Tour de Force!
Taking arguably the best PS3 franchise and squeezing it onto the PSP could have been a recipe for disaster due to the limitations of Sony’s handheld. Most recognizably, the lack of a secondary analog nub usually means shooters on the system are woefully clunky. Additionally, the Resistance titles are known for their sweeping, gritty environments. How could the PSP possibly do the series justice?
Finally, Resistance fans have always had a lot of content to wade through either in single or multiplayer modes. Shoehorning a sufficient amount of compelling gameplay onto a tiny UMD seemed unlikely. Alas, my PSP preconceptions have been proven wrong by Sony’s Bend Studio on all counts. Resistance: Retribution provides PSP owners with an interesting, engaging, and beautiful title that effectively emulates and complements the pedigree of the Resistance franchise.
Resistance: Retribution follows the rise and fall of one James Grayson, a former British Marine whose brother’s conversion to a Chimera caused him to go AWOL. Going rogue and taking out 26 Chimeran conversion centers, Grayson is eventually arrested by the British military and found guilty of desertion – a crime punishable by death. However, the firing squad is staved off by a representative of the Maquis – the French resistance force. Apparently, the old Chimeran conversion facilities are currently being dismantled by the Chimera in favor of new technology. The Maquis’ Mademoiselle Bouchard needs Grayson’s vast expertise of such complexes to get to the bottom of and destroy this new conversion center technology. As such, Grayson receives a full pardon with the proviso that he must aid and assist the French resistance before gaining his freedom. Little do the powers that be know, this is exactly the opportunity Grayson has been looking for; his only purpose in life is to slake his burning thirst for the black ooze the Chimera call blood.
To go deeper into the story would be to ruin the twists and turns of the narrative. Suffice it to say, fans of Resistance may find this game’s storyline to be the most compelling yet. A big part of that is undoubtedly due to the protagonist, James Grayson. Grayson is not the stoic, obtuse hero embodied by Nathan Hale. Grayson is a brash, outspoken, pain in the arse that is perhaps Europe’s best chance at liberation. The bits of dialogue played out in the numerous cutscenes portray Grayson as a no-nonsense badass that players will love to take on. The voiceover work for Grayson is outstanding and will quickly endear gamers to his character. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the supporting cast. The preponderance of poorly imitated French accents makes key characters like Bouchard and Mallery wholly unbelievable. Thankfully, the detailed ambient sounds such as empty shells and casings hitting the ground, and the varied orchestral score that intelligently changes to illicit appropriate emotion from the player depending on the situation keep the aural presentation in very good graces.
As solid as the sounds in Retribution are, they can’t hold a candle to the title’s visuals. This is perhaps the best-looking PSP title to date. It was amazing just how well the devs were able to capture the look of Resistance – with its bombed out buildings, mix of hyper-modern facilities and old-world cities, loads of realistic textures, evocative lighting, and ingenious character design. All of it is remarkably intact on the little handheld’s screen. According to Sony Bend, it’s all due to their third generation PSP engine, which permits more onscreen action, “higher resolution bitmaps and specular highlights,” and a memory buffer system that “allows for larger and more detailed worlds.” Going beyond technical jargon, it is evident that the developers are experts at using the technology and took the necessary time to polish the title to a level that has only been approached (but not surpassed) by games such as Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core and God of War: Chains of Olympus.
Of course, what’s phenomenal presentation without great gameplay? Once again, Resistance: Retribution rises to the occasion. They accomplished this by effectively working around the PSP’s control shortcomings, providing alternative ways to control the title, loading the title up with great, distinct weaponry and enemies, giving players a nice amount of standard and bonus content to wade through, and including a multiplayer component that is more than just a nice entry on the feature list on the back of the box.
Whereas most shooters on the PSP fail due to crummy controls, Bend Studio has developed a compelling cover mechanic and third-person targeting system that make playing on the handheld an utter breeze. Players will blast their way through the story by taking advantage of an auto-binding cover system and a targeting reticule that actively seeks out targets in your field of view. This adeptly gets around the PSP’s lack of an analog nub by effectively giving players protection and getting their sights on the target immediately. The result is stop-and-pop gunplay that is fast and satisfying even if it makes things a bit easy.
Naturally, the developers recognized that some players wouldn’t feel challenged by the mechanic and added enemy types that more or less force you to deactivate the auto lock-on function in favor of manual control. Thankfully, this can be done on the fly by simply pressing up on the D-pad. This takes a bit to get used to, but after the first few waves of Boomers, players will get the hang of it. Also, many weapon types require you to manually aim at enemies, and targeting specific body parts, i.e. the head, still does more damage, eliminating oncoming foes much more quickly.
Manual controls aren’t perfect, however. Using the face buttons to aim your weapon is decidedly less efficient than what shooter fans are used to. As such, Sony Bend even went so far as to add a Retribution Plus feature that allows you to control the game with a DualShock 3 or Sixaxis controller – even rumble functionality comes through via the DualShock 3. The only catch is that you have to have both a PS3 and a copy of Resistance 2 along with the controller. If you have all the requisite components, this control scheme is surprisingly effective. Of course, there is one more little hitch. Playing with a PS3 controller is only worth it if you hook up your PSP to the TV – placing the PSP on the ground or even on a table and playing with a PS3 controller is a waste of time and effort.
Similarly, players can also access Infected Mode by pairing their PSP with their PS3 and Resistance 2. Infected Mode changes up the story (and some of the dialogue) a bit by making James Grayson an infected human like Nathan Hale. Not only is the narrative slightly tweaked, but players will also have access to additional intel folios strewn about the game and can shoot the HE .44 Magnum – you know… the handgun from Resistance 2 that allows you to blow up Chimera from the inside with its secondary fire functionality. Also, no longer will players have to worry about picking up pesky health packs (which seem to be somewhat incongruent with the scope of the story), as Grayson will now be able regenerate his health meter and breathe underwater – attributes which are decidedly useful toward the end of the game.
Unfortunately, Infected Mode only lasts as long as your PSP is turned on. As such, it is fairly cumbersome and inconvenient for playing on the go. Also, you can’t take advantage of the Retribution Plus control scheme while in Infected Mode. Nevertheless, it adds a lot of subtle nuances and encourages replayability. I would suggest players to beat the game as human Grayson, then go back through the story a second time as infected Grayson, collecting the missing intel and picking up on the differences as you go.
In addition to the great single-player campaign, the multiplayer component in Resistance: Retribution stands head and shoulders above the competition. Players can join or host a game via ad hoc or infrastructure modes. Players can choose between ranked and player matches, five different game modes including Free-for-All, Team Deathmatch, CTF, Containment, and Assimilation, and five different, excellent maps in which to run around. Nuances such as team assist perks that encourage teamwork, rank progression, medal accumulation, text entry and voice chat support (if you have a PSP-3000), and clan tags make this more than just your standard portable multiplayer action. In fact, there is already a vibrant community supporting the game’s competitive multiplayer. This makes getting a game with eager players an easy task whether joining or hosting a match. The only downside to multiplayer is that the auto lock-on targeting system is still in effect, which leads to an experience that is less about skill and more about camaraderie.
I encourage anyone with a PSP to pick up Resistance: Retribution. This is beyond a doubt one of the very best games for the system, and it is fun to play for fans of the series, shooter experts, and gaming novices alike. The varied controls schemes make the title accessible for everyone, and the unparalleled presentation and engaging story should make believers out of anyone. Bravo Sony! The solid gameplay and advanced features packed into this title have unlocked some of the unrealized potential of the PSP and have rekindled my interest in the platform. I’ve got a feeling a horde of other gamers will agree!
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 5.0 Graphics
This is perhaps the best visual presentation on the PSP to date. 4.3 Control
The vast amount of control scheme options are inclusive of many different gaming skills and help to circumvent the handheld’s shortcomings. Some may find the stop-and-pop gameplay to be a bit mundane. 4.1 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Too bad a portion of the voice acting is so bad, because Grayson’s character is awesome, and the orchestral themes make the nervy mood of the Resistance world come right through. 4.8 Play Value
The excellent single-player campaign is loaded with goodies and can easily be played through a second time due to the inclusion of Infected Mode. The multiplayer offering sets the bar for competitive shooter gameplay on the PSP. 4.6 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.