Why Resistance 3 may end up being a lost classic

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There’s a good chance you haven’t bothered playing Resistance 3 yet. In truth, I wasn’t going to bother playing it at all. It was only once the game actually came out that I started to notice any buzz at all. Whether it was colleagues in the office or folk on my Twitter timeline, the message was the same: “Uh, isn’t this a bit bloody good?” And I could understand the surprise. Truth is, the first two Resistances were a bit bloody average. But the new game isn’t just a good. It’s brilliant.

Resistance 3 feels like the game Insomniac’s team have always thought they were making – beautiful, spooky, inventive, smart and retro all at once. So much so that I’ve come to see the Resistance trilogy as the perfect inverse of The Godfather movies: two bum instalments followed by a masterpiece.

Yep, that’s right: masterpiece.

It’s comfortably my shooter of the year, edging out Bulletstorm (with it’s equally inventive arsenal) and Deus Ex: Human Revolution (which arguably isn’t even a shooter) on the PS3 podium. The bedrock for its brilliance is a series of design decisions that underpin the gameplay and give it a different flavour to other shooters around now.

The first is opting against the health recharge system standardised in most modern shooters in favour of a more trad collection mechanic. The result is that every time you get shot it counts, because you can never be sure how far off the next health pack is. The perverse effect of this added danger is that you end up pushing aggressively into enemy territory, dodging bullets while hunting for first aid, rather than constantly hiding behind a rock waiting for a magic shield to refill.

It makes the action don’t-blink tense, and reminded me why I liked the original Medal Of Honor on PS2. There’s also a whiff of survival horror to the way you have to look after your health bar, which is amplified by the gloriously eerie music and, most of all, the Chimera themselves.

Previously, I thought they were some of the dullest enemies I’d ever had to crush underfoot. Not because of the art design – there’s little not to like about knife-mouthed mutants with enough eyes to play a decent game of marbles – but they were horrendous bullet sponges who barely reacted to being shot until eventually collapsing with the feeblest of whimpers.

Not now.

Now they howl in strangled, guttural, alien voices as you light them up, their spindly limbs flailing. Or better yet they fizz and pop as their coolant systems go yellow light of (actual) death. Which looks especially cool when you tag a Longlegs with the Bullseye and it pops like a cherry bomb in mid-air.

Oh, and headshots are total gore fountains. All of which is good, not just because I’m a digital sadist – well, a little – but because it makes the weapon set feel properly punchy and dramatic.

Don’t think the Chimera are just witless alien ducks lining up to be shot though. They’re some of the most aggressive, cunning enemies it’s been my pleasure to widow the wives of. The crucial AI litmus test they pass is that they won’t just wander through a door if they’re sure you’re waiting crouched to the side with a shotty. They’ll also flank aggressively, and when they do charge at you it’s  genuinely panic-inducing because they’re so damn fast.

Luckily, you’ve got guns – so many guns – and they’re all wonderfully balanced and creative. Seriously: all of them. There’s not a single duffer in the game. If you came for realism, you bought a ticket to the wrong party, though.

Another seemingly retro design choice is allowing the player to carry enough weapons to shoot the moon out orbit. But here’s why it’s the right call. Enabling you to pick from an enormous wagon wheel of death – and pausing the action as you do so – encourages tactical thinking, especially when you factor in secondary fire modes and the layer of RPG special sauce that means the guns’ functionality improves as you use them.

Case in point: during the first Widowmaker battle I Bullseye tagged its weak points so I could hide (heroically) behind pillars while pounding its eyes. Once the oversized spider’s guts had flopped out I found it trickier to get a lock, so switched to the even cheatier X-Ray Auger and lasered it not just through the safety of the walls, but actually making the shots pass through its body to hit the not-so-sweet fleshy spot. Bam! And pretty much every encounter is like that. You can tailor your approach by switching between weapons in a way that’s impossible when you’re limited to two guns at a time.

Technically, it’s a show-stopper too. From the terrifying mining town/homage to Half-Life’s Ravenholm, to the snow-crusted streets of New York, the art design is consistently lush and impressive. There’s a neat road movie vibe to it too, and a sense of the stakes increasing as Capelli gets closer to the climax above the frozen American capital.

In fact, scratching around for criticisms, all I can come up with is that the story and characters are pretty stock stuff, and the ending is a bit of a damp squib. But to reference The Godfather again, we’re talking small potatoes. And anyway, as soon as I was finished I wanted to dive back in so I could max out my remaining guns and try a different approach to my favourite scenes. For me, there’s no surer sign that you’re in the company of an AAA shooter.

So it’s depressing to look at the PS3 chart and see the utterly average Dead Island has taken the top spot from Resistance 3. I guess the sad thing is that Insomniac is like the little boy who cried ‘brilliant alien invasion B-movie game’ twice, and people were wary of believing them a third time, whereas Deep Silver has proved just how far a brilliant but unrepresentative trailer can take you.

Perhaps how good Resistance 3 actually is even caught Sony off-guard. Or maybe it only really came together late in development (certainly, its E3 stage demo did it no favours). Because otherwise I’d say the game needed to be put in the hands of fans and  press a lot earlier, to get the message out that Insomniac had – finally – nailed it.

Here’s the real kicker though. Just as I started caring about Resistance, Insomniac seemingly decided it’s not going to make them anymore – presumably to focus on Ratchet & Clank and Overstrike instead. Sure, there’s the Vita game being developed by Nihilistic, but it seems perverse that just when they’d mastered the potentially insanely lucrative first-person genre, Insomniac might be abandoning it. So do your bit for the Resistance: don’t make the same mistake I did by assuming it’d just be more of the same. Seek out a copy and savour the best sci-fi shooter on PS3. You heard, Killzone.