I Dare You to Resist This: Resistance: Fall of Man

Rating: Kick Ass!

I generally hate first person shooters. The first (and last) one I played for an extended period of time (and did like) was the original Turok for the N64. That was some time ago. So it took me a long time to pick up Resistance: Fall of Man. I only did so because I’d played through all the other games on PS3 that were in my personal queue.

When I first started the game, I sucked. I couldn’t hit a damned thing. I was getting mowed down by the frightening Predator-like enemies. My own men were getting blasted to shit. I almost put it down forever. I’m glad I stuck with it. Once you understand and master a few simple gameplay mechanics, Resistance is one hell of a tense, action-packed, thrilling festival of massive firepower.

First things first: learn to duck and hide behind things. Learn to use your long-range sights to target enemies from afar. Learn to throw grenades; don’t stockpile them, you’ll get more. Learn to not give a shit about your fellow soldiers; they have only one purpose in this game — to temporarily distract the enemies and serve as cannon fodder while you mow the baddies down. None of them will survive whether you do well or poorly. Welcome to Resistance.

Since everyone and their mother knows what Resistance is about by now, I’ll keep it short. Your enemies, the Chimera, are either a science experiment gone horribly wrong, beings from deep in the earth, or aliens, it’s never explained. However, they are harvesting humans and turning them into hybridized soldiers. Think love children of a Borg/Predator/Alien/Earwigs-from-Wrath-of-Khan orgy.

Their infestation began in Russia in the 1930s. They spread and infected all of Europe, Asia, and Britain. Few humans survived. The US essentially quarantined itself and stayed out of the conflict.

That is, until now. You play as Nathan Hale, a soldier on the frontlines of the US invasion of Britain. You also soon find out you are the only known human who appears to be immune to being infected by one of the little Chimera roaches that crawl down your throat and turn you into a catatonic host.

The Americans have arrived just in time to help the British after millions of them have been killed (not to mention the citizens of Russia, Europe, and elsewhere). Essentially, you arrive when there is precious little to save. Oh well, so much for the old adage that timing is everything.

You are immediately thrown into a grim, apocalyptic Britain that has been devastated by war. Blown out buildings, burning automobile skeletons, ruptured roadways. Your mission: infiltrate various Chimera headquarters, kill them, and blow the crap out of their communications network and infrastructure. It’s harrowing and fun as hell.

The designers nailed the game controls. Even after all these years, I still find the PlayStation controllers a bit daunting at times; especially with games that fully implement all the buttons. Somehow, Resistance did employ the full controls, but made it intuitive and user-friendly. Kudos Insomniac!

Guns? Plenty of them: your trusty machine gun, the Chimera’s trusty machine gun, a rocket launcher (kaboom!), a sniper rifle (head shots have never been more graceful!), an augur (shoots through walls), to name a few. Grenades? Hell yeah! Frag grenades, shrapnel-like grenades (Hedgehogs), and the mother of them all, the air-fuel grenade. Wall of fire, anyone?

Enemies? Yeah, they have all those guns too. And they know how to use them. The AI is pretty intelligent here and that makes the game much more interesting. You’ll not only fight hordes of humanoid enemies, but face off in armored combat against the Chimera’s armored vehicles, including their massive Godzilla-sized “Goliaths.”

Vehicles? Oh yes. Need a tank? You got one airlifted in some places. Joyride in a machine gun-equipped Jeep? Check. Like that Chimera four-legged armored vehicle that looks like an armored AT-AT Scout from Return of the Jedi (you know, the ones the Ewoks destroyed). Take it for a test drive.

Storyline? Pretty compelling. If you save Britain, humankind might just be able to go on the offensive against the Chimera (hence Resistance 2). It’s narrated by a hot-sounding British female soldier who is telling your story, always a plus for me. You never talk, just kill. No complaints.

Resistance has just the right amount of difficulty, it won’t leave you Devil May Crying in difficulty, but it’s no cakewalk either. And it doesn’t ever lose its focus. It’s about advancing through the enemy territory and blowing them to smithereens, up close and personal, or with a bit more long-range strategy (grenades, sniper).

I’m positively giddy about the prospects for Resistance 2. If the first installment took place only in Britain, imagine the possibilities they can create with all of Europe, Eurasia, and Russia for backdrops. Heck, I’d be happy if Resistance 2 only led so far as Western Europe and they had in mind a trilogy, with Resistance 3 having us head into the heart of Russia to finish off the Chimera.

Resistance was the first game that “nailed” the PS3 platform and its capabilities. It’s over a year after its release and some newer games (the lame-ass Haze and Iron Man, for instance, which I demoed) don’t even come close.

I almost never replay games and last night I found myself blasting through two of the missions again. You know what? I totally blew the shit out of those motherfucking Chimerans. Boo Yah!

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My Name is Big Eugene and I am a PixelJunkie.

A few months ago I shelled out $500 for the technological marvel of graphics and processing power that is the Playstation 3. I was going to play the best, most recent, mind-blowing and technologically advanced game releases for the foreseeable future.

To fill the time in between massive sessions of the glorious-to-look-at Resistance: Fall of Man and Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, I purchased a whimsical game called Pixeljunk Monsters for $7.99 at the PSN store. I might as well have taken up smoking crack. This seemingly simple game (whose graphics aren’t anything to write home about and would be fine on a PS1) is utterly addictive and has left me at times in a state of mental ruin.

The game is your standard tower defense game. You are a cartoonish tribe chieftain who faces an onslaught of pesky beings bent on killing your people. Your mission is to run through various forests, chop down trees, and replace them with towers. There are cannons that bomb slow moving ground enemies, turrets to bugger flying fiends, and arrow towers that target both. As each round progresses, you will pick up valuable gold from defeated enemies, allowing you to build more towers, and gems, which will allow you to unlock more deadly towers. Devastating fire, electric, ice, hive, mortars, and laser towers will become available for a price.

The gameplay is hypnotic, from the incessantly innocuous background music (that is harmless, intoxicating, and somehow annoying all at once) to the consistent marching waves of enemies.

The waves occur by enemy type. There are ant-like drones that move slowly (cannons are best) and the rapidly moving and most troublesome (to me) spiders (numerous arrow towers). There are quick bats; large, slow moving helicopter flying thingies; ogres; big, fat flying thingies; and, well, you get the picture.

At first, the game tricks you into thinking it’s easy. You have 20 tribe members. Each monster that gets through your defenses will kill one. It is easy enough to pass each stage and lose only a few tribe members. What is difficult is passing each stage with a perfect score. In order to get a “rainbow” (perfection) you have to ensure that no monsters get through to kill any of your people. You need a certain amount of rainbows to progress in the game. You will become obsessed, then completely obsessed, with scoring a rainbow in each of the game’s screens. You will become so obsessed that you will restart the same screen over and over again after you have lost the first tribe member, until you realize that you have restarted that screen 35 times in a row and 3 hours of your life have slipped away.

The addiction curve for this game is pretty standard. It sucks you in, just like that allegorical kid in sixth grade who offered you drugs for free, then made you pay for them when you were hooked, then beat you up, and you came back for more. “Hey! I passed this first stage on my first try. It’s easy!” you’ll crow. But soon, the game begins to exact a price on you: time and mental anguish. “Hey, I got through that, but two of my people died. I’d better try it again and get it perfect this time.” Repeat ad nauseam.

The alternatingly fun and frustrating kick to this game is that sometimes the same combination/placement of towers does not always result in the same amount of dead enemies. On one attempt, you may kill that wave of spiders with two cannons and three arrow towers, on the next, one or two might get through.

The difficulty lies in effectively balancing tower placement with tower type with limited funds and deciding which towers to upgrade. You can “upgrade” towers in two ways: by “dancing” on them (stand on them). Each tower takes 15 or so seconds to upgrade to Level 2. To get to level 3 it takes about 30 seconds. You can get them to Level 5, but only by dancing for about a minute. Each of the towers gets various enhancements through these upgrades: quicker rate of fire, larger damage area, increased damage, increased range of fire.

And every second you’re dancing is time you are not picking up gold and gems from defeated enemies or building new towers to deal with that next wave of attackers. Thankfully, the easy way out for upgrades is to pay for them with gems. Again, this is a balancing act. You can use gems to upgrade towers or to unlock more powerful towers (fire, laser, mortar) that cost more gold but dispatch enemies more quickly.

You can also demolish your towers, recoup about 70% of the gold they cost you, and replace them with another type as the waves progress.

Anything but the easiest stages has 20 waves of enemies, and it’s important to memorize the order in which enemy-types come down the pike, as it will dictate when/how many of each tower type to build.

The fun lies in that there is no single right way to win each stage (with limited exceptions. One stage does have only four trees to build on, so there might only be one way), but likely multiple combinations. You’ll learn through trial and error, become ecstatic when you pass a wave that previously killed one of your tribe, then contort with rage as the next wave passes your defenses and does exactly that.

The good news is that after hours of toil I’ve rainbowed almost all the original screens.

The bad news is that they just came out with PixelJunk Encore. If the first two stages I’ve played are any indication as to how hard this is going to be, I’m seriously fucked, because I will be obsessed with rainbowing the impossible. Thanks for ruining my life, PixelJunk people. Thanks a lot.

My name is Big Eugene and I am a PixelJunkie. Now get the hell out of my way, I have to get to the basement, turn on my PS3 and play some more.

Heavenly Sword, or, Super-hot Sword Wielding Superwoman

narikoI’d put off playing Heavenly Sword (HS) for quite some time, even though I knew I’d love it. It turns out my purchase was worth it. Heavenly Sword does have its faults, but the beauty of the game, the interesting story (written by Rhianna Pratchett, daughter of Terry), cutscenes and innovative combat system push the envelope of PS3 capabilities.

HS is the most gorgeous game I’ve ever played. I’m not just talking about the main character, Nariko (who makes Lara Croft look like an old hag by comparison, and I’m totally in love with her by the way), but the entire game. From lush backgrounds, to epic battles, to professionally acted cutscenes, this game is beautiful.

HS is also the first game I’ve played where I didn’t mind the Sixaxis controls. My previous encounters with the Sixaxis (Ratchet and Clank, Uncharted) left me frustrated. In Heavenly Sword you can control arrows and cannonballs, and it’s actually kind of fun when you get the hang of it. (Note to developers—the Sixaxis still sucks and should not be incorporated into new games. Though it worked in Heavenly Sword, the analog stick controls would have worked just fine for the arrows/cannonballs).

The combat in Heavenly Sword takes more than a few lines from my all-time favorite hack and slasher, God of War 2. As I’ve noted before, I don’t mind imitation. The good thing about HS is that it expands on that model in some intriguing new ways. Once Nariko gains control of the actual Heavenly Sword, she has three combat stances; Speed (fast, light attacks), Range (swing your sword in an arc on a chain, remind you of Kratos in GoW?), and Power (slow and heavy damage). The stance you choose also affects your defense. Before they attack, enemies briefly glow blue (Speed), orange (Power) or red (certain heavy enemies/bosses, Unblockable). If you are in Speed stance, you automatically defend blue attacks, in Power, orange attacks. While this is an excellent concept, it failed somewhat in practice. You don’t get much of a warning before enemies attack, so it’s often more useful to simply attack them and roll away (another Kratos move) to avoid damage. In addition, blocking doesn’t help much when you’re surrounded by 10 attacking enemies (this happens often).

That being said, the combat is epic, and in most cases is seamless and fluid (if somewhat hectic because of insane number of enemies), which is important to me. (For an example of the slowest, most disjointed combat engine, play the AWFUL game, Viking: Battle for Asgard.) You will be involved in battles where there are hundreds of enemies on the screen and you will have to kill all of them. All I can say is that part of the game is just fucking awesome, and my only gripe was that I wish it had gone on a little longer.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that you can pick up and throw almost anything as a weapon in this game, from watermelons to the bodies of dead enemies (cool!).

HS mixes it up by also providing you with a second playable character at certain points in the game, Kai. Kai is Nariko’s younger adopted sister. Her weapon is a strange rifle crossbow that incorporates a ranged shooting dynamic to the game. When Kai gets too close to enemies, you’ll have to utilize her cat-like gymnastic abilities to put some distance between her and the baddies. During most of Kai’s combat you’ll be steering arrows with the Sixaxis. You take control of arrows in slow motion and steer them to their targets. It’s pretty fun to nail the baddies in as many body parts as possible—head shots, butt shots, groin shots. In addition, keep an eye out for flame braziers. Guide your arrow through a brazier flame, then steer it to a conveniently-placed gunpowder barrel to blow up multiple enemies.

Combat with Kai can be fun, but be prepared for a pretty steep learning curve and some initial frustration. My advice would be to take your time and play her 1st mission a couple of times through to improve your skills early.

The storytelling in Heavenly Sword also pushes the envelope of games-as-art. Nariko’s journey has a melancholy splendor to it that matches her physical beauty. From the beginning of the game, we know that the Heavenly Sword is cursed—it grants great power, but it also drains the life of any mortal wielding it. Nariko’s sacrifice to take up the sword and save her people makes for great storytelling and director Andy Serkis (Gollum from LoTR) does a first-rate job with his professional cast. Serkis himself voices the evil King Bohan; if there were an Oscar for best actor in a game, he’d deserve it. The ample cutscenes will draw you in and make you feel as if you are part of a movie — a stated goal of the developers.

Finally, two minor gripes. The first is that the game was too short (6-7 hours to finish). As a fan of shorter games, I am saying this only because I loved the story and gameplay so much, I did not want it to end. My assumption is that PS3 games take a god-awful amount of time to program and that adding the voice acting/cutscenes into this game probably doubled the production time. Making the game longer may have put production out another year or two. So, I guess I’d rather have it be short and good than long and bad (again, see Viking: Battle for Asgard for a game that was too long and clearly released before it was a final product).

Second, the final boss battle, while not impossible, left me frustrated. All the combat skills you gain throughout the game are tossed out the window. There is no reason to try to defend against the close range melee attacks of the final boss; they are too quick and/or unblockable. So you are left with avoiding, avoiding, avoiding him until he uses a ranged attack. You then have to block that at just the right time to have it bounce back and hit him. All the hack and slash fun of the game is drained out from this battle. Lame.

It’s also a long battle, as he has several incarnations. Which brings me to my second point: you are both infused with godly power for this battle, but his godly powers are clearly way, way better than your own. I hate it when developers do this (and HS developers are not alone in this). I’m fine with final bad guys being tough, but if we are both being granted additional powers, can’t I get something cool out of it besides a white glow? He gets wings, flying, raven hordes to attack me, power bolts, super speed, and all I get is a heavenly white glow? Boo! I could have at least had some sort of Angel Bomb or something.

Heavenly Sword is a game that I felt didn’t get the praise it deserved. While not perfect, it pushed the PS3 envelope in creativity, design, visuals, combat and storytelling (and it has an amazing soundtrack). Here’s to hoping there’s a sequel in the works — and that other developers will learn something from Heavenly Sword’s design.