Resistance 3 is a fun game. It’s not super interesting nor does it have interesting design bits but it’s a more than enjoyable shooter. It floats somewhere between the shores of mediocrity and the sea of excellence. There is one design quirk that really boggles my mind the more I think about it and I’d like to share it in this corner. It’s not the health-system, which I actually adore, nor is it the mind-blurringly shallow multiplayer and it isn’t the abuse of the audio diaries to fill in important plot background stuff. No, no, no… it’s something I’ve said before that “I whine about every week.” except this goes beyond odd.
In Modern Warfare 2 you, at one point, controlled Soap again after playing as Roach and the American guy… along with god knows how many other player characters. I don’t like Modern Warfare 2 all that much, we’ll get to that someday with my Workshop column, but I did like how it treated me as a player. Whenever I was playing as Roach and buddying up with Soap then the surfactant spoke to me and engaged with the narrative, whenever I was playing as Soap then he shut his gob and did the whole “zero player character dissonance thing”, in essence, I was sharing him with the narrative.
What Resistance 3 does however is probably the most oddest thing of all time. In the narrative it establishes that your character, Joseph Capelli, is a family bloke who is all sombre and shit. The story centres itself around this motivation, that Joseph is trying to get to New York and stop the big bad all because ‘family’. You know, it’s gotten to the point where I need to make a term for this sort of thing, a New Gamer Dictionary entry. See, we already have Freeman Complex for when the player-character doesn’t speak so why can’t we have one where there’s pre-determined elements that separate the player’s motivation and the player character’s motivation?
The assertion of a video-game developer that the player character and player’s motivations and or general cares are completely synonymous when in fact this is completely incorrect or misguide, resulting in ‘player and PC (player character) dissonance’. Usually prevalent in video-games that impart poor interactive storytelling and/or tell their stories through displaced means (e.g cutscenes, quicktime events etc.). This can involve pre-determined characteristics and relationships that affect the narrative, motivations that do not hold the same effect to the player and also morality alignment (e.g in the cut-scenes the player character acts with good intentions, whereas the gameplay is free to the extent that the player is free to commit murder whenever they desire).
Origin: Rockstar Games’ Red Dead Redemption; specifically John Marston: the player character and his motivation in the narrative going against what the player would care about (‘your family’), his motivation alignment and the player’s freedoms (Marston as a saint in the non-interactive story, a player free to murder spree), general pre-determined characteristics (‘years of history’ with specific antagonists) and many other elements.
That’ll do (coming from someone who rather loves Red Dead Redemption).
Resistance 3 suffers from a Marston Complex, simple as, so why am I talking about something I always talk about anyway? Because Resistance 3 goes a step beyond this Marston Complex and creates an absolute paradox. In the cutscenes and non-interactive elements, yes there are pre-determined relationships and forced motivations abound, but the gameplay does re-enforce these characteristics actually. Capelli, and thus the player, go on a Chimera murder spree, so that’s all well and good. What doesn’t add up is one specific choice by Insomniac Games: to add in the Freeman Complex.
It’s one giant paradox in which the player character doesn’t speak, so as to allow immersion and cement the relationship between the almost symbiotic relationship between player and player character, and yet does speak at the same time. He speaks about killing Chimera, so he kills Chimera, the gameplay re-enforces the forced story yet we’re still given some form of Freeman Complex freedom in all of this. It feels dirty, it feels weird and it feels odd. I know how many of you will probably love Red Dead Redemption for it’s ‘heartbreaking story’ or something and I know how many of you played Resistance 3 and likely didn’t even think of any of this until now.
What happens is we have a game that assumes motivations of you, ‘your family’, but then caters to your other motivations, ‘murder Chimera with cool gunz’, you’d think they’d balance out? I don’t think so. The billion-dollar cutscenes feel a lot different than the million-dollar gameplay, there is dissonance at play here and perhaps on a larger scale. Capelli speaks and whines about his family during the cut-scenes but then during gameplay he’s completely silent. Freeman and Marston co-exist and it feels so… wrong. The two cannot co-exist, the fate of the universe demands it.
Am I being too abstract? I certainly hope not because I wholeheartedly believe that Resistance 3 is a well-paced and very competent shooter, but it’s one that clutches at straws with its narrative. You know, some people say that they don’t care and that it’s fine that Red Dead Redemption saw them as a simple puppet-master to cry at their beloved puppet. Some people say interactivity is about interactivity, and not about its potential to transport people within the actual universe instead of just leaving all of that humanistic clutter behind.
You can be quite sure about what I believe: no. I believe that we’re playing to the strengths of cinema, and that’s all well and good for a fledging medium to heavily rely on others, but I believe video-games’ true potential to lie in its interactivity and not the base interaction.They have the power to allow us to forget ourselves and cry at John Marston but the truth is that they have the unlimited power to allow us to beat Marston to a pulp and take his boots, revolver and role in our hands and make something of it… without losing who we are. If we do just that then maybe the flight back home to reality might depart with some extra, enriching baggage.
Resistance 3 does a lot of things right but its dissonance is on an incredible scale. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this happen before… Metro 2033 did a similar thing but its cut-scenes didn’t give away any of Artyom’s motivation other than ‘find the baddies and stop them’ and… well that was mine too. I’ve probably ranted on a bit too much but… that is everything I wanted to say on Resistance 3’s one bizarre design quirk but it’s probably something I need to come back and study a little bit more. I don’t think I even mentioned the ending in which Capelli saves the whole of time and space and is re-united with his non-polygonal family.