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Resistance 3 review: Always outnumbered, never outgunned

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In the opening moments of Resistance 3, you're informed of a fairly unfortunate development that dictates the tone of the campaign which follows: In the war for the fate of humanity, the home team has lost. Despite your valiant efforts during the series' first two installments (or perhaps, troublingly, because of them), the invading Chimera have taken over large swaths of our mid-20th Century Earth, pushing humanity – our protagonist included – deep underground.

No matter how powerful leading hero Joseph Capelli and his bottomless knapsack of devastating ordinances become, that feeling of defeat never quite dissipates. Whether you're being overrun by a flood of savage troops or watching your traveling companions be butchered by an agent of insensate evil, you can't help but feel like you're losing ground; even though the passage of chapters indicates that you're moving forward.

Put simply, Resistance 3 exchanges the genre's all-too-familiar bravado for a pervasive and relentless air of desperation. It's a subtle substitution, but it's singlehandedly responsible for making Resistance 3 one of the most compelling shooters I've ever played.

Gallery: Resistance 3 (review) | 8 Photos

In addition to the game's underlying bleakness, Resistance 3 has inherited some of the best characteristics of its forefathers. For instance, much of the game takes place in our nation's flyover states, turning the rarely represented heartland of the United States into a gauntlet of increasingly treacherous killing-plains. Alien battleplanets have been done to death -- fictional cities buried deep in the heart of Oklahoma, however, are a much rarer breed.

"Resistance 3 possesses one of the most ingenious collections of weapons ever assembled in a video game ..."

From these rural roots, Capelli must travel by foot, boat, train and VTOL to New York City on a quest to close a Chimeran wormhole opened four years prior, during the climax of Resistance 2. The hole threatens to freeze the Earth wholesale, conveniently making each destination on your whistle-stop tour of the Midwest more lifeless and hopeless than the destination before.

Don't let your colorless environments deceive you, though: Each stop on your odyssey is a self-contained big-budget blockbuster. They're explosive to a fault, resulting in a campaign that feels like a disjointed sequence of scenes from a dozen different action movies. Fortunately, each episode packs a satisfying wallop -- a near-miracle, considering the sheer diversity of the settings Insomniac has constructed.

Regardless of whether you're defending a downed VTOL, or moving down a fog-lined Mississippi River in a steamboat, or picking off attacking jeeps from the carriage of a moving train, the game revels in throwing more foes at you than you're comfortable with -- but never more than you can handle. That's because Resistance 3 possesses one of the most ingenious collections of weapons ever assembled in a video game; a veritable wheel of abject destruction which inspires a degree of familiarity which very nearly resembles parenthood.

The name of the game is situational awareness -- each weapon is suited for a particular kind of brawl. If you're dealing with a few grunts, the revolver is ideal. For shielded enemies, the wall-piercing Augur rifle is your guy. If you're overwhelmed by a bunch of melee-fighting goons, the chain-attacking Atomizer would be appropriate. The Bullseye, with its tracer darts and homing bullets, is best against flying foes -- or for when you're feeling a little too lazy to aim.

"There are brief glimpses into a well-crafted tale, the completely stellar opening level being the most notable exception ..."

The weapons really shine when used in conjunction with their secondary fire features. Some are milquetoast, albeit still relatively devastating: The Rossmore shotgun, with its concussive grenade launcher, doesn't exactly reinvent the wheel. Most are far more inspired, like the Magnum, which fires explosive shells that can be detonated at any time after firing. You can drop single foes with a breeze, or plant a few dozen shells into an enemy swarm, cracking their regiment in half with a single button-press.

After learning the strengths of each of your tools, even the largest encounters -- including a few massive, Helm's Deep-scale skirmishes which unfold in the game's last act -- won't deter you. Your bag of armaments seems to constantly, reassuringly beckon during your time of greatest need, presenting you with a fully loaded solution to the problem at hand with a cheery, proactive battle cry: "Let's get to work."

If only the game's human characters were as convincing. Though winningly voice acted and as gorgeously rendered as everything else in Resistance 3's ruined world, the plot's speed is far too breakneck for you to remember most of the supporting cast you encounter along the way. There are brief glimpses into a well-crafted tale, the completely stellar opening level being the most notable exception, as well as a few later scenes where Capelli is especially consumed by hopelessness. For the most part, though, each actor is just another hand capable of wielding another gun.

That's especially the case for John Capelli -- brother to Joseph and the character whom Player Two assumes the role of while running through the game cooperatively. His very existence is only rarely acknowledged by characters and cutscenes, leading to what I can only assume must be the mother of all fraternal inferiority complexes. Still, the co-op works; not because of a carefully tailored two-man campaign, but solely because two exploding revolvers is exactly twice as radical as one.

This mathematical principle also carries over to the game's competitive multiplayer component, which provides a surprisingly addictive blend of arcade-style shooting and contemplative customization. There's a deep, deep loadout-building system in place which allows you to narrowly tailor your soldier's utility on the battlefield; but once the battle invariably devolves into an unmitigated Charlie Foxtrot, your sense of strategy will likely be replaced by panic.

With each level you gain in the multiplayer component, new weapons, tools and abilities become available on the loadout screen. You can add these items to your collection using the skill points you earn with each level -- or you can pass on them, saving up your skill points to upgrade some of your favorite armaments at a steeper cost. For instance, instead of buying a few abilities which became available as I leveled, I stored up a few points and boosted my shotgun, which now fires combustable buckshot. See you on the battlefield, sucker.

It's just one smart system afloat in a sea of increasingly smart systems; evidence that Insomniac Games' system-launching franchise has finally found its footing as a defining brand for the platform. Resistance 3 isn't just a great game full of marked, inspired improvements over its predecessor -- it's a declaration of intent to become the new heir apparent to the sci-fi shooter throne.

This review is based on retail code of Resistance 3 provided by Sony, and played on a debug PS3 console.
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