As the video game medium continues to mature, so do the narrations and tales within them. Stories are integral to the experience, so it’s important for their creators to finish them on the right note. The Resistance franchise always struggled with its identity, with each iteration being different from the last, but its story and mystery kept them all fused together. After more than five years of struggling to fend off Chimera for humanity’s survival, with just a one minute announcement, many were left asking, “That’s it?”
Warning: spoilers for Resistance 2 and 3
Ted Price, CEO of the California-based Insomniac Games, announced Jan. 26 that Resistance 3 would be the last in the series the studio would work on. This had been hinted at several times by those at Insomniac in the few months leading up to the game’s Sept. 6 release last year. In a YouTube message, Price did something unusual from a CEO. He directly addressed the Resistance fans.
He thanked the loyal players who were there with Resistance since the franchise’s beginning in 2006. As for the reason the studio was moving forward, Price said, “We believe that Resistance has reached its logical conclusion in terms of the story we (emphasized) wanted to tell.” The studio is currently working on Overstrike, a multi-platform release for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 being published by Electronic Arts. Overstrike is the first game that won’t be released exclusively on a Sony console since the studio’s early titles like Disrupter (1996) and Spyro the Dragon (1998).
Many passionate Resistance fans were disappointed and angry at the announcement. While the game media praised Resistance 3 for ending Insomniac’s chapter of the series on a high note, there was some serious doubt if many of them had paid any attention to the events of the games.
All three Resistance games are set in an alternative 1950s world invaded by the alien race Chimera. Resistance: Fall of Man released in November 2006 as a launch title for the PlayStation 3. The game was dark and gritty, set in locations across Britain in 1951. Resistance 2, released in November 2008, was a big departure from Fall of Man. Set in 1953, it played more like Call of Duty, with more colorful environments, large-scale battles and big boss fights in places like Chicago. Nathan Hale, the franchise’s protagonist, was killed in a cliffhanger ending in Resistance 2 because he became consumed by the Chimeran virus. Before being killed by squad-mate Joesph Capelli, Hale looked up to the apocalyptic sky covered by an eroded planet and said, “This is just the beginning.” Unfortunately the beginning never truly started.
Capelli is the new protagonist in Resistance 3, set four years after the previous game. It tells the personal journey of Capelli leaving his family in Oklahoma to travel to New York City, where he needs to close a Chimeran wormhole that is turning Earth’s climate into uninhabitable freezing temperatures. The Chimera need the cold climate to survive on the planet but it threatens to erase humanity for good. From a gameplay standpoint, the third installment was the best in the series. Insomniac crafted one of the best experiences in any genre. The atmosphere of Resistance 3 was absolutely phenomenal. The game’s depressing mood left players feeling like they had no chance to beat the Chimera. Insomniac even took an extra year of development time with Resistance 3. However it was clear that the game needed even more time because after the first few days of release, there were already two huge patches totaling close to 2 GB.
There were so many unanswered questions about the series’ plot that no one can consider Resistance 3 a “logical conclusion” to Insomniac’s story. Resistance 3 abruptly ends in a weird way because it felt like the campaign was building to something incredible throughout the game. The ending felt incredibly rushed and unsatisfying, with no massive shootout or final boss fight and only a couple of minutes of cut-scenes. Capelli simply destroys the Terraformer in New York City, closing the wormhole and dealing a significant blow to the Chimera. Afterwards he reunites with his wife and son for a happy ending. During the credits, radio messages play of people defeating Chimeran armies all over the world. After 90 percent of humanity were killed, survivors are also shown in still pictures rebuilding cities and even repairing the Statue of Liberty, signaling the end of the war against Chimera and permanent victory over the alien invaders.
Too many loose ends were left behind in Resistance 3 with nothing resolved. What about the shocking end of Nathan Hale in Resistance 2 and his prophetic last words? What and where are the Pure Chimera, and why were they on Earth millions of years ago? What about the bizarre and ritualistic Cloven, the sick experiment created by Dr. Malikov? What’s the deal with Grey Tech, the hyper-advanced technology that’s not of Chimeran origin? What about the mysterious race that were at war with the Chimera millions of years ago and actually beat them? These weren’t minor details but major lines of the Resistance story and mythology, ones that Insomniac built up for years but left unanswered.
Marcus Smith, creative director for Resistance 3, explained in IGN’s “Spoilercast” episode a few weeks after its release that the game wasn’t supposed to be a conclusion to the franchise. Throughout the discussion the impression was given that Insomniac wanted to make more Resistance games, or as Smith put it, “not close the door” on the story. He said that the ending wasn’t meant to be considered the end of the Chimera. Supposedly they’re still a powerful threat on Earth and it would take time to reverse that. Smith said one of Insomniac’s main goals was to bring in new fans with Resistance 3, and therefore the studio wanted to save the resources for the franchise’s big reveals on another game. It’s highly doubtful that a majority of players would even know about the interview or accept those reasons why Resistance 3 ended the way it did. These explanations need to be made perfectly clear within the game, not through an external source. If people are rebuilding the Statue of Liberty, why wouldn’t players assume the millions of Chimera on Earth have been finally defeated for good?
Maybe poor sales for the franchise were a contributing factor for Insomniac’s departure. Sales for the third installment were the worst in the franchise. The game only sold 180,000 copies during its first month of availability in the U.S., for a system with a worldwide install base of more than 50 million. The low sales are in large part due to the extremely poor marketing by Sony Computer Entertainment, with a total lack of advertising and consumer awareness about one of the PS3′s biggest exclusive games. Resistance 3 also had no chance in a competition against giant shooters like Electronic Arts’ Battlefield 3 and Activision’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, both released less than two months apart from the game. Interestingly, Insomniac developed eight Ratchet & Clank games since its 2002 debut on the PlayStation 2, but felt it was already time to move on from Resistance.
As an exclusive Sony-owned property, the Resistance franchise wasn’t put to extinction with Insomniac gone. Different development studios will take over for future Resistance titles. This isn’t a new precedent, since SCE Bend Studio developed Resistance: Retribution on the PlayStation Portable, which released in March 2009. Nihilistic Software is developing the next game in the series for Sony’s newest portable device. Resistance: Burning Skies is due May 29 for PlayStation Vita. Since Burning Skies is set between the events of the first and second game, players won’t find any real answers to the events that took place during and after Resistance 2 and 3. In the dire state the franchise is in, Burning Skies needs to do something in a big way to keep the Resistance story alive.
Insomniac leaving Resistance has put the franchise’s story and future in jeopardy. There’s many variables as to what could happen to the series now that Insomniac is gone. It could go handheld-only, like the Syphon Filter franchise did on the PSP. With Resistance 3′s disappointing sales and the franchise’s inability to become a top draw among gamers and critics this console generation, Sony may not choose to invest in another full-fledged console game. If it did, what studio does Sony have a partnership with that could develop the next game at the same level as Insomniac? Burning Skies might also turn out to be a commercial failure. What if after Burning Skies the series is completely finished and we never see a Resistance 4?
Even if Resistance continues on in the future, a new development team brings with them a new set of voices and visions that more than likely won’t necessarily line up with the original creation. They might change the direction of the franchise or choose to discard certain areas of the story that Insomniac had focused on. They could even reboot the series. Games also aren’t like television shows that return after a few months hiatus for the next season. There’s a 2-3 year wait between each new game release. Players invest years into these alternative universes. They’re emotionally connected to the characters and their stories. The characters, their challenges, victories and defeats are all an extension of the player. To end that deep investment with a confusingly rushed ending and then quickly move on to a new series doesn’t do anyone justice and devalues the stories already told.
A recent example of an excellent way to wrap up a story is in Epic Games’ Gears of War 3, released exclusively for the Xbox 360 in October. The game ended that particular storyline that also began in 2006, and answered most of the questions about Marcus Fenix and the Gears of War plot. This doesn’t mean that Gears of War is completely over, but it allows for new stories to be told in the future without neglecting to conclude the old ones. The Assassin’s Creed franchise from Ubisoft is another good example of a lengthy story arc that is coming to a potential end this year with Assassin’s Creed III. Each game in the franchise added layers that both revealed details and created more intrigue to the Assassin’s story, which will hopefully finish to coincide with the game’s 2012 doomsday storyline.
If Resistance 3 was Insomniac’s last for the franchise, the developer should’ve tried to incorporate some major elements of the storyline instead of leaving dedicated fans with a disservice. Perhaps Resistance 3 should’ve been less about Capelli’s personal tale and more focused on the groundwork laid in the previous two games, like what Gears of War 3 did. Encountering and fighting the Pure Chimera in their home world could’ve been explored in Resistance 3 and its sequels. If Insomniac truly ended its story in Resistance 3, future games could still have been created because there is so much to work with in terms of the franchise’s rich back story or battles from around the world that would still be taking place. Now players may never see those big story reveals teased by Insomniac the past several years.
While Resistance is a unique case because of the circumstances surrounding its developer, it highlights the problems that can arise during a story’s lifespan. As more and more games explore directly connected stories, the need is more important than ever for developers to conclude the journey they start. Don’t leave those who traveled to new worlds and formed new bonds to be left with the game permanently paused, waiting endlessly for answers.
Image by PlayStation Blog