still recall the four-note dissonant horn jingle that’s played upon death. I heard it that often.
The single player campaign can offer some entertaining gunplay and remarkable spectacles, but only players with saint-like patience won’t lose their temper. Because of this, Resistance 2’s value hinges on whether or not the player has an Internet connection. Both the competitive and cooperative modes are by far the best online shooter experiences available on the PS3 to date. Playing online is fun, fast, and smooth, and it doesn’t make one want to swat a member of Insomniac with a rolled up newspaper every five minutes.
Games run smoothly without any pesky latency issues that have plagued other online PS3 titles. Players can go from the title screen to playing in a match in under a minute. They can allow the game to find the best match available, specify a game type, or even look at a list of all available games.
Resistance 2 also boasts a rank and level system, offering awards and customization options to players that earn enough multiplayer experience. Players have a rank to represent their overall skill level (which can be increased by playing any mode), and a specific level associated with both competitive and cooperative play. Earning experience in ranked matches of a particular game type increases its associated level and unlocks rewards specific to that type.
In order to craft a more unique multiplayer experience, Resistance 2 lets players customize their weapon loadout and "berserk abilities," both of which increase as the player levels up. Berserk abilities are charged by earning experience in battle, and can be activated to provide bonuses as simple as reducing the damage a player takes to allowing the player and close teammates to see enemies through walls. These abilities add strategic elements to the game, and open up quite a few interesting berserk/weapon loadout combinations. These basic mechanics turn Resistance 2’s online experience into something different than you might find in Halo or Gears of War.
Resistance 2 also uniquely offers 64-player deathmatch. When one hears this, they immediately conjure a mental image of how awesome this must be — players swarming everywhere, bullets streaking across the sky, and the cacophony of war pounding relentlessly. This is mostly realized, except for the sound. Presumably scaled back for technical limitations (either latency or local processing), the only sounds from other players are the constant grunts of pain and death throes. Gunfire is either not present or muffled, which makes the full-volume report of the player’s own weapon very disorienting. The play environment seems strange, almost creepy, as though the entire battle is taking place underwater. In all other ways, these huge battles play out well and accurately recreate the absolute chaos of a large-scale battle.
Resistance 2 also adds a new competitive mode called Skirmish. Players are put into one of two teams, and then further divided into squads of four to six players each. During the game, squads are assigned an objective such as "capture/defend this point," "gather your squad at this point" or "kill this enemy target," and are awarded points for successful completion of those objectives. The team that reaches the point goal first wins. This works well; spontaneous objectives force players to think on their toes and constantly scramble to stay in the lead. Random objectives do get jumbled at times, but never enough to destroy the fun and flow of the match.
Co-operative play is one of the best surprises in Resistance 2. As with large-scale deathmatch, players may have a precept of cooperative play along the lines of Gears of War or Army of Two. The reality is much different, though not negatively so. Players can choose from one of three classes — Soldier, Medic, or SpecOps — and team up to try and play through one of the game’s six co-op missions. These levels are extremely simple, mostly revolving around pressing a button, running to an area and mowing down tons of enemies. As such, the co-op in Resistance 2 is more hack-n-slash than co-operative shooter.
The classes are designed to be dependent on each other, with medics healing, SpecOps supplying ammunition, and Soldiers creating force barriers to protect the team. Each class can level up, gain new abilities and even use “grey tech” acquired from bosses to purchase attribute-enhancing equipment. As strange as it may sound, co-op in Resistance 2 feels more like a first-person Diablo than a traditional cooperative shooter, and that’s not a bad thing at all.
Resistance 2’s visuals are polished and smooth. The game palette is dominated by yellow, opting for high-contrast visuals. This gives the game a bleak and alien feel, and lends a sepia photo feeling to the towns and countryside. Environments inside the alien towers boast snaking tubes and pipes so intricate they go a long way towards making the trip worthwhile. The game’s engine also capably renders large vistas, impressing a sense of scale on the player that can be breathtaking at times.
Insomniac has some real talent; Resistance 2’s multiplayer is proof positive of that. In a game that does so much right, it’s absolutely flummoxing why Insomniac made the campaign as artificially difficult as it is. Regardless, players aching for a PS3 online shooter have found it. Players looking for a fulfilling and entertaining single-player campaign should keep looking — or invest in a bottle of Advil.