There's no doubting the scale of this sequel, but does Insomniac's opus get everything right?
I found Resistance 2 underwhelming when Sony ushered it onto the stage in February, still more underwhelming when gameplay footage, complete with pudgy Godzilla rip-off, blustered into view at E3, and so underwhelming it hurt on the strength of forty five minutes with a review copy.
It's not a first impression I expect many readers to share. Most, I'm sure, will be knocked sideways by the almost insolent magnitude of the initial encounter, as returning lead Nathan Hale toughs it out against a quadrupedal mech large enough to stomp a helicopter flat, beset from all sides by enraged mutant toothpaste adverts with laser-sharp reaction times. But I'd gotten used to the idea that Resistance 2 was big - Sony and Insomniac have talked of practically nothing else, after all, since Hale's Second Coming went alpha. And I wasn't sure how buying the design team longer rulers would propel the original's comfortable take on genre norms into the company of Valve's creations.
Resistance: Fall of Man fell down in places because it lacked character. It attempted to merge the best bits of the World War II and sci-fi action genres, Saving Private Ryan's grit-pocked shaky-cam realism with the jump-pads and rail guns of Quake and its ilk, but somehow managed to blend only the more generic aspects of each: khaki-brown Hollywood heroics thrust into a passable imitation of The War of the Worlds. Coming from the developer of Ratchet and Clank, two of the most colourful individuals ever to grace a disc drive, this newfound sobriety was a bit of a shock.
Insomniac's PS3 launch hit was technically accomplished - impressively so, given a rushed development period - and its curveball armoury leant otherwise conformist two-stick shooting galleries a touch of chaos, but it didn't punch a hole in your world-view like close contemporary Gears of War did (from an aesthetic standpoint, at least), nor could it provide much shelter against the landslide of quality action titles which arrived the following year.
On the strength of those first forty-five minutes, Resistance 2 looks like it's going to go the same way. As a work of cold hard programming there's not much to pick on: Insomniac has spent the two years between games feeding up its proprietary engine with choice technological titbits: autumnal landscapes enriched by wonderful new light scattering effects, more evocative (if strangely luminous) facial shaders, and what is probably the most convincing water we've seen in any game released this year.
But the design work isn't quite as inspirational. The scenery changes on an hourly basis as Hale and his band of roughnecks zip back and forward across North America, ejecting the odious mutant scum from warehouses, underground military installations (both human and Chimeran), pine forests, B-movie hicksvilles bubbling over with mutated hicks, ruined cities and swamps - each sculpted with more poise than the first game's war-torn England, but not half as organically as Half-Life 2's coastal towns and disused canals.
It's a problem founded again, we suspect, on the contradictory demands of the genres Insomniac is trying to hybridise. Had this been a Ratchet game it wouldn't have mattered that piles of sandbags are arranged in suspiciously regular (and utterly indestructible) patterns across arenas, or that Goliath tanks pack fat, goofy and easily targetable heat sinks, or that crates, oil drums and other arcade paraphernalia litter the landscape.
But Resistance 2 wants to create an atmosphere of, well, resistance, of desperate and unflinchingly authentic last stands against brutal odds, and such cartoony elements can't help but exert a contrary pull. One moment you're tip-toeing through the pitch black of a Chicago residential block, flashlight flitting over dismembered corpses and exploded furniture, the only human sound that of a refugee radio correspondent hysterically relating his own adventures in the dark; next you're trading chunky missiles with a robot drone ripped straight from Jak and Daxter.