In fall of 2008, two of the industry's premier shooters will face off in Resistance 2 (PS3) and Gears of War 2 (360).
Resistance, a PS3 launch title, found its way into gamers' homes and hearts following a stream of positive reviews from the gaming media. Though it sorely lacked the polish of Gears of War in terms of its visuals, it more than made up for its blemishes with a terrific story, solid gameplay and an excellent multiplayer component.
Gears of War, a title that did not see the light of day until over a year after the Xbox 360 was released, featured a brilliant singleplayer campaign with unsurpassed visuals and seriously addictive gunplay. Since their releases, Insomniac and Epic have had more than ample time to optimize each title's engines in order to get the most out of their respective consoles.
The gaming public is not only looking for these developers to deliver memorable second chapters, but also to create momentum before the crucial 2008 holiday season.
Nathan Hale and Marcus Fenix, though physically dissimilar, share more resemblances than it may initially seem. Hale, of Resistance fame, is a grizzled US Army Ranger (named after the United States' first spy) who was last seen in a snowy landscape being abducted by mysterious soldiers after destroying the Chimeran threat in the UK.
Fenix, a futuristic soldier known for his exploits in the Pendulum Wars, leads the COG forces against an invasion threat known as the Locust. Both protagonists, though widely praised for their courage on the battlefield, have some serious baggage entering the first chapters of their respective stories.
Hale, having lost both his parents to an influenza outbreak, is rumored to have killed an entire squadron of his own men during a training exercise, while Fenix was captured and jailed for going AWOL in a vain attempt to save his father. It's a simple formula - create an affable central character with a few minor flaws, give he/she superhuman abilities, have he/she save the world from evil. Pretty effective stuff.
Though the first Gears of War edged out Resistance in terms of graphical prowess, both sequels are looking awfully impressive in their alpha stages. From the looks of things, both developers are emphasizing an increased color palette; gone are the drab grey and brown environments of Resistance in favor of more lush surroundings.
Model counts in both games have been drastically increased as well, with Epic's title featuring an immense number of on-screen enemies in its debut trailer. Whether or not they can be encountered is yet to be seen, but it's satisfying knowing that every ounce of the PS3 and 360's power is being utilized in the creation of these anticipated titles.
At the moment, it's simply too close to call, and a bit unfair considering the gaming public has not yet seen any in-game footage of Resistance's single player campaign. One thing's for certain, you can fully expect these titles to be two of the best looking games on the market come this fall.
The inherent danger in producing video game sequels is falling into something I like to call the "one sequel every two years" trap, that is, the diminishing quality of a series' plot due an increased emphasis on gameplay elements. Sure, the majority of core gamers aren't exactly looking for Shakespeare, but the difference between games with a laughable story a plausible one can mean the difference between a "good" review and a sterling one.
Take Bioshock, for instance: a shooter that featured conventional FPS elements (with a few added perks in the "Plasmid" system) did nothing in terms of innovating the genre, however, its fascinating plot and characters captivated its audience from the first lines of dialogue. Its main advantage over the dozens of other console shooters was not its visuals (though Rapture's art style is still unequaled) or gameplay, but rather its transcendent story.
Many titles stumble into the same pitfall, focusing purely on perfecting its mechanics instead of delivering what could be a game's biggest asset, its narrative.
This brings me to my second point: both of these titles will undoubtedly be hugely successful, but Resistance 2 will trump Gears of War 2 in the eyes of reviewers and gamers alike in a critical area: its story. If there was one facet of Gears of War that its audience wished could improve, it would assuredly be its uninspiring narrative.
As I have said before, the majority of those who loved Gears did so because of its strategic gameplay, so fans should have no trouble delving into the second iteration of the Marcus Fenix saga. However, even with Epic pouring more effort into Gears of War's plotline than any of its other titles, it falls far short of the industries best titles. If Gears continues to move along the path it's currently on, the series will stand to lose a bit of its luster like so many other promising series have.
One of gaming's most popular figures, Itagaki, is a chief advocate of gameplay over narrative. Though his most recent iteration of Ninja Gaiden has impressed many with its sparkling fighting system, the lack of any real story behind the main character is hugely disappointing. I believe if a developer is providing you control of a character and the player is to accomplish X, Y and Z tasks with him, there'd better be a damn good reason for doing so.
This is not to say that Gears of War 2 will not be an enjoyable game, quite the contrary; however, in an era where video games are emerging as more than just a simple tool of enjoyment into a serious creative medium, the best titles will ultimately be remembered for their storylines.
Another area of Gears and Resistance that is receiving serious attention are their local and online multiplayer modes. While the first Gears of War offered a superior co-op experience, it paled in comparison to Resistance's more polished online capabilities.
The same graphical advantage that Gears held over other titles in the genre proved to be a crutch in online multiplayer, severely limiting the amount of action on screen while playing over the Internet. Those who enjoyed Halo 3 and Call of Duty 4 competitive multiplayer will adore Resistance 2's sixty player maps and eight-player co-op, but may find Gears 2's smaller matches a bit unfulfilling.
As much as I love chainsawing other players as Marcus Fenix online, with an unbelievably ambitious multiplayer component in the works, the online brawl is Insomniac's to lose this fall.
Like any other title, the decision to buy or deny all comes down to preference. Sometimes it's the series with more to prove that impresses most, and in other cases it's the established vet that remains paramount. There is no question both titles will undoubtedly satisfy shooter fans' cravings for months after they hit store shelves, but only one can receive the distinction of the year's best shooter.
With a remarkably talented development team behind the scenes at Insomniac improving most every aspect of an already stellar title, look for Resistance 2 to steal a bit of Gears' thunder come this November.
GoW has seized my heart and will never let it go thanks to it's amazing co-op campaign. I enjoyed it even more than... dare I say it... Halo. In that sense, I don't think Resistance will ever outdo GoW.