The success of the Xbox 360 has been staked largely on “Halo” and “Gears of War,” but the PlayStation 3 has never had a flagship shooter. Into this gap Sony once again tries to shove “Resistance,” a much improved but still significantly flawed sequel to the disappointing 2006 original. The massive, deep and accessible online multiplayer modes will appeal to a core group of fans, but the miserable single-player campaign leaves “Resistance 2” as more of a party barge than the flagship Sony needs.
Despite a unique attempt to draw in players by setting its narrative in a sci-fi version of Earth’s recent past instead of the more typical far-off planet, “Resistance 2” is ultimately just a confused amalgam of alien invasion, alternate history and zombie motifs. It’s the 1950s, and a strange virus is spreading through the world, somehow turning people into monsters with radiators on their backs and laser guns in their claws. The player controls an infected soldier named Nathan Hale who survived when Europe was overrun in the first game and is now defending America from an evil octopus overlord. Plot is just as incoherent as in the first “Resistance,” introducing spaceships hovering around the countryside, various giant monsters and the requisite mad scientist claptrap.
For those who play alone, “Resistance 2” is simply a bad shooter. The levels are relentlessly linear and contrived, stocked with cheap “gotcha!” deaths to pad playing time. There are monster closet ambushes, invisible creatures that instantly kill the player, and frustrating boss battles that can only be beat through pattern memorization.
The game takes place in a variety of locations, all of which carefully lead the player from point A to point B, fighting calculated pockets of monsters along the way. One minute Hale is in a lovely small town in a redwood forest hemmed in by a convenient traffic jam, the next he’s in a majestic ruined Chicago jumping from car to car to get over the flooded streets. Visual design is largely disappointing and occasionally downright lazy, such as an alien base that seems to have been created out of leftover artwork from “Halo.”
These disparate levels work much better as playgrounds for the multiplayer games, where “Resistance 2” is at its best. In addition to the usual deathmatches, there are massive skirmishes fought with up to 60 competitors on wide-open maps. Players select a weapon and special ability from a variety of choices, giving the matches lots of flexibility. As with the first game, the connections are smooth, the servers are always busy, and the gameplay is accessible for rookies.
But what really sells “Resistance 2” as a multiplayer game are the cooperative campaigns, which can be played online with up to eight people working together or split-screen with two in the same room. On each map, a series of objectives is dynamically generated by the game to keep teams on task: Disarm a bomb, for instance, then clear a room of monsters, then press a switch. Or do the same tasks in reverse order. It’s all simple and mostly mindless, but because it’s shuffled up and randomly fitted together, it doesn’t feel like the grind it actually is.
Players’ progress earning new weapons and abilities is saved whether done in single player, online competition or co-op. This gives every element of “Resistance 2” a gratifying sense of progression, lending the game a slightly addictive quality that will help players forget how frequently they’re stuck in a mediocre shooter.