In squeezing the Resistance experience into the PSP hand-held, Sony Bend was faced with a markedly different design challenge to Insomniac’s task in creating the PS3 original. Whereas Resistance: Fall of Man was designed to show off the rendering potential of Sony‘s flagship console, Retribution's mission is one of deception. Not only must it work within the limitations of the PSP, it must also deliver an experience that bares a passing resemblance to its forbearer.
Any other developer would have found themselves painted into a corner here, but not Sony Bend. By drawing on their experience in bringing two Syphon Filter games to the PSP, they’ve created a fairly robust shooting experience.
This is not a straight port, clearly. The first concession made was to perspective; Resistance is now a 3rd-person shooter. In the standard view, rugged Chimera-hating war criminal James Grayson moves swiftly and takes up a fraction of the screen. An upwards tap of the D-Pad zooms right in to an over-the-shoulder view. Grayson moves much slower in this mode, but his aiming is more precise; its worth dipping into this perspective occasionally to line up a head shot or puncture an exploding barrel.
Shifting one's view around with the face buttons seems wonky at first, but ultimately works well; prodding the analogue stick actually makes him move. Walking right up to an overturned desk will usually make Grayson take cover automatically, but for doorways it's a more finicky process.
While plentiful, the Chimera are thankfully quite thick, and behave in predictable patterns. After taking cover, a typical tactic will be to pop up, fire off some shots in your general direction, pause, and duck back down again. Simply waiting until they've fired off their burst will cue you in on when to fire back; once the screen is clear of their glowing red bullets you‘re good to go. Since the auto-lock-on functions even when you're taking cover yourself, a short, controlled burst aimed square at the nearest alien baddie takes nothing more than a tap of the R2 button.
Health does not regenerate. Instead, you have to carefully husband your hit points, and pick up glowing red canisters the old-fashioned way. Being highly linear, tactics boil down to being acutely aware of what's in front of you and reacting accordingly.
There are a few conspicuous flaws here, and some can be directed squarely at the game designers. The story telling is clunky, with an over-reliance on cut-scenes. The ones rendered in the game engine aren't terribly well animated, and only serve to paint the protagonist as a smarmy, maladjusted anti-hero - James Grayson is not a likeable man. The voice acting of Jimbo and most of his sidekicks is mediocre, their wooden avatars fitting puppets for this performance. Worst of all: the mid-level cut scenes cannot be skipped.
The aesthetics of the setting were fine-tuned for the resolution and rendering norms of the PS3; the design of the Chimera seems too complex most of the time, and sniper-scope zooming only shows off the sharp edges of their low poly-counts. While some effort has been made to make a credible lighting engine, and the jagged rubble of war-torn Europe helps to tart up the limited geometry of the tiny play areas, ultimately this is not a sexy looking game. Compared to the smooth and silken rendering of a Patapon or a Metal Gear Acid, Retribution feels like a port from another system, and a rushed one at that. The loading times are long, too, and the infrequent save points are a right pain.
On a more serious note, one must beware the temptation to madly bash at the face buttons during some of the timed challenge scenes, lest one inadvertently knock the power switch and lose a slab of hard-earned progress.
Speaking of unlocking things, certain game features - character abilities, weapons, and even a sizeable chunk of the campaign - can only be accessed if you link up to Resistance 2 on PS3. One way of looking at this feature is that it gives gamers 'extra value'. Another way would be to infer that Sony is treating those who own a PSP without its Blu-ray-packing big brother as second class citizens.
These shortcomings aside, Resistance: Retribution is a competently implemented third-person shooter that brings short, sharp bouts of sci-fi action to the PSP. A fair to average release, but it could have delivered a lot more; let’s hope Sony Bend fares better when they bring Syphon Filter to the PS3.