What Resistance: Fall of Man Taught me About Game Design

Every time I visit my brother, we like to play co-op games together. More often than not we find ourselves playing older games, usually from the mid-to-late 2000s. On my most recent visit, we played through Resistance: Fall of Man on PS3, which got me thinking about the changes in game design priorities in the thirteen years since the game’s release. A game like Resistance would simply not be made today. Not just because changes in technology have eradicated many of the game’s clunkier elements, but also because the ethos and structure of the so-called ‘AAA’ industry have changed. Moreover, our expectations of what a game should be and what it should contain have changed too. Resistance is a game with a design ethos that is a rarity today: one which prioritised simple fun. It had just the right combination of nonsense storytelling, randomness and plain old fun to make it enjoyable, despite its flaws. A comparison, then, between the original Resistance (2006) and the final entry in the series, Resistance 3 (2011), provides a case study in how design priorities have changed in the short time between their releases, which are also indicative of wider trends in the industry.

Resistance Fall of Man
Resistance Fall of Man

Resistance: Fall of Man’s narrative presentation is one of the core elements that sets it aside from current games. It casts the player in the role of US soldier Nathan Hale, who comes to the UK to fight an alien race known as the Chimera. From there, the player goes on a country-wide adventure killing aliens. That is pretty much all there is to it. Despite playing through the entire game in just a few sittings, and watching every cut scene, my brother and I spent most of it with no idea of the specifics of what was going on or why we were doing what we were doing. The only character to receive any characterisation was a British soldier named Cartwright, whose sole personality trait was that he ‘didn’t sweat the small stuff’. Ultimately, none of this really mattered that much because we were having so much fun killing aliens.

The same can be said for the game’s environments. The first level takes place in York, in an area seemingly modelled on the city’s Shambles district. It was only when we reached a later level, set in Manchester, and found identical buildings that we started to suspect that this might be what the developers thought all of England looked like. At least their depiction of Trafalgar Square in the penultimate level did not appear identical as well! Aside from the city levels, most of the game took place in unremarkable ‘facilities’, comprising corridors made either of concrete or grey-green alien metals. In modern games, terms like ‘liner’ or ‘corridor shooter’ are considered dirty words. But many past greats employed this technique ­– Half Life and its sequels being the most famous examples. Where Half Life’s linearity allowed the game to tell a tightly-controlled, well-paced story, Resistance ‘s linearity served to streamline the experience and maintain the urgency of the alien threat without risking the player wandering off.

The game’s difficulty is one facet that has not aged well. Resistance manufactured difficulty by simply swarming players with enemies, some of which could shoot through walls. Enemies would ambush players by jumping out from around corners, behind obstacles or spawning directly from behind. Admittedly, this led to some frustrating moments. This type of game design is more reflective of changes in technology rather than development ethos. Today, developers have far more experience in creating well-balanced, challenging sequences rather than Resistance’s manufactured difficulty.

While some of the above points may seem like criticisms, in the end, our net experience was a positive one. I was happy playing a game that prioritised fun over a complex design. This contrasts sharply with Resistance 3, which we gave up playing before the first hour.

In this sequel, the mute soldier Hale was replaced by ex-soldier, Joe, a typical modern protagonist. He is brooding, gritty and has a tragic backstory. He also has a wife and sickly child who he must protect. The blank slate of Nathan Hale, onto whom we were able to project whatever we wanted, was replaced by factory-standard Joe. Many of the problems with the original game persisted, but now with modern elements plastered over them. The game attempted to simulate an open environment by switching out the facilities for the American country. Yet its linearity remained, leading us to becoming lost in maps that wanted us to follow a path but were too expansive for that path to be clear. Enemies continued to swarm the player, but the fancy modern user interface and aiming made targeting them even more difficult than the clunky original. What Resistance 3 did was take a game that had prioritised the enjoyment of shooting aliens and layer on top a more emotional story that only worked to the detriment of the overall experience.

Resistance gameplay
Resistance gameplay

Player freedom and engaging stories are not inherently bad. Some of the most celebrated games of all time, Fallout and Mass Effect (which are also two of my favourites), have these elements at their core. In addition, 2018’s A Way Out, a game centred around multiple elaborate prison-breaking scenarios, might be one of the best co-op experiences my brother and I ever had. My objection is the attempt by the industry to turn every game into games like these. The difference between these games and Resistance 3 is that the former knew exactly what they wanted to be from the outset. Other more recent examples that have fallen victim to this trend are Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, Homefront: The Revolution and Dynasty Warriors 9, which deviated from their simpler predecessors to the detriment of what had made them enjoyable in the first place. Fallout 76, of the aforementioned titular series, also strayed from its original successful formula to chase a different trend. But it only succeeded in becoming one of the most reviled games in history. This seems to be partly down to the industry’s desire for every game to be a big-budget blockbuster. But also due to a sense of shame from creating a game which is just for fun, does not pretend to be something more than what it is and has no problem being a little bit daft.

In the past, Resistance would have been the sort of game you would find ubiquitously in the two-for-one section of your local GAME store, but now, even within the indie market, you would be hard-pressed to find a game like Resistance. The industry needs games in which you can simply plug in a second controller for a friend or sibling and play. They should not require a huge  time investment. Players should be able to start from any point in the story and enjoy it without needing to remember a complex storyline. It seems as though the late 2000s was the perfect era for such games. Not every game needs to be gritty and complex. Once the stigma surrounding games that exist purely for fun has been eradicated, the industry will be better for it.