Rooting for the underdog is baked into humanity’s DNA. It serves as a narrative engine for a good two-thirds of the stories we tell ourselves, and it’s the defining feature of all apocalypse porn, whatever the medium. Ever since 2006’s Resistance: Fall Of Man gave gamers a good excuse to shell out for a PS3, the Resistance series has been bleak, but in Resistance 3, winning the war isn’t even on the docket. Surviving the cold snap to end all cold snaps is all Joe Capelli cares about.
After offing a too-far-gone Nathan Hale in Resistance 2, Capelli was dishonorably discharged and sent home to his wife and son, who live as part of a hard-bitten but stable underground community in Oklahoma. When a terraformer uproots the township, Capelli agrees to partner up with still-very-much-alive Dr. Malikov on a mission to investigate the glacial creep originating in New York.
In a possible sign that Halo is finally loosening its power-armored grip on first-person shooters, Resistance 3 ditches the two-weapon cap and regenerating health in favor of a weapon wheel and health bar. That isn’t the only nod to the first entry in the series: Bosses are smaller (but still fearsome) this go-round, and old standbys like the Auger and the Rossmore return. Insomniac Games has always had a way with weaponry, and new options, like a Chimera-virus-spewing pistol and a baddie-freezing cryogun supplement an already-well-stocked arsenal. Add to that the secondary fire options, brutally satisfying mêlée combat, and a leveling system for weapons that encourages variety, and Resistance 3 might just have the coolest munitions in gaming.
The pivot away from Resistance 2 is mostly welcome, “mostly” because the multiplayer has been pruned from 60 to 16 players, and the engrossing eight-player co-op mode has been scrapped in favor of a two-player campaign with no matchmaking. Game modes are run-of-the-mill, but an inspired kill-streak bonus lets players hulk out, and the now de rigueur XP system imparts some surprising bonuses, like the ability to burst open with hungry leapers upon death. As with everything else Resistance 3 has on offer, the multiplayer changes are well-implemented, but hardly revolutionary.
Which leads to the game’s biggest drawback: Insomniac has proven itself as a craftshouse, but hardly as a visionary one. The story is sometimes touching, sometimes merely sentimental, and the lurching, disjointed plot leads Capelli into the company of a few well-drawn characters, but enormous chunks of the art direction and level design were swiped from superior titles. Maybe enough time has passed for “ersatz” to shade into “homage,” but there’s no mistaking a Ravenholm or a Citadel when you see one. Resistance 3 delivers the goods, make no mistake. They just happen to be the goods that gamers already had, dolled up in a shiny new package.