NEW YORK — Ryan Schneider concluded a 50-minute demonstration of what may prove to be the most advanced PlayStation 3 game launching this year with a comment that was kind of a suggestion, sort of a hope and just a touch of smack-talk.
“Hopefully we just demonstrated [that] what you’re seeing here could only be done on PS3,” he said on Monday afternoon. As the spokesperson for Insomniac Games and the tour guide for an almost hour-long demo of the November-launching “Resistance: Fall of Man,” Schneider is paid to make that kind of pitch. But did he have a point?
Fifty minutes earlier, Schneider and Sony Associate Producer Greg Phillips flanked a massive high-definition TV and powered “Resistance” to life. Here came the pitch. But first, the story: This first-person shooter from the makers of “Ratchet and Clank” would chronicle four days in July 1951 across an England scarred by a war against the several-eyed humanoid aliens called the Chimera.
“It is not a World War II game,” he said, not just because it takes place in the ’50s and replaces Nazis with aliens, but because in the world of “Resistance,” that war never happened. Aliens swept through Russia at the turn of the century, the Communists never took over, and Lenin died in a gulag. A congressional filibuster blocked U.S. involvement in World War I. For a time, America stayed secluded from global conflict (which is historically accurate, as the U.S. did not get involved in World War I until 1917, three years after the conflict began). The Chimera took hold of Asia, then continental Europe, and then England. Come 1951, an American Army ranger named Nathan Hale would go missing during combat against the Chimera in England. His four days in England are the player’s to experience. That’s the plot — which sounds possible, probably, on any console.
Next from Schneider and Phillips came a demonstration of the game’s first level, a shootout between humans and aliens in the city of York, frantic and detailed enough to not appear on game machines that launched five years ago. Aliens shot laser guns from second-story windows; foot soldiers returned fire from the ground. Cars in the courtyard combust in different ways: Shots deflate tires or explode gas tanks.
In the opening level, the hero Hale held a basic rifle and Schneider offered a next-gen tease: “We are going to be supporting the tilt functionality of the PlayStation 3 controller,” he said. “You’re going to be able to shake off melee advances, and you’ll be able to counter-strike with a rifle butt. And we’re looking at other tricks as well.”
None of those techniques were in the incomplete build on display in Manhattan, but onscreen text indicated when they’d be allowed. A vampiric smothering from one foe was the moment for the shake. The jolt with the rifle butt — holding the controller with two hands and jabbing forward with the right — was animated into the game but triggered, for now, just with a press of the button. Players will have a choice of button press or flick to make it happen in the finished game. Those maneuvers might be possible with the Wii as well, but with the detailed pandemonium of the “Resistance” version of England? Probably not.
Schneider offered some distinguishing stats (which he called MTV News on Tuesday to further clarify). The game, he said, currently takes up 22 Gigabytes of memory on a Blu-Ray disc, the new disc format supported by the PS3 that is one-half of a VHS-vs.-Betamax format war erupting between tech companies throughout the year. While the music and vocals in “Resistance” take up only about 1 Gigabyte of disc space, graphics, level data and programming code occupy most of the remaining 21.
“We’re going to fit more on a Blu-Ray disc than you could on an HD DVD,” he said, referring to the competing format, which in its most basic discs can’t hold more than 15 GB. More numbers: 40-player online matches at launch; 60 levels of player progression while playing online; two-player offline co-op. Phillips promised better, deeper support than any Xbox Live launch title.
Next came a level from halfway into the game. A deep crater in a rustic English town makes a foundation for the elaborate metal alien node. An alien of Incredible Hulk proportions and armed with a massive flame-spitting gun prowled the crater floor. The game is gritty and grim.
Asked if anything in this bleak, gray, brown and yellow war shooter could claim inspiration from the bright, green, blue and silver “Ratchet and Clank” games, Schneider had a ready answer.
Talk of “Ratchet” weapons conjures memories of guns that spat exploding bowling balls, including one that spawned small black holes and a cannon that turned enemies into sheep. “Resistance” guns are designed to be fired with more of a grimace. The “augur” blasts energy that slows through a cover of sandbags but eventually punches through. A sniper rifle comes equipped with a slow-motion viewpoint that allows players to juke between incoming energy bullets before firing from long range. The rocket launcher can leave its fired rocket suspended in mid-air until it finds a target and lets the journey end.
The “sapper” shoots goo. Fired on walls, it drips down onto enemies, sapping their life energy, naturally. This armament, Schneider said, couldn’t be done last-gen. He pointed to the sapper’s goo, including the “level of interaction between the globules from a physics standpoint.”
He and Phillips did a developer cheat, nearly freezing the game world as they had Hale launch a bomb called the “hedgehog” — which is like a sea urchin — radiating 50 spikes. With the game slowed and the hedgehog gliding through the battlefield, Schneider talked about each of the 50 connected spikes probing the game world with their own artificial intelligence, assessing where they’re about to make contact with the game’s environment, when to ricochet and where to go. He pointed to enemies reacting with smooth, retreating animations. He noted the metal-on-metal ping as the hedgehog hit steel and said a different sound would have triggered if it tapped wood. He showed how the hedgehog figured out when to suddenly extend its spikes into a waist-high obstacle and erupt toward nearby enemies.
Then they fired another, this time without the slowdown, and that complexity re-emerged quicker than two finger-snaps. No, that couldn’t be done on a PS2, they said. Not like that.
Schneider said the game was developed with four criteria: immersiveness, believability, fun and creepiness. “That was the guiding light for us from beginning to end,” he said.
But there’s clearly a fourth criterion now part of the message: show off the potential of the $500 to $600 PS3. An hour makes a strong argument for the system’s unique potential, but the case isn’t closed — yet.
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