Of all the developers trying to shoehorn console-style shooters onto the PSP, I think Sony's Bend, Oregon studio has been among the most successful. They've been holding it down the last few years with the two portable installments in the Syphon Filter series (Dark Mirror and Logan's Shadow), and now they've turned their attention to the first handheld entry in the Resistance series, Retribution. The game just went gold, and Sony held a demo session recently wherein the press got their sweaty hands on Retribution's multiplayer action.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, I pinned down Bend's Chris Reese for a quick interview which we cut with a generous amount of gameplay footage. And since you kids do love your video, here it is!
Bend has clearly applied the lessons it learned while making the Syphon Filter games, since Retribution also presents multiple control schemes that variously map aiming and character moving to the analog stick and face buttons. Once you've got the controls tweaked to your liking, you'll notice a generous auto-aim feature once you jump into the action. Anyone who's tried to aim precisely in other PSP shooters will already know the aim-assist feature is a godsend, and I have a feeling it will make the core shooting in Retribution a lot more enjoyable than it would have been with manual aiming.
The four-on-four multiplayer works over both local wireless and the Internet, and there are five modes available. You're probably familiar with free-for-all, team deathmatch, and capture the flag at this point. The two unique modes are Containment and Assimilation. Containment puts two control points on the map, signified by large coolant nodes, and your team gains points by controlling one or (ideally) both of them. Unlike most conquest-style multiplayer modes, though, you don't capture a node just by hanging out next to it for a minute; you have to destroy individual panels on the sides of the device, which you can do up close or from afar. So there's a little more strategy involved in node capture than you'd expect.
Assimilation starts all but one player off as a human. If you're the odd man out, you'll be a monstrous cloven, and you'll convert each player you kill to a cloven fighting on your side. The round is over when everyone has been converted to cloven, or the time runs out.
The game has a fairly robust persistent character progression feature for a handheld game, since it ties into Insomniac's MyResistance.net web interface to keep track of your stats and performance. You can rank your character up as you play and unlock a few goodies to boot.
Retribution's weapons lineup is inspired by the crazy weapon designs Insomniac keeps coming up with for the PS3 Resistance games. All the weapons in the PSP game have an alt-fire mode that produces pretty different and unexpected effects from their respective primary fire. One gun pops up an energy shield that you can hide behind for a few seconds, while another slows down movement on your end (and time for the player being aimed at) when you zoom in with it. Figuring out when to use the alt-fires in conjunction with the regular weapons to get ahead in the scoring seems like it will offer a decent amount of depth.
Aside from the necessary auto-targeting and the light tactical nature of the secondary fire modes, Retribution's multiplayer action feels pretty standard as third-person shooters go. But the game practically turns mid-match taunting into an art form. When you kill someone, you can hit a taunt button to hurl a gleefully ridiculous barb that you've unlocked by ranking up. On the demo unit I was playing, my character broke out into a goofy dance with disco music playing, and I understand there's also an officially sanctioned teabag maneuver. The taunts give a laugh-out-loud contrast to the otherwise grim, serious tone of the game.
Even after almost four years, I'm still not entirely sold on the PSP in its role as a supplement to big-console gaming; the system's quirkier, portable-friendly titles, like Patapon and Work Time Fun, have been more to my liking. But if you are in the market for a robust portable online shooter, Retribution looks like it will be a good bet when it ships in mid-March.