|“|| It’s no secret how big of a Resistance fan I am. I enjoy the series’ ability to tell an interesting story while interweaving a handful of characters that you really get to know and care about. The Resistance trilogy on PlayStation 3 is a great example of how something as outwardly contrived as yet another first-person shooter can be so much more, and Resistance 3 in particular constitutes, in my mind, one of the best single-player experiences of the entire generation (until its disappointing ending, anyway).
So when I got to sit down with Resistance: Burning Skies on PlayStation Vita, I was excited. Not only does it represent the very first proper, dual-analog FPS on a handheld in the history of the gaming industry, but it also constitutes the continuation of a criminally underappreciated series that I hold very dear. But Resistance: Burning Skies proved to be an overwhelming disappointment for me, showing not only that its developer, Nihilistic Software, doesn’t understand what makes a Resistance game great, but that Sony itself doesn’t seem to care very much what happens to its once-proud series.
This surprised me, since my initial reaction to playing Burning Skies last year at Germany’s GamesCom was overwhelmingly positive. It was surreal to play a real shooter on a handheld, and if you examine Burning Skies solely as a shooter, it’s totally competent. But Resistance was never just another shooter, and that fact made it special. Burning Skies lost sight of this, and as a result we’re saddled with a shooter that plays well but that doesn’t exude that special something that makes Resistance such a respected series with the PlayStation faithful. This brings the entirety of the package down considerably and calls into question whether the franchise will continue at all.
For starters, we have Tom Riley, the FDNY firefighter at the center of the story, and the setting, which brings us to various places in the New York metropolitan area. I thought I would inevitably relate to this character and the locale in which he takes on the Chimera. After all, I’m from Long Island and my father happens to be a retired FDNY firefighter. But Tom Riley is boring, and you barely get to know him. The characters that surround him (most notably the freedom fighter Ellie and Tom’s wife and child) are underdeveloped and kind of just there. I didn’t care about any of them. These characters are a far cry from Nathan Hale and Joseph and Susan Capelli.
New York City itself rapidly becomes a boring backdrop when you put two and two together and come to the conclusion that you already know what happens to the entirety of the country in Resistance lore. It’s noble that Riley wants to drag people out of fires, save folks from Chimeran conversion centers and play the hero. But Spires are everywhere, the coast has quickly become overrun and we, as fans of the series, already know what happened to New York City. You see how cold, desolate and outright abandoned it becomes when you go there in Resistance 3.
In other words, nothing Tom Riley does actually matters. New York City still falls, the people he saved likely succumbed to the Chimera at a later date, and Riley himself walks into the sunset without us ever really knowing him. The developers at Nihilistic Software could have made us care about Riley, his family and his plight to negate these complaints. But they didn’t. They forced these issues to the fore through boring storytelling and a lackluster cast of characters that never successfully tie in to what we already know happens in Resistance. This is one of Burning Skies’ paramount problems, and I sense that Resistance fans will know precisely what I’m talking about when they play the game through for themselves.
Story, characters and setting aside, Burning Skies also missed the mark with presentation. When Resistance: Fall of Man launched with PlayStation 3 back in 2006, it impressed a slew of gamers with its style. Insomniac Games put a lot of love into its new franchise and you could tell. This culminated with Resistance 3, widely considered the best game in the franchise, one that absolutely oozed with Insomniac’s signature stylistic approach.
Beautiful, varied environments were littered with little things that expanded on the story. The best example of this was with Resistance 3’s amazing intel documents, which showed hand-written messages, beautiful pictures and more that further immersed you into a dying world. In Burning Skies, every document you find is typed in the same font with uninspired, boring and at times totally nonsensical text that does little-to-nothing in advancing the story. Insomniac Games knew that attention to minutiae is part of the reason Resistance is great, something that wasn’t parlayed to Nihilistic Software when it took hold of the franchise.
But Nihilistic Software didn’t grab the game on its own. Sony allowed this to happen to Resistance, begging the question "Does the company care about the series at all?" Resistance 3 met significant critical acclaim when it was released last year, even if it didn’t fare well commercially. Then again, Burning Skies was well into development before any of that happened (and I even played it before Resistance 3 was released). So I can’t point my finger at Sony and say that Resistance 3’s poor sales resulted in them taking the series out of the trusted triple-A sphere of developers. That simply wouldn’t be true.
But I can say that perhaps Sony never fully realized what it had with Resistance, and the damage Burning Skies does to the brand ensures a sort of negation of the crescendo Insomniac Games reached with Resistance 3. Resistance: Retribution on PSP proved that a studio outside of Insomniac could handle the franchise artfully, as the Sony-owned studio Bend showed PlayStation fans. But when Bend attempted to make another Resistance game, Sony pulled the plug. That studio was given Uncharted instead (an undoubtedly wise choice) while Resistance was thrown out of the first party, away from Insomniac, and to an unproven studio. Something tells me Sony wouldn’t have done that if it truly believed in Resistance as a brand.Nihilistic Software deserves a lot of credit for creating a good first-person shooter on the PlayStation Vita, a revolutionary task considering where handhelds have been and where they are right now. But Resistance deserves better than just good, because the series has always been great. And now, I fear, the series will be no more.