Resistance 3 [PS3] – Review

Olly Moss' artwork is fantastic and it's too cool that he was commissioned for this game.
Olly Moss’ artwork is fantastic and it’s too cool that he was commissioned for this game.

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.

Although he wasn't fleshed out in the previous game, Joseph is more of a character than Nathan Hale ever was.
Although he wasn’t fleshed out in the previous game, Joseph has more depth than Nathan Hale ever did.

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.

The Chimera fight against their Cloven offshoots quite frequently this time around.
The Chimera fight against their Cloven offshoots quite frequently this time around.

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.

Although there's less of an emphasis on scale, there are still behemoths wandering about.
Although there’s less of an emphasis on scale, there are still behemoths wandering about.

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.

Resistance 2 [PS3] – Review

Grrr, me gruff man with weapon on video game box.
Grrr, me gruff man with weapon on video game box.

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.

Anyone else remember Sony's E3 2008 press conference?
Anyone else remember Sony’s E3 2008 press conference?

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.

I'm sure San Francisco will be just fine.
I’m sure San Francisco will be just fine.

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.

I'm surprised the Predator hasn't sued for likeness infringement as Lady Miss Kier did with Space Channel 5.
I’m surprised the Predator hasn’t sued for likeness infringement as Lady Miss Kier did with Space Channel 5.

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.

Resistance: Fall of Man [PS3] – Review

This is a game you can judge by its cover.
This is a game you can judge by its cover.

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.

The game gets props for its new game plus features such as additional weapons, like this one.
The game gets props for its new game plus features such as additional weapons, like this one.

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.

There were a lot of enemy types to contend with.
There were a lot of enemy types to contend with.

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.

It can't be sci-fi horror without face hugger clones.
It can’t be sci-fi horror without face hugger clones.

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.

Freshly-Picked Tingle’s Rosy Rupeeland [Nintendo DS] – First Impressions

Kooloo Limpah!
Kooloo Limpah!

Freshly-Picked Tingle’s Rosy Rupeeland is a wondrously weird game. The character that first appeared in The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask has been divisive since his introduction. He was designed to be weird for weirdness sake and I’ve always been on the side of Zelda fandom that enjoyed his company. Tingle’s Rosy Rupeeland never made it to American shores, but it was released in Europe, which means playing it isn’t hard. This version is in English and the DS is region-free so there’s no additional work needed outside of purchasing a copy.

The game begins when Uncle Rupee, a magical character in the shape of the universe’s currency appears before Tingle, a single, 35 year old man with little direction in life. Uncle Rupee promises Tingle entrance to a world unlike his own, a theme park of sorts, if Tingle can scrounge up the necessary money. And so Tingle dons his familiar green onesie and sets out to quench his thirst for excitement.

I want to believe the game's humor is in service of ribbing the 18-34 year old male demographic.
I want to believe the game’s humor is in service of ribbing the 18-34 year old male demographic.

One thing I really like about this game is how it adheres to the concept of money. Everything requires coinage. Tingle’s stack of Rupees represents his health so if they ever deplete, its game over. Reason enough to always have a good amount handy. The characters that occupy Tingle’s world, all want dough too. If you visit a vendor, you have to pay them before they’ll open shop. Even having a conversation with them requires Tingle to cough up Rupees.

I found this annoying at first because nobody told you how much they wanted; you had to make an offer and hope you didn’t overspend. Once I got accustomed to this mechanic and the going-rate for things in the world though, I began to “know” how much something would cost. Lowballing characters could result in lost Rupees if they rejected my offer but still took my money. However, when I successfully came in under a suggested amount, I felt like a wheeler and/or a dealer.

The guy who built bridges was, special, to say the least.
The guy who built bridges was, special, to say the least.

This concept of cash rules everything around me was also a large hang-up of mine because of its correlation to the combat. It seemed to me the major source of income early on was fighting enemies to harvest the recipe ingredients they’d drop, make soups, and sell the end product. Enemies weren’t too prevalent and I spent a lot of time entering areas, fighting and harvesting ingredients, exiting to allow the enemies to respawn and repeating over and over. I didn’t find this gameplay loop enjoyable, especially when the combat was nonexistent.

Brushing up against an enemy created a cartoonish dust cloud fight which lasted until one of us croaked. I could tap to speed up the process, but I honestly didn’t notice much impact. Wrangling multiple enemies into the fight multiplied the amount and quality of items that would drop so I always tried to fight groups rather than individual enemies. Finding groups was hard though; I typically found a close-knit group of enemies and returned to them over and over again when harvesting ingredients. Mercenaries could be bought for extra oomph in combat, but many times, they ruined my attempts at gathering enemies together. They’d either trigger battles when I was trying to set something larger up, or wipe out an enemy before I could get another into the fight.

Freshly-Picked Tingle's Rosy Rupeeland - 1337
Yes, money, give me as much as you can.

Freshly-Picked Tingle’s Rosy Rupeeland was a humorous game, but in my opinion its primary gameplay mechanic was both its reason for being and its Achilles heel. The game’s devotion to the concept cash is king was distinguishing, but I didn’t enjoy the repetitive gameplay loop I had to go through early on to get ahead. The art design was fantastic and the characterization was top-notch so there are solid reasons to import the game. Heck, being able to say I own/played a game from another country is cool in itself.

Heartland Gaming Expo 2013 – Light Wars

The final game my friend and I played was Light Wars. This was a game highly influenced by Geometry Wars and it wasn’t afraid to show it. It was the same concept, an arena-based shooter where players fended of loads and loads of enemies. The major difference, and perhaps the only one, in comparison to Geometry Wars was the weapon used. When firing, an energy beam extended from the player and bounced around for a few seconds before disappearing. When I played, I used this like a windshield wiper, cleaning the stage of the enemies.

Everyone was pressed for time at this point as the designers were given the order to begin tearing down their stations. I was fortunate enough to have gotten to play Light Wars for a few more rounds. Like Geometry Wars, it was an addicting score attack game. I also didn’t get any contact information for the designer behind it and unfortunately, I didn’t even catch his name.

Heartland Gaming Expo 2013 – Cannon Golf

The next to last game my friend and I played was Cannon Golf. It was probably my favorite game of the show as I really dug the learning curve and the responsiveness of the balls. Attempting to make it to the hole in as few strokes as possible was the name of the game and this was made difficult by the various obstacles on each stage. However, at players’ disposal were three different types of balls; a normal one, one with inverse gravity, and a third that would stick to surfaces.

I remember discussing with Kevin Meier, one of the game’s designers, the efforts he went through to have the balls react realistically when hitting walls. From what I could tell, his work was a success. The only thing I noticed was that sometimes, when my ball looked like it was in the hole, the game wouldn’t recognize this and I’d have to take an additional stroke or two so that was always a bummer. Still, I dug the succinct stages and the puzzle-like nature of the game and it held my interest for the entirety of the demo.

Heartland Gaming Expo 2013 – Shotgun Wizard

I loved the balloon baby!
I loved the balloon baby!

Now try not to get confused here, but the next game my friend and I played was Shotgun Wizard. Previously we had played a game called Gun Mage so the fact that there were two games with drastically similar names was something of a comedy, like Dead Space and Killzone. Even the developers were joking around with each other. These were two dissimilar games however.

Controlling the eponymous shotgun wizard, players were confined to a side-scrolling room that was continually bombarded by skateboarders, babies on balloons, and bouncer-size men. The shotgun used had three types of magical ammunition that players could switch between on the fly. In fact, it was encouraged through the game’s scoring system. Getting kills by alternating ammunition increased the score multiplier. Not utilizing this tactic would result in lackluster scores.

Shotgun Wizard was a score attack game and my only gripe was with its controls. Movement was done with S and D or the arrow keys, looking was the result of moving the mouse left or right, jumping was W or the up arrow, ammunition switching was the E key, and shooting was done with a left mouse click. I never got the hang of moving left and right and also having to look left or right, so when it got hectic (and believe me, it did) I cratered quickly. Still, with enough practice, it was fun trying to outdo my best score.

Heartland Gaming Expo 2013 – Pet Duck

A room in Pet Duck.
A room in Pet Duck.

Having actually completed Gun Mage, my friend and I moved onto Pet Duck, another game that I was able to see through to the end. Pet Duck was a lighthearted top-down action game which saw the player searching through maze-like stages in search of their pet duck. The player character was equipped with a gun but I found it inefficient – I wound up playing the game doing my best to evade enemy fire and I found enjoyment through that.

There were about five stages and humorously, when the player found the duck in all but the final stage, it turned out to be a decoy. The text explaining this had me grinning each time. The most impressive aspect of the game was the soundtrack. It was an epic summer-blockbuster sort of theme that totally didn’t match the game. But, it was just one more contextual thing that made the game humorous. Pet Duck wound up winning the game showcase so congrats are in order for End to Begin Games.

Heartland Gaming Expo 2013 – Gun Mage

The game doesn't look like much, but it was down right tough.
The game doesn’t look like much, but it’s down right tough.

After a brief experience with Greywater, my friend and I moved onto the game that I sunk the most time into – Gun Mage. It was a side-scrolling action game inspired by the likes of Contra and Metal Slug. The graphics were simple, but the gameplay reeked of its influences. It seemed pretty basic until I died enough times that Cameron Fowler, one of Gun Mage’s designers, clued me in on a cheat of sorts. Pressing the page up button filled the magic meter, which allowed me to combine a magical effect with a weapon. With about a dozen combinations, I had a blast experimenting with them and seeing their outcomes.

Even though Gun Mage only had nine screens, I spent a good twenty minutes to get through them all. I think I might’ve been the only person to do so at the show. Managing the stock of hearts I had well meant seriously paying attention to the two enemy types. Blue enemies appeared to have knives, only doing damage on contact, and beige enemies who were equipped with guns. Staying alive meant jumping over the bullets of gun wielding enemies and finding a weapon/magic combination that suited me.

The demo is available to play via the Dropbox link and through its Facebook page. Don’t forget about the page up button!

Heartland Gaming Expo 2013 – Greywater

Team Sweepy, hamming it up for the camera.
Team Sweepy, hamming it up for the camera.

The next game my friend and I transitioned to was Greywater – an isometric role-playing game in the vein of Diablo. If Project Land Mineded was the most technologically proficient game I played, then Greywater had the strongest art direction and implementation. The steampunk influences were readily apparent at first glance and the art style was complimented by a 19th century backdrop of a highly polluted city – hence the name, Greywater. It also seemed like there was a lot of story and character development already present in the playable demo, more than any other game I played at the show.

That said, I actually didn’t play much of the game as I didn’t gel with the control scheme. I might not be recalling correctly, but I believe movement and attacks were done via the keyboard while menu navigation was with the mouse. I would’ve preferred most everything but movement be done with the mouse. I also didn’t get a good sense of feedback when attacking enemies. I couldn’t tell if I was damaging them or missing completely. I wish I’d played more of Greywater in hindsight as Team Sweepy placed second in the game showcase and won the gallery show. Congrats to them!

If you wanna follow their progress, you can do so via their Tumblr or Twitter.