Looking at PlayStation’s current line-up of first-party exclusives, you’d be amazed to learn it was once a platform with a vested interest in all things FPS. In between Insomniac’s alternate-history set Resistance and Guerrilla Games’ graphically impressive Killzone games running in parallel, the PS3 generation saw it primed and ready to deliver the one-two punch necessary to potentially topple the decade of dominance enjoyed by Xbox’s Halo. 2011 presented the best chance yet at doing this by way of both franchises receiving a threequel.
One of these focussed on delivering a thoughtful, provocative story about the resilience of humanity amongst loss of hope (in addition to imaginative gunplay). The other was Killzone 3. It certainly didn’t receive the full credit it deserved, yet now, ten years on, Resistance 3 feels like it should have kicked off a new golden age of story-driven single-player shooters – the kind you don’t see very often now. Not just because it’s a clear indication of the success the studio behind it would later achieve, but also as it was unafraid to go against the bombastic Call of Duty grain popular at the time. To this day Resistance 3 remains a creative, and poignant take on the FPS.
You only need to look at the changed protagonist to see how courageous Insomniac was. Joseph Capelli was a constant thorn in your side in Resistance 2. Here, however, he’s more fragile and almost an entirely new man. This soldier-turned-father simply wants to get over being forced to kill his comrade – that game’s protagonist – during Resistance 2’s final moments, settle down with his family, and adapt to this new version of Earth where the alien Chimeran threat has already won. Such a sharp change of circumstance gives Resistance 3 a far bleaker tone than any entry before it. No longer are human forces equipped to fight back on a grand scale. Instead, it’s just about survival.
The narrative picks up almost four years since we last saw Capelli, where any chance of taking the world back has been dashed. That is until his former colleague Dr. Malikov, the architect of the super-soldierish “Sentinel”, program approaches him with a proposition: Travel from Oklahoma to New York so as to prevent a wormhole from freezing the planet. Thus the stage is set for a sombre yet gripping jaunt across the American East Coast, one where you must trek through several horrific environments while gunning down hordes of Chimera and rival human factions. It’s a premise not too dissimilar to another PS3’s other dystopian hit, The Last of Us, thinking back.
Whereas Naughty Dog’s game is now considered a modern classic, Insomniac’s melancholic third chapter launched the year prior but isn’t held in as high regard. After all, how can a game in which you’re pursued by giant alien spiders and firing out phase shields weave a serious tale, right? The brilliance of Resistance 3, though, is that it does convincingly balance tight sci-fi shooting action alongside a grounded story that, much like Joel and Ellie’s adventure, riffs on other bouts of apocalyptic fiction to say something about people’s ability to endure. The only difference here being that you’re holding a gun in front of your face the whole time.
And there are no zombies.
No moment captures its themes of desperation and hopelessness better than when your train transport is abruptly hijacked by a group of escaped prisoners. Up until now your main menace has been new Chimeran variants, but here, roughly two thirds of the way into the campaign, you come face-to-face with humanity’s darker side. Pinned underneath a tram, Malikov comes to your aid before he is mercilessly beaten and killed right before your eyes. “Wait! I’ll give you whatever you want,” Capelli pleads until suddenly the only man capable of saving the world is dead. Remind me again why this isn’t considered one of the most heart-breaking video game moments?
Of course, Resistance 3 being an FPS in the most traditional sense means the action is primarily linear. Conveniently placed trenches and monster closets abound, sure, yet Insomniac’s penchant for inventive weaponry – also seen in Ratchet & Clank – helps render these scenarios far more enjoyable and strategically appealing. Capelli’s post-apocalyptic road trip features the return of fan-favourite guns like the Magnum, Auger, and shot-sticking Bullseye. However, it’s still the only shooter where you can unload a glob-fuelled shotgun unto foes before witnessing them explode, courtesy of an ingenious alt-fire mechanic. Tools like these always helped separate the series from its contemporaries, and in Resistance 3 they’re out in full force.
If there’s one area where Resistance 3 admittedly falls short, it’s in the muted colour palette. This is an incredibly brown game, at least in the beginning. Even still, this was a concerted effort by Insomniac to shift the mood depending on the setting you travelled to using different hues. What starts out as a muddied auburn hike to get out of Oklahoma eventually turns less dour by the time you reach Pennsylvania. New York City as your final destination is portrayed in a cool blue light as a result of the terraforming wormhole trying to freeze the environment. It doubles up as a metaphor for Capelli’s mission becoming clearer. Ultimately, the world’s end isn’t portrayed as beautiful in most portrayals, but Insomniac still found avenues like this to be artistic.
Resistance 3 was when Sony’s underappreciated first-person franchise finally found its identity. What was originally a war-tinged PS3 launch exclusive challenged with showing off what Sony’s first HD console could do at last had the space to forge its own identity. It was able to shed the militaristic skin abundant elsewhere and instead focus on delivering a poignant story that could be enjoyed in combination with extraordinary firing mechanics and unique weapons. Resistance 3 was ahead of the curve for all these reasons and many more, for better or worse acting as the perfect series send-off.
Resistance 3 is available now, if you have the right console for it.