May 30, 2013
Resistance 2 was epic. Nathan Hale’s final effort to save humanity was a roller coaster ride that took me to interesting places throughout the United States and pitted me against enormous Chimera. I don’t think the boss battles can be compared to anything another first-person shooter has included, before or since the game’s release. At the end of it all though, it was pretty shallow. For all the major fiends that were defeated, for Nathan Hale’s sacrifice, did humanity gain any ground against the Chimera? They didn’t really, and I’d like to think Insomniac Games was presenting players with the reality that it was a hopeless conflict for humanity.
Four years later humanity is still around, but surviving in small communities around the world. The Chimera are in control and terraforming the planet into a frigid wasteland. After killing Nathan Hale, Joseph Capelli wished to ride out the last days of humanity not sacrificing his in futile battles. After accepting the cure for the Chimeran virus living inside him, he settled down in Haven, Oklahoma with his wife and son. He’s a man that doesn’t want to fight anymore. However, when Fyodor Malikov comes knocking with a plan to prevent the Chimera from terraforming the planet though, he accompanies him to New York City at the behest of his wife.
In their cross-country trip, they bump into other communities of people surviving as best they can. They reach St. Louis by boat and encounter an ingenious group of fighters holding their own. After taking it to the Chimera to gather parts for an aircraft, they fly to Pennsylvania. Here, Joseph and Dr. Malikov meet with a religious community that considers the gargantuan Chimera living inside the nearby coal mines Satan. The last community they come upon before reaching New York City is a nightmarish group of prison inmates that usurped control of Graterford Prison near Philadelphia. The worst of humanity is brought out in this section and Malikov meets a gruesome end.
Despite the loss of Malikov, Joseph’s trip to New York City results in closure for the series. He’s not successful in eliminating the Chimera, but with the blow that’s dealt, it’s possible to imagine a scenario where humanity has a chance, and Insomniac bows out with messages of hope over the credits. I think the underlying message of Resistance 3 is very strong, and it’s that we’ll be just fine as long as we help each other out. It’s a theme that appears multiple times throughout the game and it’s apparent through Joseph’s actions with the people he meets and on the radio programs that play for the ears of the survivors.
Much to his chagrin and my enjoyment, Joseph needed to take up arms once more. At his disposal was the most diverse suite of weapons in the Resistance trilogy. This was the first time where I truly felt Insomniac’s penchant for weapons really showed. Of particular note were the Mutator and Cryogun. The former shot out globs of fluid containing highly infectious strains of the Chimeran virus. When struck by it, targets would succumb to explosive pustules that would form on their body. Secondary fire emitted a gas cloud that would have the same effect. The latter was succinctly described on the Resistance Wiki as a flamethrower that used ice instead of fire. This primary fire was aided by a secondary fire that burst out a shot of air strong enough to break frozen enemies into hundreds of tiny fragments.
Forgoing the two weapon limitation that was present in Resistance 2, this game returned the personal armory that players had in Fall of Man. What this meant was access to every weapon Joseph had come across. This freed me up to fight how I wanted to instead of according to the designers’ placement of weapons, which admittedly, I thought was well done in the previous game. New this go around was the upgradeable nature of the weapons. Each weapon could be upgraded twice and doing so strengthened them or added additional functionality. It was a simple system that leveled up weapons according to their use, but it was something to consider while playing.
Another gameplay mechanic that receded to the way Fall of Man did things was the health system. Joseph was no longer a Sentinel so it made sense that he wouldn’t be able to regenerate Health as Nathan did in the previous game. Instead, he had a finite amount of health that could be replenished with health packs. I’m not as up in arms about this health system as I was when I played Fall of Man though. I did think this game was much tougher than Resistance 2, and towards the end, I did have some difficulty with specific waves of enemies, but thanks in part to the frequent checkpointing, it wasn’t as infuriating as the original game.
Resistance 3 concluded the trilogy with open-ended closure. I was satisfied with the ending and appreciate that much about how humanity continues to deal with the Chimera was up to my interpretation. That a first-person shooter had such a clear, positive underlying message was a good thing I believe. Viewed at any scale – a neighborhood, or a country – we need to help each other out to survive and thrive. Then again, this was a seriously violent shooter with a positive message so take that as you will. Although Resistance 2 will probably go down as the most memorable game in the series, I’d probably say that this was the best. It had the strongest narrative of the three, the most interesting characters, and the best combination of gameplay and systems.
May 22, 2013
I had a handful of issues with Resistance: Fall of Man. I’d have to say many others did to, despite its release to critical acclaim. I say this because Resistance 2 rectifies every issue I had with Fall of Man and does so on a much more epic scale. Nathan Hale speaks more in the first few minutes than he did in the entirety of the first game. Even so, it’s apparent he’s not the star of the game – the locales and boss battles are. More importantly, the campaign difficulty is balanced much better. Every decision Insomniac Games made culminated in a more entertaining first-person shooter compared to the original.
While Resistance 2 picks up immediately where Fall of Man left off, most of the game takes place two years after the events of the first game. It’s 1953 and the Chimera have practically overrun the United States – the last bastion for humanity. Salvation rests in the hands of a few U.S. soldiers who were infected with the Chimeran virus during government studies. Sentinels, as they’re referred to, possess superhuman abilities and regenerative health. They’re not immune to the virus living within them though, and must take injections frequently to inhibit the spread of the virus.
The U.S. studies which created the Sentinels were carried out by Fyodor Malikov, a Russian scientist seeking a way to combat the Chimeran forces and cure the virus that transforms humans into the alien scourge. One of his failed test subjects has since become known as Daedalus. Formerly known as Jordan Shepherd, Daedalus is a hovering blob of Chimera that operates as a hive mind commanding the Chimera. The game begins with his escape from a secret base in Iceland at which point he begins putting a hurting on the remnants of America. Nathan and his new Sentinel buddies know what needs to be done and set out to kill Daedalus.
The forward momentum in Resistance 2 was always the destruction of Daedalus. However, with Malikov’s presence came much back-story and in retrospect, it seems like the game was most concerned with filling the player in than topping off the Chimeran threat for good. Whether it was in regards to the Chimera and their origin or the experiments that Malikov did, I never felt like the overarching conflict was moving towards closure with Nathan’s actions. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Most series’ seem to be trilogies nowadays so even if major story beats happen in the middle games, it usually doesn’t represent a major amount of finality for the series. I’m not too bummed because I was consistently mesmerized by the locations and set piece battles I encountered.
Nathan’s journey saw him traveling across America, through both scenic settings like redwood forests and southern swamplands and notable cities like San Francisco and California. Each level felt unique thanks to the vastly different settings and the varied enemy types. These two facets were major improvements over Fall of Man. It was the boss fights that truly shined though. These end-level nuisances were hulking mammoths, the scale of which I don’t think I’ve seen in another first-person shooter, were unbelievable to see and fun to conquer. I especially like how they were foreshadowed throughout the levels. Catching glimpses of the skyscraper-sized Leviathan in Chicago set the mood for the remainder of that level.
The stages and bosses were very cool, but thankfully the campaign difficulty was balanced so much better than the original. First off, the health system was slightly revamped. Recharging health was still in effect but instead of a tiered health bar, damage was indicated by the amount of blood splatter on the screen. I prefer this shift from the tiered health bar because it saw me getting in less binds where I had a sliver of health; I could regenerate Nathan’s health fully by taking cover instead of only up to a point. The biggest improvement in my eyes was the less stringent checkpointing. After every battle or story event, I was greeted with a checkpoint. No longer was I forced to battle dozens of enemies again if I was killed after a few minutes of progression. This was such a relief and helped me enjoy this game much more than the original.
One of the bigger gameplay changes between these two games was Nathan’s ability to carry weapons. In the original, I had access to each weapon I came across; the game adopted an old-school approach, favoring a personal armory. This game opted for the now common two weapon limit. At any point, Nathan could only carry two weapons, meaning I had to make decisions as to what I wanted. My decision was usually influenced by Insomniac’s weapon staging. Weapons were placed in key points along the linear pathway, and like the boss battles, usually foreshadowed an impending battle. I really thought they did a great job at this since it got me alternating weapons and going outside my comfort zone.
It might be cliché to say, but Resistance 2 was a roller-coaster ride. Nathan’s travels took him throughout America at a break-neck pace, and usually I didn’t quite understand why. It all seemed to be in service of exploiting the locales for interesting settings and epic boss battles. I’m cool with that though because Insomniac played with a scale unseen in first-person shooters. Best of all though, the game was actually enjoyable to play. With the revisions to campaign difficulty, this game was challenging – not brutal. For these reasons, and the shocking ending, I was jazzed for Resistance 3.
May 18, 2013
Resistance: Fall of Man is a game of banal hues. Whether I’m referring to the grayish picture it paints of Great Britain circa 1951 amidst the invasion of alien forces, the grim outlook for humanity, or the game’s stiff difficulty, it’s not in high spirits. It was a game that I had a hard time getting drawn into. Sgt. Nathan Hale, the game’s protagonist was unrelatable as he was mostly silent, uttering a handful of words throughout the four days covered. The third-person “past-tense” storytelling also didn’t help draw me in, although it was unique and fitting. Lastly, I just didn’t think the campaign was balanced well.
What’s initially distinguishing about the game is its alternate historical setting. Presumably, World War II never happened as the alien Chimera were ravaging the Soviet Union for decades. The rest of Europe was most likely wary of what was happening behind the Iron Curtain and preparing for the worst, as Great Britain had done. After overtaking Europe, the Chimera crossed the English Channel and all preparations went out the window as the country was lost in a matter of months. Afterwards, the United States sent in a large task force to seek out a secret weapon the Brits claim will save humanity; enter Nathan Hale.
For most of the introductory sequences I was under the impression that Nathan was a silent protagonist. He might well have been as he spoke, like, three times throughout the ten hour campaign. Instead, most of the story was told by Captain Rachel Parker, a British soldier who determined there was something amiss with Nathan immediately – he had been infected by the Chimera. It was of little consequence in the game ultimately, although it was always a pressing concern for her. With Nathan hardly speaking, he really wasn’t characterized, he was little more than the player’s avatar. But through Rachel’s recounting, he was given a story, at the very least.
The narrative cutscenes had Rachel talking about the game’s events in the past-tense, as though they had happened only a few days ago. As she was the one narrating the story, all references to Nathan were in the third-person. I thought these two storytelling mechanics distanced me from Nathan even more than him being a (near) silent protagonist. Nathan’s survival took him all over Britain, but I found the campaign to be relatively event-free and ultimately forgettable.
Gameplay was standard fare for a first-person shooter and it encompassed sequences common across the genre. There was a driving sequence or two including an expletive-inducing tank sequence that had me banging my head against a proverbial wall for countless attempts. What set it apart the most from other similar games was its armory, which makes sense as Insomniac earns high praise for their innovative weaponry. Many staples were present although I felt the game was at its best when I was utilizing a secondary feature or dispatching enemies with a weapon unlike anything I had used before.
Bringing down the enjoyment I had with the game was its difficulty. I’ll start with the health system. Nathan had four chunks of rechargeable health. When one was depleted, I was no longer able to regenerate it. This is highly prevalent nowadays (and it was seven years ago too (I can’t believe this generation is that old!)) but I’ve never played a game where recharging health took so long! On the other hand, the enemies are bullet sponges. I love that the M5A2 Folsom Carbine, the standard human assault rifle, has a 50 round magazine, but dumping into enemies yields a few kills before needing reloaded. Finally, the biggest offender was the checkpoints. I found them so infrequent; I’d have to do battle with dozens of enemies multiple times thanks to a single mistake. Between the three difficulty levels available to me, I chose normal but in many parts, it felt more like hard. This probably earns kudos from some hardcore shooter fans out there, but for someone just wanting to enjoy the game and have a decent amount of challenge, it was off-putting.
The game’s difficulty had me frustrated on many occasions, but I persisted and still think Resistance: Fall of Man was a solid FPS. The story and characterization did very little for me, although the alternate historical setting was plenty enough to start me off. I remember very little astonishing moments or set pieces, but the core gameplay, excluding the difficulty, was really good. I even jumped into the multiplayer for a few matches and had fun, despite a losing streak. I wasn’t exactly raring to jump into Resistance 2 after completing it, but I’d take the plunge anyways.
April 21, 2013
The Room is a puzzle game in the strictest sense. Players need not worry themselves with anything but solving puzzles. In each of the four stages, players are plopped down in front of a box composed of many mechanical locks. It is usually these, and other mechanical objects on the boxes that represent puzzles. Figuring out how they operated was the main brain drain.
Unlike Mansion of Hidden Souls and Juggernaut, I felt like The Room did a better job of implementing puzzles. The former games were puzzle games yes, but they placed more emphasis on exploring an environment, finding items, and making a connection as to where they needed to be used. This game’s puzzles are more self-contained in part because there’s no environment exploration. The boxes need to be scoured for clues, I mean scoured, but there’s no other exploration. The puzzles in the game were serious thinkers though.
With four brief stages, it only took me a few bedtime sessions to complete, most of the time though, I was staring at my tablet deep in thought trying to work a puzzle out. If not that scenario, then I was inspecting every inch of the larger box trying to figure out what to work on next. There’s a faint amount of narrative in the form of notes from a researcher friend, but it’s supplementary. They enhanced the mystery surrounding why the player is doing what they’re doing, but the puzzles were the motivation, at least for me.
This was the first output of Fireproof Games, a British studio made up of seasoned designers and I thought it was a mature experience among the cartoonish chaff that populates mobile platforms. The Room is available on Android and iOS devices for $1.99.
April 8, 2013
Set about 500 years in the future, Dead Space centers on Isaac Clarke and the horrific events surrounding the USG Ishimura. This “planetcracker” is a mining spacecraft that recently sent out a distress signal which Isaac and a small squad is answering. What he and his cohorts find is multitudes worse than what most of them could’ve imagined. Any hopes of the mission being routine are thrown out the window when almost immediately the squad is attacked by garish creatures – “the ship’s crew slaughtered and infected by an alien scourge” to quote the back of the box.
The underpinnings of cultish intrigue are soon the full-scale narrative driver of the game. As Isaac survives his way through the Ishimura, he learns of the crew’s discovery of the Marker and the impact it had on them. Supposedly a holy artifact for the Church of Unitology, the discovery is of great importance to many of the ship’s members who then change course at the direction of Captain Benjamin Mathius. This wasn’t the only discovery they made however. Coming along with the Marker is an unknown alien life form that begins ravaging the crew and turning them into Necromorphs.
These creatures are grotesque abominations of former crew members who are anything but gentle. With repair objectives taking him all over the Ishimura, Isaac runs into hundreds of Necromorphs. Equipped with a plasma cutter and an arsenal of other weapons, it’s soon made clear to both Isaac and the player that the most effective way of combating this enemy presence is through dismemberment.
I found the gameplay loop that dismembering small groups of Necromorphs turned into, to be highly enjoyable. The precision and power that the plasma cutter ripped through these fiends was such a satisfying and visceral experience, encountering groups of Necromorphs almost wasn’t scary. After a playthrough and a half, I’d recommend not using any other weapon; the plasma cutter is that incredible.
It’s that gameplay loop that kept me jiving on the game for so long. The narrative unfolded at a brisk pace and I learned much about the goings on before Isaac arrived via plentiful text, audio, and video logs, but the chapter objectives were so drab. I felt like Fix-It Felix as Zach Hammond and Kendra Daniels (fellow crew members responding to the distress signal) issued Isaac around the Ishimura having him repair broken equipment. Aside from some awesome boss encounters and a handful of entertaining tasks, the chapters mostly felt like a means to an end.
Somewhat memorable was Dr. Challus Mercer. After the captain was accidentally killed by Dr. Terrence Kyne, Dr. Mercer assumed control of the Ishimura. He is more of a cultish zealot than Captain Mathius was and this is seen firsthand by Isaac. With an ever watchful eye on Isaac, Dr. Mercer always seems one step ahead of Isaac, Zach, and Kendra. Their run-ins usually entail a challenging combat sequence. Paired with that sequence is a dose of Dr. Mercer’s maniacal devotion to the church and his belief that transformation into Necromorphs is humanity’s higher calling.
Dr. Kyne plays a role soon enough and eventually they are led back to the planet where it all came from. He is a character with good intentions consumed by the hallucinations of his deceased wife. He and Isaac aren’t dissimilar; Isaac is also haunted by increasingly lifelike hallucinations of his deceased girlfriend Nicole Brennan. Nicole and Dr. Kyne are key figures in returning the Marker to its former resting place, hoping to calm the chaos and prevent the Necromorphs from reaching Earth.
Dead Space was a game with loads of prerelease marketing courtesy of Electronic Arts and among the content were a handful of developer diaries. In one of these, it was mentioned that the intention was for Isaac to be an “everyman” but I don’t think this was achieved. I feel this way solely because he was a silent protagonist interacting with very realistic characters. Much of the dialogue consisted of other people speaking directly to Isaac, and his lack of speech created a weird dissonance.
That’s about the only gripe I have as far as the audio/visual qualities are concerned. The game looks remarkable, but there isn’t a lot of variety outside of the sterile, futuristic corridors splashed with copious amounts of gore. The soundtrack was used more to cultivate a continuous sense of fright regarding what’s around the next corner instead of building up to an ultimate crescendo over and over again. Jason Graves’ score, composed of mechanical sound effects and haunting instrumental bits, helped in creating a dreadful ambiance reeking of Doom 3’s impact.
It was with Dead Space that EA Redwood Shores, now Visceral Games, was given the chance to moonlight with a new intellectual property and I think they knocked it out of the park. The cultish narrative was intriguing enough, although it was the dismemberment gameplay loop that carried the entertainment weight for me. The plasma cutter offered such precision and power that dealing with groups of Necromorphs was something I looked forward to. After, I got over the fright of them appearing of course.
April 3, 2013
Here it is – my final article about Activision Anthology. After 41 straight days of articles and 44 games covered, I’m fixing to discuss the final two games on this magnificent compilation. These are unlike anything else on the collection as they were originally unreleased.
First up is Kabobber, a game discovered in 2000. I’m not sure of the story behind its discovery, but it was cleaned up before being released to the internet. In fact, much credit is presumably due to Dave Giarrusso, the man responsible for the manual. It can be found here, at AtariAge. The game was designed by Rex Bradford and is a weird action game.
Players control a small squad of Buvskies and progress down a grid, growing their squad and avoiding or destroying enemies in the hopes of reaching the Princess Buvsky before she exits the stage. The controls were very precise which allowed for no uncertainty when playing, but the overall game lacked polish. This is understandable as it was unreleased, but even as is, I didn’t find a sweet enough set of mechanics or rewards to enjoy it for long periods of time.
Next up is Thwocker. This game’s rediscovery is so cool. Imagine shopping at a local thrift store and stumbling upon an unassuming Atari 2600 with a stock red label on it. Being the video game enthusiast you are, you pick it up anyways because it’s a pittance and it might be a game you don’t have. For AtariAge’s d8thstar, it was more than just another game; it was an unreleased prototype that had been floating around for twenty odd years.
Like Kabobber, Thwocker is an interesting action game that, unsurprisingly, isn’t all there. Controlling a little composer, players bounce around stages trying to pick up musical notes in the correct order. This composer is made of flubber though and controlling him is easier said than done. I found it to be a little frustrating. The game looked advanced compared to many of its contemporaries, but overall, it was a little flat.
If 10,000 points are scored while playing Kabobber in Activision Anthology, a commercial will be unlocked. This commercial is a montage of some early Activision titles that features truly amazing transitions of pixilated characters into the real life counterparts that games are replicating.
If you’ve been reading along with every article or even just a few, I’m truly appreciative. Also, thanks to those who liked my articles. I’m grateful for that outreach and the community we can create on WordPress with our likeminded blogs. I’ve had fun keeping my schedule of an article a day and look forward to a similar challenge. Perhaps more importantly though, I’ve had fun discovering Activision’s early catalog of video games. The majority of these are undisputable classics. Thank you!
Starmaster, Space Shuttle: A Journey into Space, and Tomcat: The F-14 Fighter Simulator [Atari 2600] – Reviews
April 2, 2013
Like my last article, this one will cover a few games that I passed over writing about, and that my friend and I passed over playing. Unlike Bridge and Checkers though, these three weren’t really meant for competition. All are flight simulators of different stripes. Starmaster is a sci-fi flight simulator akin to Atari’s Star Raiders. Space Shuttle: A Journey into Space simulates a NASA operation and lastly, Tomcat: The F-14 Fighter Simulator lets players act out the role of a top gun.
What’s fascinating about these games is how the designers were able to implement them on the Atari 2600. After all, the platform’s main method of input was a joystick with a single button. My first thought when approaching these was how the heck they were going to make something decently complicated like a flight simulation using a controller with one button. The answer is ingenious.
Turning and pushing the plethora of knobs and buttons found in the cockpit of these flying craft is done by hitting the toggle switches on the console itself. This blew my mind. What a stunning workaround that allowed these simulations be complicated. And really, that’s what players of these games are looking for, right – something complicated?
I wouldn’t know. I’ve never been a fan of flight simulations, although I think I can understand the appeal. Humankind has desired to make flying craft since we first saw birds. For the past one hundred or so years, this has become a reality. Still, piloting airplanes is a task that appears to require a high level of smarts and skill – let alone flying spacecraft. Replicating this act makes for a solid use of the medium.
That being said, I don’t know much about these games having only played a smidgen of them on Activision Anthology. I’ll admit, they seem mighty complicated, so much so that I wasn’t ready to invest time learning how to play them. The manuals for these three range from the average manual size of around eight pages to the gargantuan thirty-two. That last one is Space Shuttle and its manual highlights something that makes these early Activision titles so great. The passion that oozes out of these manuals and the refined gameplay so often found in the games I’ve written about. Although these three aren’t titles I’ll delve into, I know someone has, and they loved every minute of the experience.
These three games were designed by Alan Miller, Steve Kitchen, and Dan Kitchen, respectively and were released in 1982, 1983, and 1988, respectively. When played in Activision Anthology, a commercial and four patches can be unlocked for Starmaster, two patches for Space Shuttle, and nothing for Tomcat.
April 1, 2013
Bridge and Checkers are two of Activision’s earliest games. Designed by Larry Kaplan and Alan Miller respectively, both were released for the Atari 2600 in 1980. These should’ve been some of the first games I wrote about, but I skipped over them because they’re not that interesting. They’re self-explanatory and lack any wacky modes that set them apart from other simulations of these games. If this article was written in 1980, it’d be another story. Having the ability to play bridge or checkers without having a human opponent and do so in the comfort of my home would’ve been great. Chances are though, if you like either of these games enough, you have a friend or two who is similarly into them.
Honestly, I didn’t play enough of these to render a qualitative judgment either. For the 2012/2013(/2014?) Game-a-Thon Olympics, my friend and I passed over these, opting to have them as “in case” games. You see, if one of us barely won the Atari 2600, the other could then ask for a competition in one of these, hoping to sway the platform. Thus, I can’t speak to how the computer AI is in either of these games, or even how to play bridge, which would be the most useful information from a review. Sorry.