Review: Resistance: Retribution

ResistanceRetribution.jpg Sony’s Bend Studio has become the preeminent PSP shooter developer. Previously acclaimed for its stellar Syphon Filter duo – Dark Mirror and Logan’s Shadow – Bend Studio has since wrapped up and launched its third PSP project, Resistance: Retribution, and sure enough it’s yet another master class effort that PSP gamers the world over would be foolish to miss.

What surprised me most about Retribution was how well the story came together. Narrative has been one of the weaker links in the series so far, but in this PSP side story it’s actually one of the stronger links. Starring British marine turned Maquis mercenary James Grayson, Retribution bridges the gap between the two PS3 Resistance games, picking up a few weeks after the close of Fall of Man and building up to the Chimera’s US invasion that takes place in Resistance 2.

The Resistance series tells a fairly standard alien invasion story with an alternate history WWII twist, and on the PS3 the plot fell a bit flat in both previous installments mainly because none of the characters proved to be all that emotionally engaging. But thanks to new star James Grayson, what was once forgettable is now memorable. Grayson has so much more personality than Nathan Hale (the protagonist in the PS3 games), leading me to wonder why he wasn’t made the face of the series from the start. At first he’s a typical snarky, one-liner-spitting action hero with a death wish – and many of his one-liners are priceless, my favorite being “I’m James Grayson, bitches!,” an obvious tribute to Dave Chappelle’s classic Rick James skit – but as the plot progresses his personality softens a bit and you get to see a deeper, more insightful side of his character. If this game was ever turned into a movie, Christian Bale would be a perfect James Grayson.

Brit soldier Rachel Parker also resumes her role as narrator during the bulk of the game’s cut scenes and once again does a fine job explaining the events as she sees them. I’m a fan of narrated storytelling, and the technique is used exceptionally well in Retribution.

From a purely gameplay perspective, Retribution plays as well as a shooter can play on the PSP. If you’ve played either of the Syphon Filter titles, you’ll be right at home here. By default you move Grayson with the analog nub and aim with the four face buttons, however there is also an alternate scheme that flips those controls around. Manual aiming handles pretty well, especially if you go with the alternate method of using the analog nub for targeting, but due to the PSP’s control limitations an auto-targeting system is in place to help out during heated firefights when manual targeting simply isn’t precise enough to keep up with the pacing. The cover system is also automated, so whenever enemies approach all’s you have to do is run up to a piece of cover and Grayson automatically snaps to it without any muss or fuss.

Like with the PS3 iterations, the best thing about Retribution is its superb weapon design. Most of the weapons have standard primary fire options – shotguns, machine guns, plasma rifles, rocket launchers and so on – but each weapon’s alternate fire adds a new dynamic to the experience. The Auger can shoot through walls, the Razor can be charged up to fire a spinning energy blade that caroms off walls and homes in on nearby enemies, and the chaingun provides a protective shield from enemy gunfire, to point out but few examples of the fun gadgets you’re able to confront the Chimera with. Thankfully, Retribution also brings back the Weapon Ring inventory system from Fall of Man rather than Resistance 2’s limited two-weapon system. If the developers are going to provide all these cool weapons I want to be able to play around with them however I choose. It’s a frickin’ video game, who cares if it’s unrealistic carrying around eight different weapons at the same time? Having so many weapon options to choose from does raise concerns about balance, however in this case the developers did a good job balancing the ammo pick-ups to prevent the ability to breeze through the game using only the most powerful guns.

Retribution is worth picking up for its thrilling, briskly-paced campaign alone — which lasts a good eight hours by the way — but fortunately there is much to experience beyond a one-shot through the story. Replaying the campaign (or individual levels) is a must if you want to earn all the skill points and discover all the hidden intel files, and if you own a PS3 and Resistance 2 you can even sync the two together to “infect” your PSP with some cool bonus features, including support for using a DualShock 3 to control the game and the ability to play through the campaign as an infected Grayson with regenerative health and underwater breathing.

What’s more, the game’s 8-player multiplayer trumps every other PSP multiplayer experience to date. It’s not the deepest in terms of match types and maps – there are only five each – but the intense competition, fun core gameplay and weapons, and lag-free online performance more than make up for these arguable limitations. Rank progression and reward unlocks also provide incentive to regularly hop online and test your mettle as the Maquis or Cloven.

And of course I’d be negligent if I reviewed this game without gushing over its presentation. Retribution can go polygon-to-polygon with the most graphically impressive games on the platform, even outdoing many of them thanks to its amazing lighting, moody atmosphere, often-epic set piece scale and distinct level geometry. Rich ambient sound effects and a suspenseful score also successfully fulfill their roles immersing you into the experience with a sense of fear and mystery as you venture deep inside Chimeran conversion centers and other dangerous locales.

Unfortunately, Retribution’s technical prowess is marred a wee bit by a disappointing lack of polish. There aren’t any game breaking bugs here, but over the course of the game I ran into a few too many to forgive. In one instance an enemy Chimera suddenly vanished into thin air. It was still firing at me, but the character model was invisible. And another time I got stuck within a scripted moment of a battle in which an enemy was supposed to blow open a path for me to proceed through the level but glitched out before doing so and left me having to kill myself in order to revert to my last checkpoint. Also, during some of the more extravagant set piece battles, the frame rate can dip a little.

Although somewhat rough around the edges, Resistance: Retribution is the best all-around shooter to grace the PSP since the portable launched in 2005 (late 2004 if you’re in Japan), and at the same time it easily beats out both PS3 Resistance games as the most well-rounded installment in the series yet. Compelling narrative, solid play mechanics, rich solo play and multiplayer, and superior production values successfully converge to make Resistance: Retribution the ultimate PSP shooter.

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Pros:
+ Compelling story and characters
+ Comfortable and intuitive controls
+ Fun, balanced and well-paced gameplay
+ Smooth and intensely satisfying multiplayer
+ Phenomenal graphics
+ Incredibly immersive soundtrack and audio effects

Cons:
– A bit unpolished in spots
– Somewhat shallow selection of multiplayer match types and maps

Game Info:
Platform: PSP
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: SCEA Bend Studio
Release Date: 3/17/09
Genre: Third-person Shooter
ESRB Rating: Mature
Players: 1-8

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!