I just recently finished Resistance: Retribution on PSP. I’m not sure how I feel about it. On one hand, I played through its campaign in three straight nights of gaming, which means it was least somewhat addictive. On the other hand, I was so thoroughly finished with it by the end that I sent it back to Gamefly without exploring any of the extra content. The entire experience can be summed up in this kind of love/hate duality. For example, I admire how well developer Sony Bend managed to capture the scope and style of the setting on a more limited piece of hardware. On the other hand, I couldn’t stand how many assets from their Syphon Filter PSP games were reused. It isn’t just the control scheme they took — sounds effects, character animations, and even large chunks of the in game menus were reused in Retribution. I can see that the time and money they saved were put to good work in realizing the franchise on PSP, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that someone was trying to pull a fast one on me.
I also appreciated that the game preserved the series’ clever weapons and emphasis on using each one in different situations, but I also realized that I was using the exact same weapons in the exact same fashion, since there was no longer any sort of learning curve or need for experimentation.
Perhaps the problem was simply that, aside from the controls, the Syphon Filter games were not the best framework for Retribution. The two SF titles encouraged replayability by encouraging you to tackle each mission using different approaches (such as stealth, brute force, or by relying on non lethal kills). Replaying often revealed areas in each level that you might not have encountered before, which in turn allowed you to find more pieces of hidden intel, which greatly expanded the story. By putting an enticing carrot on the stick, Sony Bend could assume that their audience would explore the games to their fullest extent. Retribution wants us to play through it several times, but offers far less incentives. Every mission is a frantic shootout, leaving no room for alternate approaches. As a result, all the good extra content is unlocked entirely by finding intel (there is a “Skill Point” system somewhere in there as well, but it was so poorly explained that I had no urge to investigate it) . In other words, it gives no good reason to go back through any level other than to collect intel, and the sheer length of some of the missions makes this even less desirable than it already sounds on paper. At least in Syphon Filter, I could look for secrets while also challenging myself to kill everyone with a knife.
I guess in end, Retribution is not any different from the rest of the Resistance games. They always offer an intriguing alternate history that I want to explore, yet they do their best to drive me away. The campaigns drag on for too long, the characters never get treated with any real depth, and most of the lore is so hidden that only the most thorough players will find make heads or tails of what is going on in the plot. If Sony is trying to convince us to play this franchise over any number of good action games, they probably shouldn’t lock up so much of its charm. Playing a Resistance game always ends up feeling like work in the end, work that I would have to constantly pay for, as they spread the license out over multiple games, comics, books, and viral marketing campaigns. We know that it is possible to create a fully realized, believable world while also weaving a complete and standalone narrative. Films do it all the time with far fewer hours on the screen. But there is money to be had in stretching it out, and fiction fans in general have become obsessed with large, epic, universes no matter what the subject matter. I always thought that trying to piece together an official canon was a pain in the ass, and in many cases simply unnecessary. Now there are people that simply crave it, and Sony and other content distributors are more than happy to serve it up, piece by tiny piece.
So I say hell to Resistance, and hell to this idea that somehow quantity trumps quality in regards to storytelling. I like a well crafted universe as much as anyone, but something isn’t well crafted simply because it wants to be.